#MathArtChallenge 87: Burr Puzzle Origami

An origami stellated polyhedra made from origami

The Challenge: Fold yourself a 6 piece puzzle that comes together as a 3D star shape. You’ll need 6 pieces of paper.

Materials Needed: 6 square pieces of paper.
Math concepts you could explore with this challenge: angles, geometry, origami, polygons, polyhedra, vertices.

The Background: This is a bit of a hodge-podge of things. First, it’s origami. I followed these PDF instructions, and then made this video for those who may need the visual aid.

Where the puzzle originated is a bit of a mystery. The name “burr” is likely to come from the finished shape of these puzzles – resembling a seed burr. There are examples of it in Chinese print, and an English engraving, and similar puzzles making a resurgence in Kerala called Edakoodam. I’ve had this one on my list for months now, and was surprised to see the variety of burr puzzles out there. I know that I have some (in my quarantined and inaccessible classroom right now) that I have yet to solve. I love the idea of the puzzle being in how to make wooden pieces (a more traditional medium than origami for these) manipulable while appearing, when put together, to be immovable.

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you notice about the final structure? How could you describe the structure to someone who could not see it?
  • These puzzles are frequently (traditionally?) wooden, what is gained or lost by making them from origami?




Depending on how you use this activity, you may engage with different mathematical standards. I’ve listed possible connected math content above. Here are a few suggestions for how you might integrate the 8 mathematical practices. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments! 

6.) Attend to precision. How can this teach us about the benefits (or drawbacks) of precision when we’re folding the pieces?

7.) Look for and make use of structure. How does the folding transform a 2D shape into a 3D one? What supports are there? Are there other ways for the 6 pieces to go together?

Author: Ms. P

Math Teacher in Minneapolis, MN.

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