This Christmas I outdid myself with my “Over-Sized Stuffer Coupon” (OSC). But before I go into outdoing myself, a little background on the OSC. This is a Christmas tradition I sort of accidentally began five years ago. I had gotten my wife and kids stocking stuffers that year that were too big to fit into stockings. So I decided to make a half-page coupon, rolled up and tied with ribbon. That would easily fit into stockings. Then they could use this coupon to redeem their “Over-Sized Stuffer”. That first Christmas, the coupon was from “Cap’n Jolly Beard” (me) and needed a little explaining. I don’t even remember what the Over-Sized Stuffers were that year but you can see this year's below.

Unfortunately, I could NOT figure out how to do a decent pirate hat!

Over-Sized Stuffers for 2016

When the next Christmas came around, I decided I'd like to do it again. Obviously, I would want something different for the coupon. So I got some more mileage out of the awesome Halloween persona I had invented that year: Tie-Dye Guy! It was the first time in decades that I dressed up for Halloween. Tie-Dye Guy is “a-whole-nother” story… But the Over-Sized Stuffer Coupon that year was a (poorly made) paper cube with Tie-Dye Guy, rainbow gradients, Christmas greetings and instructions to “Look in here…”.

The following year (2014), I basically just redid the original coupon except with (Dwight Schrute as) Belsnickel.

I purposefully misspelled “Belschnickel” to seem more fun, and more like we pronounce it.

Last year I did a mashup of personas to create another Halloween hit. As you may already know, there’s this whole class of “sexy” Halloween costumes. Sexy Yoda, Sexy Bert & Ernie, Sexy (female) Michael Jackson, Sexy Nemo, Sexy Pinocchio (part of which is pictured below), and the utterly ridiculous list goes on… Anyway, here’s The Official Scientific Formula by which my 2015 costume was derived:

Sexy Tie-Dye Celtic Barbarian!

Yes, incredible though it may seem: Sexy. Tie-Dye. Celtic Barbarian. Or STDCB. This time, for the Over-Sized Stuffer Coupon, I made “decorative ornaments” (as shown above). So I wouldn’t have to punch a hole right through my head, I made a kind of “halo”. I didn’t intend it to be a halo at all, but of course, I (and everybody else) noticed that it looks like one and so STDCB has kind of become “St. DCB”. I did not offer any suggestions as to possible uses of this ornament but a few of them ended up on the Christmas tree and my wife also hung one from the rear view mirror (where it continues to this day—thoroughly embarrassing our 13-year-old daughter whenever we drive the school carpool).

So, finally we come to 2016 when Mike outdid himself. In early November I started wondering what I could do for this year's OSC. Once again, I’d created a decent costume for Halloween: “Spaceman 7” (the story of whom is told on the fantastic instrumental album, “Orbis” by Mike Roe).

I was inspired by the paper towel dispensers at work. From the moment we got them, I thought they looked like space helmets. I was able to procure a dispenser and modify it. Fortunately, I already had an awesome white ski onie! (Thank you Uncle Mark!)

Anyway, I had some very vague ideas of somehow incorporating Spaceman 7 into the OSC. Maybe just put him on the same old original coupon? Nah... Maybe use an origami rocket or something? That might be kinda cool.

Anyway, I hadn’t really made any decisions when I was unexpectedly (and perhaps irretrievably?) sucked into... Hexaflexagonal Space!

A couple days before Thanksgiving, my daughter showed us a few YouTube videos her math teacher had shown: Mathed Potatoes, Green Bean Matherole, Borromean Onion Rings and others. These are done by one Vi Hart, a self-described “recreational mathemusician” who is most known for creating these wonderful mathematical videos. They were entertaining and interesting and the next day when I was bored, I decided to check out some more of her videos and I ended up watching this! And of course, I also watched the three videos that follow. You should also do so, right now!

I’d never heard of hexaflexagons and besides being entertained again by Vi Hart's presentation, I was super intrigued. I wanted to make one right away! On Thanksgiving Day of 2016, I made my first trihexaflexagon. This is a two dimensional piece of folded paper that has three different faces… Um, yeah, you definitely need to watch Vi Hart’s videos! I was now totally hooked. Indeed, I was essentially hexaflexaGONE for the next several weeks! I also made a decision that very day about the OSC: a hexahexaflexon (six different faces!) inside an origami rocket, somehow “from Spaceman 7”.

I was so excited! I was so obsessed! CONSUMED! This is all I thought about. I could hardly pay attention to life! And it’s all I did with my spare time. I didn’t wanna give anything away of course, so it became a Secret Project (which just added to my excitement!).

So I learned to make a couple different simple, four-sided rockets. I really wanted to make a hexagonal rocket, or even a three-sided rocket, which would be more fit for fitting hexaflexagons into. I actually did figure out a way to make a pretty cool three-sided rocket but it wasn’t really going to work as a container for holding a hexaflexagon. Oh well. Four-sided would work.

And I had to learn more about hexaflexagons. I had to learn a LOT MORE about hexaflexagons! I suffered most all of the ills that Vi Hart warns about in her Safety Guide. Hexaflexaperplexity was probably my most serious ailment.

Besides just learning how to make them (a little tricky but not that tough with some practice), I also had to learn how to lay things out on the pattern before folding so that the faces were right after folding. And what exactly would be on these six faces? And would they just be a jumble when in alternate arrangements? Or would I try for some of the nifty tricks that can be done with these alternate arrangements? Here are some cool examples by Douglas C. George.

(By the way, there's a TON of stuff online about hexaflexagons! I barely scratched the surface—I just didn't have the time...)

Yeah... Time... I had a lot to figure out and a lot to do and I had no idea how long it was going to take. So, let's see, what all did I have to do?

  1. Learn how to make a decent hexahexaflexagon
  2. Decide on the content of the six faces
  3. Learn how to lay out the six separate triangles that make up each face—from pattern to folded finished flexagon
  4. Make the dang things!
  5. Make all the rockets (and decorate them?) and insert the flexagons
  6. Provide some kind of instruction for the recipients
  7. Probably several other things I just didn't know about yet...

Right, like how specifically would the OSC work? Would the hexaflexagon just be a simple coupon all in itself?? No, no, no, no. This is a puzzle! I needed to incorporate that into the stocking recipient’s OSC experience.

It’s a puzzle to find all six faces which are folded into the thing somewhere or other. But how could I really make use of that puzzle except by adding another puzzle? I decided to use some simple Christmas riddles each of which would have three clues which I would hide on the harder-to-get-to faces. OK. For Christmas 2016, I was going to have five recipients. That meant I needed five riddles.

And I also to come up with something for the three central faces, the beginning faces. They obviously shouldn’t have the clues, those needed to be hidden, demanding navigation throughout all six faces. So what would I do with them? Hmmm... how about some sort of space theme?

I settled on the “front” face to be a message, a “transmission” from Spaceman 7. Something like, “Transmission From Spaceman 7: Christmas greetings and a message from hexaflexagonal space”. Yeah, maybe something exactly like that! And wouldn’t it be cool to be in a kind of retro computer font? Yeah! Um, waitaminit now, a font?? Er… that means somehow printing these things from a computer. I had a limited time till Christmas and so much to learn and practice and figure and accomplish. I realized that yes, it would be much better to create it all on the computer and print it rather than trying to get it all done in time by hand. But that added yet another challenge: How to take the text and/or graphic content of a single hexagonal face and break it up into six triangles, each of which would need to be rotated to various different angles to correctly layout on the pattern. oy...

After much experimentatal penciling on blank hexaflexagons, I came up with the central faces below. On the “transmission” face I also included a link to some flexing instructions (add that to the to-do list!). I had found this cool spiral thing (Douglas C. George again) and wanted to try and reproduce it. I didn’t do a very good job at that. I wish I had had more time and a better notion about how to go about that reproduction. Oh well—I learned a whole lot of stuff and could do a much better job of it now (like that helps!).

I had originally thought the various items hurtling through space (let me know if you can't identify them all) would swap their trails with each other when the face was rearranged. But it didn't turn out that way and I didn't have time to try something different. The nebula was my hasty attempt at a Jack Kirby style.

Whew! It took a lot of time, a lot of work, but I loved every minute of it. Even when there was a fairly high amount of frustration, I was totally obsessed with my hexaflexagon Over-Sized Stuffer Coupons.

I carried my notes and experiments around in an old birthday card envelope.

In addition to five recipients with Christmas riddles, I also wanted to give hexaflexagons to other family and friends. Heck, who wouldn’t want one of these awesome things? I figured I needed at least 15 of them. The central three faces could be the same for all of them but I certainly wasn’t going to come up with 15 different riddles! I only had four Christmas riddles so far and I was stuck for a good riddle for my wife. And what should I put on all the other, NON-OSC hexaflexagons? I was showering one day and really pondering these issues. And suddenly I got it! A great idea for a riddle for my wife came to me and also something to put on all the others. For the others, lyrics from my favorite verse of “Oh Holy Night” (which for some reason they never sing!). These are slightly modified by me…

The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend
He knows our needs; to our weakness is no stranger
Behold the King before the lowly bend!
Behold your King!
Before Him lowly bend!

As these solutions came to me, I was just so excited. I mean, I was truly beside myself. It was like another order of magnitude to my obsession! And there while drying off after my shower, I had an epiphany. It’s actually one I’ve had before in various versions. It is so Life-giving! As I write this, I pray that whoever reads it will experience the same revelation—in whatever unique form it might come for you. I wish I knew the perfect words to use, the right way to communicate this. But I was completely overcome with God’s delight in me. His Father-heart for me, Mike Cooper. How greatly He delighted in my delight. How excited He was with me in my excitement. How intimately he shared my joys. Yes, even this silly thing that had so consumed me was a true delight to God simply because it was such a delight to me!

Eric Liddell, the Olympic athlete said, “When I run I feel [God's] pleasure.” It has struck me that Eric's running gave God pleasure probably because of the very fact that it gave Eric pleasure!

It was pretty hard not to have anyone to share it all with. But everyone with whom I might have done so was to be a recipient of the surprise! I spose that might be part of why I've written this: to share it with you!

Now, if I were reading this, I would be starting to think, “OK, already! What are the riddles?” But I’m not going to tell you! You can see them below in the scans of the hexaflexagons. If you solve them, maybe I’ll give you an Over-Sized Stuffer!

One page of my patterns. Click it to download a legal size PDF.

The rockets in which the hexaflexagons arrived.

Perhaps by now, you've already started to get into hexaflexagons and have started to try and make them and play with them. I hope so! But even if not, you might be able to guess that they get a lot of handling. The ones I had printed on my inkjet printer were starting to get a little smudged. So I had them laser printed at a printshop. Although I printed a test copy of a couple of the riddle hexaflexagons, I had not done so for all of them, nor for the Holy Night ones. So, I was stuck with my errors when the final finished hard copies were delivered. urgh...

I'll bet you already noticed a biggie: “Auntie Lizzie”—should have been “Cousin Lizzie”. The others I'll have to tell you because I printed a page of little diamonds with the corrections and painstakingly cut them out and glued them onto the pattern to correct the errors: “He know our needs” (D'OH!) And I also had “To our weakness” and “Behold your King” swapped in their spots on the pattern so that once folded up, the two corresponding faces were jacked!

Christmas morning finally arrived! I was brimming with excitement and anticipation for the best-ever-and-most-likely-never-to-be-topped Over-Sized Stuffer Coupon! I had a rough count of time spent on this project at around 30 hours. After that I didn't really keep any kind of track but I'm sure I put in at least that many more. So, let's say 50 hours at least but more likely 60-70! All my effort, time, frustration, delight, excitement... And now, for the Great Unveiling!

But... it was a hexaflexaflop! People didn't know what to do with the weird thing. Some tried pulling it apart. Some just set it aside and got on with more serious matters like presents and/or food. And my “simple” riddles weren't so simple for everyone... Some figured theirs out. Some did with a little help. One kind of randomly stumbled onto their answer. And one person never figured theirs out! Yeah, it was certainly not the huge hit my heart had hexpected—a total anti-climax. It was a serious bummer! I even nearly let that ruin Christmas for me! But I'm not (usually) prone to that kind of reaction so it didn't. But honestly, I can still get bummed about it even now (if I let myself go there).

I only have myself to blame though:

  1. I did not clearly state “CHRISTMAS riddles”
  2. I did not clearly explain that there were six sides hidden in there somewhere...
  3. I did not anticipate the difficulty people would have flexing the flexagon and did not provide adequate instruction/demonstration (nobody used the “need help?” link)
  4. Since the rocket is relatively fragile, it sat right on top of the stocking and so was the first thing people dealt with. But it didn't provide any quick gratification (“You mean, there's a puzzle? And a riddle??”) People wanted to get on with presents!
  5. I don't know how in the world I thought my wife would have any clue what the Hebrew word in her riddle was, or how she would go about finding out.

Yeah... I really should have used a test group to see what issues people might run into and have a better plan for delivery. sigh... Oh well, what can ya do? (I guess you could write some “bloggy” kind of thing about the whole deal.)

Since there's not really anywhere to go from here (either up or down...), future Over-Sized Stuffers will just be handed out without coupon or hoopla. I guess it was fun while it lasted!

As chance would have it, two of the Christmas gifts I received were hexagonal!

A wooden box painted by my 10-month-old grandson (perfect for storing hexaflexagons!)
and locoum from my wife.

I would love to hear your comments and/or answer questions etc. You can email me or contact me at my fake account on Facebook: Adam Zonino (yet another story...).