Scientists reinvent millenium-old toy?

Was rather confused when I read this article about a mono-monostatic object – an object that can right itself to a single equilibrium position no matter its starting position – discovered by Hungarian mathematicians.

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Watching a demonstration on their website, it struck me that I’d seen something a little bit like this – and suddenly remembered a little song we used to sing in Primary School about righting yourself after you fall, just like a ä¸å€’翁.

If you can’t read Chinese, Wikipedia’s English Page describes it as a “Daruma Doll“, a self-righting doll. It’s been around in China more than a millenium, though it appears not to have penetrated into the West.

So now I’m a little confused as to what the big fuss about the Gomboc is. Unless homogenous Daruma Dolls can’t right themselves (which in my mind seems entirely likely), the Gomboc just seems like that US multi-million-dollar-pen project (vs the Russian pencil). But if so, then the last paragraph of the NYT article doesn’t make much sense:

Yet the scientists now say that Mother Nature may have beaten them in the race after all. They have noticed that the Gomboc closely resembles the shell of a tortoise or a beetle, creatures whose round-shelled backs help them right themselves when flipped over. “We discovered it with mathematics,” Domokos notes, “but evolution got there first.”

Because we know that turtles definitely aren’t homogenous. They contain intestines and stuff.

Anyone any wiser?

Update: turns out that the traditional Chinese toy, in fact, is only able to right itself because it is not made of a uniform material (usually hollow or weighted). The Gomboc, on the other hand, is a mathematical marvel because it is of a uniform material and thus will work with any material. This article on sina.com explains all (but is unfortunately in Chinese) and also points out that the Hungarians know how to have fun with Maths – they invented the Rubik’s cube too.

Intuition begone!

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