PyroManiac devotes Monday space to esoteric and offbeat things, in the hope that these will supply learning experiences for us all.
In the autumn of 1979, I was assistant pastor and minister of youth at Central Bible Church in St. Petersburg, FL. Darlene was in the third trimester of her first pregnancy. The Iranian hostage crisis was the lead story on the evening news every night. Rubik's Cubes were all the rage.
I don't remember who gave me my first Rubik's Cube. If I recall correctly, a Cube cost about $6.95and in 1979, that was real money to a youth pastor about to become a parent for the first time. So I don't remember buying it for myself. It must have been a gift. If so, it was the perfect gift for me. I love tactile puzzles, and this was the greatest puzzle of all time.
The problem with a Rubik's Cube is that it's really simple to work, simple to move, simple to mess upbut not so simple to solve.
When I started playing with the Cube, I thought it might take me an evening to solve. By the end of the first evening, I knew it would take at least two full evenings. After three days, I thought perhaps the thing was unsolvable.
But I couldn't put it down.
My problem at first was that I assumed if I kept moving the Cube randomly, the pieces would eventually fall into place. After all, how many possible positions could the Cube pieces be arranged in?
Answer: about 43 quintillion. (43,252,003,274,489,856,000, to be exact.) And all of them but one are wrong.
In the end, it took me a month to solve the Cube. After I solved it once, it took me three days to do it a second time. But once I began to figure out what each complex move did, I was able to solve the Cube from any random position in five minutes or less.
That's nothing. Lots of speed-Cubers can solve any Cube in less than a minute. I once saw a guy who could solve a Cube in three minutes or less, using only his feet.
There are several different methods of solving the Cube. Most of the printed cheat-sheet instructions show you how to solve it a layer at a time, like a three-layer cake. My preferred method is to get all the corners in place first and then move the center edge pieces into place.
The center pieces on each side of the Cube are actually in a fixed relationship with their opposite counterparts. On the original 1979 Cubes, white was opposite blue, red opposite orange, and yellow opposite green. Today's cubes have the colors arranged differently. A special 25th-anniversary edition has a silver side rather than white. (I prefer white.) I've had several kinds of Cubes over the yearslarge, small, and really, really small. I've had globe-shaped Cubes, hexagonal Cubes, and even a Cube shaped like Homer Simpson (those aren't really "cubes," of course, but you know what I mean.)
There are now 4x4 and 5x5 Cubes. I once figured out how to solve a 4x4 Cube. I have never attempted the 5x5.
The Rubik's Cube is now more than a quarter-century old, and I read somewhere that one of every eight people in the world has attempted the puzzle. I still keep several Cubes on my desk, and I just got the 25th-anniversary edition, plus a 5x5 Cube. When I quit blogging and have time, maybe I'll learn to solve the 5x5.
Here are some links to the most interesting Cube sites on the Web:
- Work the Cube online at Rubik's official website.
- The best virtual cube.
- Cube art.
- History of the Cube.
- Another history.
- Yet another history.
- The Perplexing Life of Erno Rubik
- "Rubik's Cube" at Wikipedia
- A written solution.
- The ultimate solution
- The simplest of all solutions.
If you've never mastered the Rubik's Cube, I dare you to try.
If you can already solve a Rubik's Cube without instructions, leave a comment and tell me your preferred method (corners first, edges first, a layer at a time, or whatever). In 25 years since I first encountered the cube, I have met only one other person who learned to solve it on his own, without reading any instructions. For me, it was a valuable exercise, because I learned something about patience, persistence, and even logic.
One of the things you quickly learn is that you can't move one piece without affecting at least one other piece. And most moves displace at least three pieces. It's a three-dimensional object lesson about the inevitability of causes and effects, as well as an effective illustration of the principle of 1 Corinthians 12:25-25: any body composed of multiple members is still one body, and whatever effects one member affects the whole body.
PS: On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about another important and rather obvious truth that is well illustrated by the Cube. With 43 quintillion possible arrangements, you are not going to solve the Cube by accident. No one ever has. If the complexity of a six-sided cube with 26 inert plastic pieces is enough to rule out an accidental ordered solution, how could any rational person imagine a scenario where the whole universe, with all its vast complexity and order, could have come into existence by accident, apart from an intelligent Designer?