Cubic conundrums

Years ago, my friend Melanie bought me one of Professor Ernő Rubik’s multicoloured cubes for Christmas. Knowing that I had a bit of a mathematical bent, she believed that it would provide me hours of intellectual enjoyment during the long winter evenings.

But despite the fact that I have occasionally played around with the beast in a somewhat indolent fashion during more than a few lunch hours, I have never been able to solve the learned professor’s cubic conundrum.

Last week, however, I discovered that one young fellow in the US has produced a video on You Tube specifically to help folks like me. It illustrates in several easy steps how to put the faces of the cube back into their original state after they have been jumbled up in a random fashion.

Interested in how I might learn how to accomplish such a feat, I watched the video with interest. Well, that’s not quite true – if the truth be known, I only watched half the video.

That’s because, after listening intently to the young chap for around 20 minutes or so, it became evident that the only thing I would actually discover by taking the exercise any further was how to memorise, and then follow, a simple set of mechanical routines that I would then need to wearily slog through to solve the puzzle.

And while that might be quite enlightening for some, to me it seemed perfectly meaningless. While I might well have been able to achieve the desired result to the amazement of my friends and colleagues, there seemed little intellectual challenge to doing so at all.

That’s right. Simply twisting and turning the beast around under the instruction of the American chap would neither help me understand the derivation of the algorithm I was deploying, nor comprehend why it worked the way that it did.

Fortunately, for me, the young fellow that produced the Rubik’s Cube video also produced a couple of simpler guides for those, like me, that cannot be bothered with ineffectual hours of cube twisting.

And, I’m pleased to say, both are a lot less complicated. One involves removing the stickers from the cube and then reaffixing them to it. The other entails mechanically disassembling the cube with a screwdriver and then plugging the pieces back together.

Now taking either of these two approaches might seem at the outset like acts of failure. But I would disagree. You see, it is one thing to be able to solve a problem, but it is another thing entirely to completely understand the methodology that you are using to do so.

At least then, while I might not grasp the machinations behind the algorithm employed by the first of the You Tube solutions, I am delighted that I completely comprehend the rational behind both of the more straightforward, albeit somewhat less demanding, approaches.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Electronicstalk

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