Magnetic Distractions

"Buckyballs" made of rare earth exert a seriously addictive pull.

By Kristin Belz January 9, 2012


5 mm rare earth magnetic beads, a.k.a. Buckyballs, are the “adult desktoy you can’t put down.”

Holidays are over. It’s back to work. It’s time to buckle down. But…if you were lucky enough to get a set of Buckyballs as a present, you’re golden – distraction and procrastination combined with spatial intellectual stimulation are yours for 2012. Buckyballs fit easily on your desktop (your actual, physical desktop, that is) and come with a carrying case so you can tote them everywhere for endless amusement.

These desktop Buckyballs are so named as a “nod” to structurally innovative, geometrically minded architect-experimenter extraordinaire Buckminster Fuller, who in 1985 discovered C60, the third molecular form of carbon (after diamond and graphite). In the world of science, "Buckminsterfullerene" is a "six-pack spherical cage of carbon molecules" that helped spur the field of nanotechnology.

In the physical reality of our desktop, they are 5 mm diameter magnetic balls (made of rare earth) that come in a set of 216. That number is not random: it is perfect for forming a 6” x 6” x 6” cube – or many other (endless numbers of other) regular geometric or completely boffo irregular shapes.

They’re great for kids, in my experience – but the company that makes them states clearly and responsibly on its website to “keep away from all children.” I’m not sure how old they consider children to be (does one’s inner child count?), but the tiny magnetic balls would be dangerous if separated and swallowed. Under proper supervision, though, Buckyballs are great fun for kids or adults.

Their strong magnetic force allows them to be manipulated into countless shapes, on their own or attached to a magnetic object. One friend keeps her Buckyballs wrapped around a structural steel column in her living room; visitors are hard pressed not to rearrange the sturdy little silver beads at least once while over to her house.

Buckyballs come in the original nickel or the “executive” style silver, gold or black. Sets are of 216 balls ($35-$37), or a smaller handful of 125 balls ($28 – forms a 5” cube). Holiday colors (blue, green or red) run a couple extra dollars, as do pink, purple, orange and turquoise (think of 1980s car colors). So far, no sets are multi-colored, but maybe next year.

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