IMSA grad creates, markets award-winning 3D puzzle

• Batavia native and IMSA graduate Dane Christianson never thought he'd be an entrepreneur, but the X-CUBE puzzle he invented has led to the development of his own company, Moving Parts. The puzzle is sold online and at toy and game stores. Courtesy of Sammi King

• Batavia native and IMSA graduate Dane Christianson never thought he'd be an entrepreneur, but the X-CUBE puzzle he invented has led to the development of his own company, Moving Parts. The puzzle is sold online and at toy and game stores. Courtesy of Sammi King

Posted2/9/2016 1:00 AM

The first time I tried to solve a Rubik's Cube, I spent over an hour moving the cubes before I realized I had two options. I could either beat my head against the wall or throw the blasted thing across the room and calculate how quickly the colorful squares would hit the ground.

When Dane Christianson was a seventh-grader at Rotolo Middle School, he solved the popular puzzle in a little over a minute.

"I got some help from Denise Karabowicz, a member of my robotics team," he said. "Fast forward seven years and now my best time is 21 seconds."

The son of Steve and Bridget Christianson of Batavia, Dane had many interests as a kid. He played trombone in the band, enjoyed playing video games, even learned to juggle. He got involved in Boy Scouts and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. However, his real passion was robotics.

During his freshman year at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, the lure of the Rubik's Cube returned.

"I learned how to construct a different puzzle called a '3x3x5. The normal Rubik's cube is 3x3x3, so a '3x3x5' has two extra layers and shape shifts," he added.

Armed with a cheap knock-off cube, a Dremel tool and a plastic casting kit, Christianson handcrafted a new cube in his basement. It took him more than a month to create.

"It was at this time that the idea for the X-CUBE struck me (The X-CUBE is a 3x3x5 in two directions instead of just one)." said Christianson. "But I couldn't make an X-CUBE by hand; it's way too complicated."

He put the X-CUBE on his mental shelf until his sophomore year at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. With a 3-D printer available for student use, Christianson decided to try to perfect the puzzle he created in high school.

A successful Kickstarter campaign enabled Christianson to start production of the puzzle, but it was a video that made him realize that he had created something that definitely had a market.

"I made a short demo video of the cube, posted it on YouTube and Reddit, and went to bed. The next day I woke up to hundreds of thousands of views, and it continued to shoot up over the next 15 days to a total of 1.6 million. Phone calls regarding starting a company began happening. The X-CUBE has been part of my life, each and every day since then."

Christianson quickly learned that creating a product was one thing. Producing and delivering a product to market is a real challenge.

Enter Neil Kane, business partner and mentor, who helped navigate the waters of production, sales, marketing, and shipping.

At 19, most college students find a course load work enough. Dane was doing all this while pursuing his mechanical engineering degree at IIT.

Now the 23-year-old entrepreneur has his own company, Moving Parts, and his X-Cube is available at Marbles, the Brain Store, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, along with a number of physical toy stores nationwide. The X-CUBE can take on 125 decillion different permutations.

"When I was a senior at IMSA. I was curious about becoming an inventor and entrepreneur, but I'd be in the game space," said Christianson. "I did not expect entrepreneurship to be like it is. It's hard, stressful, confusing … and fulfilling."

Like the Oscar winner who is afraid of leaving someone out of his acceptance speech, Christianson has a long list of teachers on his appreciation list, including Ron Karabowicz, his middle school robotics coach. He is also appreciative of the many people who invested in his talent through his successful Kickstarter campaign.

Christianson is busy developing new games and exhibiting his product at toy and game fairs.

"I exhibit at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair at Navy Pier (ChiTag) every year. The first year, a young man came up to our table and solved the X-CUBE in a matter of about 30 minutes. I was amazed. It took me hours on my first try," said Christianson.

"This last November, a young lady and cubing whiz sat down with me and was able to knock it out in a half-hour. I don't know where these kids come from, but they are awesome."

For details on the X-CUBE, visit www.the-x-cube.com/.