I decided that the best form for the card scanner was a mysterious black cube.

I wanted to create an object that would not only be a hidden tool for the magician but also an objects that can take the centre stage of a performance. For this, the object needed to meet several conditions:

  • The object has to work on its own with all modules, microcontrollers and cables hidden from sight. It also needs to be possible to open it for maintenance and to change the battery
  • The object needed to be capable of inspiring and generating a narrative. It needs to look mundane enough to not arouse suspicion or give away its secrets but also just mysterious and unusual enough to draw attention.

 

A cube was an obvious solution as it fit all the criteria while also being easy to produce. I opted for opaque, glossy black acrylic which I thought had just the right magician-y vibe.

I call it the Magic 8-Cube, inspired by the fortune-telling magic 8-balls (this is also why the display shows number 8 in its default state). I decided that the cube reads minds, as I let it take my place as the magician. I am not the one in charge of the routine, it is the sentient, supernatural cube that does all the trickery for me.

This is why I felt that in designing the cube itself, a sense of mystery was more important than an intuitive design. I did not concern myself with affordances for the magician as even slight hints and design concessions could potentially break the illusion and give away the trick. What I am trying to design is not the experience of the user but that of the user’s audience.

I had the cube laser-cut out from a sheet of acrylic. There were two potential designs I could have taken, as seen in the following schematics:

 

The first schematic has flat edges and would need to be melted together with acrylic glue. The joints on one of the sides are concessions to being able to open the cube, otherwise the surface would be more or less homogenous. This would be the ideal option to take, for the purposes of prototyping however, it was much quicker and safer to connect the sides with finger joints and glue them together with a simple plastic adhesive (except for the top which is removable).

The Magic Cube 3

There are improvements that I have in mind for ARSe, but for now this works perfectly fine and looks reasonably good. For now, the components are held together with electric tape and the breadboard is a completely unnecessary waste of space which makes the form factor larger than it should be but it did make the prototype easier to put together and test.