The Rubik s[Cubed]
I finally got off my ass and started this blog / digital home / think tank, that has been buzzing around my head for a while now. One current event finally got me writing which is connected with the name of this project and which I would like to use as a starting point for this website. The famous Rubik’s Cube is turning 30 years old and this story on Spiegel Online reminded me of the fascination that this little toy generated around the globe.
The story for this project starts on the island of Koh Samui.
We actually planned to lie in the sun on the beach on Kho Phangan and do some snorkeling but instead my girlfriend and I were sitting on the balcony of our hotel room, watching the beach in this grey and rainy scenery. Well, still a nice beach but with this kind of weather going on for a couple of days, this really was annoying. Raining season in Thailand on our trip in November 2008 was something we heard of before but not really expected. Still this was the case in this part of Thailand, which was supposed to be the relaxing end of a great but quite eventful trip. Before we travelled the north of Thailand and along the Mekong river to Laos.
Now, I was always fascinated with the Rubik’s Cube and I clearly remember being completely frustrated as a kid trying to solve this damn thing and I never solved it. I haven’t had one of those cubes in my hands for a couple of years but shortly before we left on our trip I saw this video, showing the holder of the world record in speed cubing Erik Akkersdijk from the Netherlands, solving the cube at the Czech Open 2008 in unbelievable 7.08 seconds.
Wohoo. Are you kidding me? I mean seriously. This can only be described as an affront against anyone who ever tried to solve this thing and would be happy to see all six sides in the right color at all, no matter how long it might take. 7.08 seconds is pure genius or just autistic.
This fascinated me so much that I wanted to find out, how this thing works. Surprisingly we came along quite a few cubes at different occasions in Thailand and finally I bought one cube for approximately 50 Thai Baht, which is about $1.50 at the night market in Chiang Mai. From there on, my newfound love accompanied me on the whole trip, to the annoyance of my girlfriend I must admit. Once a problem grabs my attention like this, I get focused, insistent and really really insistent. After travelling a lot and getting pretty frustrated with this puzzle. The three rainy days on Koh Samui actually came in quite handy, because that was the first real chance to have the time to try and finally solve the cube.
I must admit though that I did not solve it on my own. There are hundreds of helpful instructions on the web. I will not go into all the details of solving the Rubik’s Cube here but I am sure that you will find enough information if I infected you with the fascination for this little toy. In short there are a couple of algorithms when applied in the right order and at the right stages of the process will automatically, with some practice and enough patience, will lead you to the ultimate solution.
Against the background of strategic planning and marketing there are two very interesting parts of the Rubik’s Cube. Number one is the story of this product, which is kind of a phenomenon from a marketing perspective. The second part is the kind of thinking behind the cube as a puzzle or riddle.
The Rubik’s Cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Ernö Rubik and came to market and worldwide attention in 1980. He is supposed to be the first Dollar millionaire behind the iron curtain. The Ideal Toy Company that bought the license, after a couple of companies rejected the offer. Despite other inventors from the former Soviet Union, Rubik was lucky enough to get the right
Probably because the Ideal Toy Company didn’t even consider the cube to be a successful product launch, they risked to buy the license and originally planned to sell about 1 million pieces in the first year. Actually they sold 30 million cubes in the first year and to date more than 350 pieces of this product were sold around the globe, making it the best-selling toy ever. From kids to decorated mathematicians – this product was really attracting a wide audience and still does so. And that is the actual fascination of this product. The cube is at the same time about complexity as well as simplicity. There are 43 trillion possible cube constellations and with a couple of moves it can be rearranged.
The most interesting question from a scientific point of view is the hunt for the so-called god’s number – which is supposed to be the shortest possible way with the least number of moves to solve the cube from any possible constellation. Currently this number is mathematically proven to be 22. So who knows, it might be 21. It could be even lower but till now, the ideal solution is one algorithm with 22 moves to solve any cube.
How someone can do that by looking at the cube and doing it in 7.08 seconds is still something that I can not really grasp, but as doing that leaves room for myths and imagination, so is coming up with simple solutions for complex problems, as cubed means to cut things into cubical pieces and reintegrating all pieces to create something new. And doing that in a fast and playful manner is kind of the ambition. The great thing of being far away from 7.08 seconds, is the potential to get better and faster. All it needs is another rainy trip to Thailand I guess.