Invention Dice

inventiondicethumb.jpgEven the most creative people get stuck for ideas once in a while - here's a way of generating brand new ideas - Invention Dice - a method for making the Muse less fickle.

It's a set of six dice - each one has a theme; the themes are:

  • Materials
  • Motive Power
  • Scale
  • Device
  • Consumer
  • Action


Rolling the dice generates one of 46,656 different unique combinations - which the inventor can then use as inspiration for a brainstorming session.

Some of the combinations are nonsensical, but this itself can be provocative - and the ideas that flow from your imagination in this process don't necessarily have to fit all or any of the original criteria - it's just meant to spark the imagination.

Making The Dice

inventiondice2.jpgI made my Invention Dice from a piece of scrap hardwood - in this case, False Acacia, which is a nice heavy, hard wood that can be sanded to a smooth finish. Beech, maple cherry, apple or other fine-grained hardwoods would also work.

I planed the piece until it was square (about 2cm) in section (as the piece was originally a thick dowel, there was a slight rounded chamfer on each edge, but this didn't matter, as I would be sanding chamfers on all edges of the dice anyway).

inventiondice3.jpgI clamped a stop to my mitre jig and cut six identical cubes.


cut a slice off the end first to make sure it's cut square - then lay this slice down and use it to measure and accurately position the clamped stop - that way, you'll cut perfect cubes)

inventiondice4.jpgI sanded each face of each cube, then sanded a small chamfer on each edge - this makes the dice more comfortable to use - and helps them to roll a little more.

It's a lot of sanding - 36 faces, 72 edges and 48 corners, but it's worth taking the time to do it properly.

inventiondice6.jpgUsing Inkscape (an open source vector graphics program) I designed a set of icons for the faces of the dice - my original plan was to print these in mirror image on T Shirt transfer material, then iron them onto the faces of the dice - but that didn't work (they didn't adhere well to the smooth wood - and there was a tendency to scorch the timber)

So I drew them by hand onto each face - using a CD marker pen - then painted them (where appropriate) with acrylic paints, then touched up the outlinee again with the CD pen.

inventiondice7.jpgI wrote the labels underneath with a fine graphic pen.

It's worth testing all of these media on a scrap piece of wood, as some inks will tend to bleed into the grain - and some woods are more absorbent than others.

inventiondice8.jpgI knitted a small string bag with a drawstring - using my 14-peg French knitting loom - but it would have been just as easy to sew a small pouch out of scraps of fabric.

inventiondice9.jpgThe six dice pack nicely inside the string bag and it fits comfortably in the pocket .

Playing The Game

Just roll the dice, then try to assemble them into a coherent statement - then think about how you would make that thing - for example (as pictured):

inventiondice11.jpgGiant Random Industrial Metal Clockwork Robot

This could be an idea for a story - or maybe just elements of this combination are provocative - how can we use randomness industrially? - How would you make a random device based on clockwork mechanism? Is it possible to make clockwork toy robots from industrial scrap metal? etc...

inventiondice12.jpgWearable Organic Wind Stealth Home Vehicle

Hmmm... tricky, but maybe it could provoke thoughts on sustainable laundry drying methods for camper vans used by crack commandos.

OK, work with me... the point is, this starts you thinking in new directions - what about a foldable fabric wind turbine for charging a camping lantern?

inventiondice13.jpgManual Random Pocket Wood Personal Game

I'm picturing something made from wooden cubes... Any ideas?

If You Want To Make Your Own

If you can't find suitable timber, or can't be bothered with all that cutting and sanding, it's possible to buy blank dice or wooden cubes from craft stores.

The Icons

The icons comprise:

  • Materials: Metal, Wood, Plastic, Edible, Paper, Organic
  • Motive Power: Manual, Electric, Clockwork, Solar, Wind, Water
  • Scale: Giant, Mini, Pocket, Portable, Wearable, Inhabitable
  • Device: Robot, Vehicle, Computer, Game, Tool, Art
  • Consumer: Family, Personal, Office, Home, Industrial, Public
  • Action: Flying, Random, Self-Build, Underwater, Stealth, Disposable


A high-quality PNG version of this icon set is here - it can be printed on self-adhesive paper and attached to premade blank dice.

Obviously, these aren't the only possible categories of icons for a set like this, and other possibilities exist within each category.

Play Invention Dice Online!

If you can't wait to make your own Invention Dice (or if you just can't be bothered), you can still play the online version here:


1. On Sunday, January 6, 2013, 22:11 by Caitlan

This is a great idea, and I smiled when I got to the part about your French knitting loom. You are so relentlessly creative.

2. On Monday, January 7, 2013, 10:19 by KaveyEats

Lovely idea and the last one did make me smile. :-)

3. On Monday, January 7, 2013, 20:03 by Lucas

Awesome! I would definitely buy a set.

4. On Monday, January 7, 2013, 20:20 by narf7

AWESOME! Thanks to Neatorama I have found another amazingly creative blog to hurl into the melting pot of my rss feed reader. I will be making myself a set of these post haste, cheers for the plans :) (now I just need to work out how to draw! ;) )

5. On Monday, January 7, 2013, 22:09 by Fennel crumblecheese

Ok so my thoughts tend to be food-focused. What about types of protein, style of cooking (so eg indian, chinese, british etc), type of carb, two for veg and drink for instant menu ideasBtw zilch on the hogmoney so far this year. Projecting to year end

6. On Tuesday, January 8, 2013, 20:25 by Amy

Great idea! I have design students who can use the help conceptualizing (including myself) This is a fun way for them to learn.

7. On Friday, January 11, 2013, 15:56 by Amanda

This is brilliant and adorable! I think it would also make for a great writing prompt for kids!

8. On Friday, January 18, 2013, 02:58 by MDude

For the Wearable Organic Wind Stealth Home Vehicle, maybe something that could be used as a stealth suit, glider, and also a tent,?

9. On Friday, January 18, 2013, 04:57 by MDude

Pocket Edible Clockwork Public Stealth ArMechanical toys made of candy with hidden artistic meaning, made and distributed somewhere fairly visible to the public.;

10. On Sunday, January 20, 2013, 05:13 by jinxie

Portable Underwater Home Edible Water Game... Already invented I'm afraid... Bobbing for apples!

11. On Thursday, February 14, 2013, 15:19 by willywombat

A nappy, (it's wearable, disposable personal) with a plastic clockwork built-in musical mobile.

12. On Friday, March 1, 2013, 01:12 by Bro

Pocket | Stealth | Family | Plastic | Manual | ArMy translation: A hidden compartment that a family can move (using the loose definition of plastic; moldable/changeable) which prompts the manual creation of art.My Real interpretation: A game where a pr

13. On Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 22:01 by Lisa

Inhabitable|Flying|Office|Paper|Clockwork|Vehiclsounds like Air Force One;

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