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How to Check the Balance of Your Gaming Dice

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Gamer Daniel Fisher used an old golf ball balancing trick to test the integrity of his D20 gaming dice. To set up the test, he mixed 6+ tablespoons of salt with 1/3 cup room temperature water in a small glass jar. By floating and spinning a die in the jar, he was able to see if it consistently rolled high, low, or was balanced.

Among other things, Fisher discovered that translucent dice tend to be more balanced, perhaps because you can easily see imperfections inside them (and wouldn’t buy or use them). Finding out that a number of his D20s regularly rolled low or high in the water, he cut into one to see what might be causing the imbalance. Inside, he found obvious manufacturing imperfections, chalky areas where the die may not have cured properly. Later in the video, he puts the cut die under a microscope to get a closer look inside.

”https://youtu.be/VI3N4Qg-JZM”

I decided to try this out on my own dice. I had lots of D6s, some d10s and d12s, but sadly, no D20s in my dice bag. I had to put a lot more salt in my water to get any floatation at all. I ended up with about 50-50 water/salt in a small plastic carry-out container. Luckily, I had an ancient bag of canning salt taking up space in my pantry.

Lots of my dice, in all denominations, wouldn’t float, no matter how much salt I introduced. I finally ended up getting flotation on at least some dice of every size.

Daniel cuts into one of his D20s to see why it rolls funny.
Daniel cuts into one of his D20s to see why it rolls funny.

I made some interesting discoveries of my own. One of my D12s consistently rolled high in the water and seemed to do so outside of the water, too. I also found one of my D6s kept landing on a six in the water and mainly on 5s and 6s on the tabletop. Another cool discovery was that my most expensive D6s (with a high-gloss black lacquer finish, gold pips, and beveled edges), were very buoyant, consistently random, and they floated on their corners, not their faces. Not surprisingly, they make for very lively dice on the table.

Looking at the innards of the die under magnification, you can clearly see inconsistencies in the material.
Looking at the innards of the die under magnification, you can clearly see inconsistencies in the material.

I know of at least one other person who’s tried this test and couldn’t get his D20s to float, no matter how much salt he added. He may try again, using Epsom salt, to see if that provides more buoyancy.

Have you ever tried this trick on your dice collection? If you do try it, let us know the results in the comments below. Oh, and don’t forget to rinse off and dry your dice after you’re done testing them.

UPDATE: Gamer and maker Sam Brown tried this will Epsom salt and got all of his dice to float using this salt and water solution.

19 thoughts on “How to Check the Balance of Your Gaming Dice

  1. I also tried it with a few different D20’s and was unable to make the D20 or any other of the chessex dice float.

    1. you could try again by heating the water and supersaturating it with salt to make it more dense. but theres still no guarantee it will float.

        1. oh well. how heavy is the dice? do you have a small scale?
          because either its some good solid plastic or its made of something heavier.
          There is denser liquids to try of course, but most you probably wont want to drop some nice dice into. like corn syrup 1.38 g/cm3, or even mercury.. pretty sure it would float in mercury at 13.5 g/cm3 even lead should float on mercury. lol but mercury probably not something you can get easily or at lest cheap these days or even want to play with much. lol
          compared to tap water which is about 1 g/cm3 while saturated salt water (room temp) is around 1.2 g/cm3

          sometimes the small difference is enough for most dice depending on what its made of.

  2. It would be interesting to see the 20 sided dice would float in water that isn’t salted or if they would sink. It may not roll the same on a table because it is floating based upon where the majority of the air bubbles are located in the die.

  3. Wouldn’t ensuring that the salt had dissolved/mixed properly give better flotation results?

    1. well you can only have so much salt dissolve in water especially room temp. but if you heat the water you can supersaturate it. higher heat the more the salt will dissolve. if you didn’t know.

      1. True, but if you use temperature to super-saturate the water, falling temperatures will force the salt to crystalize back out of solution. Onto your dice. Who wants salty dice? (Answer: Pirates.)

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  4. If you really want a safe, dense liquid and you’ve got $250 to spend, you can get 3M’s Fluorinert on ebay (maybe you can get surplus or smaller quantities for less).

    At a density of 1.87 g/cc, it’s far denser than the 1.3+ g/cc that you’ll get with salt water and unlike many other dense liquids, it’s neither acidic nor toxic (but don’t drink it — that’d be dumb).

  5. My solid titanium dice don’t float! Even in supersaturated saline solution! Kidding. I have no dice at all. Would love to, though :)

    1. Oil in general is actually lighter than water (Think of it – it is generaly floating on top of water). The property you might be thinking of is probably the unrelated viscosity, that don’thelp at all in this situation. The dice will just sink more slowy..

      1. So I have been experimenting with different solutions. Today was a sugar solution at 1/2 cup of water to 3/4 cup of sugar.

  6. Here are my dice of shame – still with salt residue. They are so bad I didn’t give them a bath afterward.

  7. I just tried this with a glass of water scooped from my water softener in the basement. All the dice float easily. My D20s are not balanced… All my others are.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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