Last month the New York Times ran a story about a sculpture based on cutting open a “Menger sponge,” a shape formed by recursively cutting holes through a cube. All the holes are rectangular, but when you cut the sponge open at an angle, you see six-pointed stars.

Here are some better photos, including both a physical model and a computer animation. Thanks to Mike Croucher for the link.

I’ve written some Python code to take slices of a Menger sponge. Here’s a sample output.

The Menger sponge starts with a unit cube, i.e. all coordinates are between 0 and 1. At the bottom of the code, you specify a plane by giving a point inside the cube and vector normal to the plane. The picture above is a slice that goes through the center of the cube (0.5, 0.5, 0.5) with a normal vector running from the origin to the opposite corner (1, 1, 1).

from math import floor, sqrt from numpy import empty, array from matplotlib.pylab import imshow, cm, show def outside_unit_cube(triple): x, y, z = triple if x < 0 or y < 0 or z < 0: return 1 if x > 1 or y > 1 or z > 1: return 1 return 0 def in_sponge( triple, level ): """Determine whether a point lies inside the Menger sponge after the number of iterations given by 'level.' """ x, y, z = triple if outside_unit_cube(triple): return 0 if x == 1 or y == 1 or z == 1: return 1 for i in range(level): x *= 3 y *= 3 z *= 3 # A point is removed if two of its coordinates # lie in middle thirds. count = 0 if int(floor(x)) % 3 == 1: count += 1 if int(floor(y)) % 3 == 1: count += 1 if int(floor(z)) % 3 == 1: count += 1 if count >= 2: return 0 return 1 def cross_product(v, w): v1, v2, v3 = v w1, w2, w3 = w return (v2*w3 - v3*w2, v3*w1 - v1*w3, v1*w2 - v2*w1) def length(v): "Euclidean length" x, y, z = v return sqrt(x*x + y*y + z*z) def plot_slice(normal, point, level, n): """Plot a slice through the Menger sponge by a plane containing the specified point and having the specified normal vector. The view is from the direction normal to the given plane.""" # t is an arbitrary point # not parallel to the normal direction. nx, ny, nz = normal if nx != 0: t = (0, 1, 1) elif ny != 0: t = (1, 0, 1) else: t = (1, 1, 0) # Use cross product to find vector orthogonal to normal cross = cross_product(normal, t) v = array(cross) / length(cross) # Use cross product to find vector orthogonal # to both v and the normal vector. cross = cross_product(normal, v) w = array(cross) / length(cross) m = empty( (n, n), dtype=int ) h = 1.0 / (n - 1) k = 2.0*sqrt(3.0) for x in range(n): for y in range(n): pt = point + (h*x - 0.5)*k*v + (h*y - 0.5)*k*w m[x, y] = 1 - in_sponge(pt, level) imshow(m, cmap=cm.gray) show() # Specify the normal vector of the plane # cutting through the cube. normal = (1, 1, 0.5) # Specify a point on the plane. point = (0.5, 0.5, 0.5) level = 3 n = 500 plot_slice(normal, point, level, n)

**Related post**: A chip off the old fractal block

that is very cool.

we once did a chair based on this unit,

http://www.umamy.com/main/furniture/fractalic1.htm

check it out.

Much-belated none-of-my-business, but: Menger sponge slices demonstration, thanks to you.

Robert Dickau’s diagrams are a better explanation of why we get the stars than anyone else’s I’ve seen. Thanks for sharing those!

I think the explanation at https://www.robertdickau.com/spongeslices.html is even better.