The Magic Cube

The Magic Cube

In 1974, Hungarian architect Ernő Rubik wanted to find a way to model three-dimensional movement to his students. At first, he tinkered with blocks of cubes, made from wood and paper, and held by rubber bands, glue, and paper clips. Later he created what he called a Magic Cube.

The Magic Cube was eventually renamed the Rubik's Cube. It became the most popular puzzle toy in the world, inspiring numerous artworks and films, and starting a competitive sport called speedcubing.

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After Rubik invented the Cube, he had to try and solve it. He had no idea if his Cube could be solved, let alone how fast. It took him one month to fix it.

Today, kids are mastering an analog tool using YouTube tutorials, articles, and creating online communities. The Cube's popularity may be because of the nearly limitless number of possible solutions.

At first glance, the cube seems relatively simple, with nine uniformed colored squares on each side. To solve the puzzle, you must twist the cubes so that eventually, each side returns to its original color.

To master the cube, you must learn a set of algorithms. The potential number of variations in a three-by-three-by-three cube is 43 quintillion moves. Some cubes have evolved to a four-by-four-by-four and five-by-five-by-five.

In March 1981, the Scientific American put the Cube on the cover. Scientist Douglas Hofstadter was struck by the ability to use the Cube as a tool for teaching mathematical ideas.

The Cube can be used to teach group theory, or the symmetries of objects. Any twist of any face is a group element, and so are arbitrary sequences of such twists.

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Life Lessons from the Rubik’s Cube
  1. It is easier to create chaos than to create order. We prefer order, but creating it takes effort.
  2. Approaching order sometimes involves creating more chaos. Steps backward are often necessarily to move forward with integrity.
  3. You cannot resolve chaos all at once. Pick your battles. You cannot solve everything at once.
  4. Chaos is easier because there are more ways to be chaotic.
  5. To the uninitiated, systematic applications of complex patterns look like magic.
Szilard's eureka moment

Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-born Jew, fled Germany for the UK two months after Adolf Hitler became chancellor.

At the time, James Chadwick just discovered the neutron. Not long after, Cambridge physicists split the atom by bombarding a lithium nucleus with protons. In this, they confirmed Albert Einstein's idea that mass and energy are different forms of the same thing.

In 1933, Szilard thought that if you could find an atom that was split by neutrons, and in the process, release two or more neutrons, then the mass would emit a huge amount of energy.

Where ideas come from

Ideas come to us when we have a specific problem but we do not focus on solving the problem directly.

It’s not at all obvious how to go about thinking up some new twist on these things. A new idea can feel like a remarkable discovery

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