Your geometry teacher may have related a variation of the following origin story for Cartesian coordinates: French polymath René Descartes was lying in bed in his lodgings in Amsterdam one day in the first half of the seventeenth century, watching a fly as it crawled, upside down, across his ceiling and it occurred to him to wonder how he might describe the path it had taken and its current position. It’s a charming tale and it may even be true.
Yuen Ting’s latest prize is a DIY claw grabber toy, featuring an X/Y-axis gantry (and a lever that lowers the contraption’s plastic maw into the heap of translucent, snap-together-shelled prizes included with the kit). Besides the fun of putting it together and the experience of working with pulleys, we think that playing with this kit is a significantly more hygienic way for acquiring a gut-level grasp of Cartesian coordinates than allowing an insect pest to traverse your bedroom ceiling. Wouldn’t you agree?