Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, December 17, 2021

The Puzzliest Toy

Nate concentrating on a Rubik's Cube in 1982
I debated about including this toy in my “classic” series. It seemed too new. But I remember my son playing with one at a year old (no, he couldn’t solve it). That son turned 40 this year (yes, he eventually solved the cube and became an engineer, although I’m not claiming a connection necessarily.) I’d say that qualifies the toy as a classic, worthy of investigating and sharing with you.

Born in Romania during WWII, Ernő Rubik learned much about creativity and design from his engineer father. Rubik studied both sculpture and architecture in Budapest, then went on to teach design at the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts and Design. Not surprisingly, he made a hobby of creating geometric models.

Using small blocks of wood and rubber bands, Rubik’s goal was to solve a structural problem of moving parts independently without the entire mechanism falling apart. Not until he’d scrambled his cube and tried to restore it did he realize he may have created a puzzle.

His students loved it.

Given his father’s experience with applying for patents, Rubik quickly did so and received one for his “Magic Cube” in 1975. Four years later, Ideal Toys released the cube with a more distinct and memorable name. Ernő Rubik became a household name as the company sold around 200 million Rubik’s Cubes by 1983. Winning several Toy of the Year awards, over 350 million have sold to date, making the Rubik’s Cube one of the bestselling toys of all time.

Ideal originally advertised the puzzle as having over three billion combinations but only one solution. Since most people could solve just one or two sides, the next hot items to hit the market were books on how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. At one point in 1981, three of the top ten bestselling books in the US fell into this category.

Then the competitions began as “Speed Cubers” came out of the woodwork. Finally, a sport for math geeks! Budapest hosted the first world championship in 1982. Minh Thai, a Vietnamese student from Los Angeles, won with a time of 22.95 seconds. Currently, the record is 3.47 seconds, held by China’s Du Yusheng, set in 2018.

With so many geniuses improving at this skill, they needed to devise new challenges, like one-handed solving, feet solving, blindfolded solving, and multiple blindfolded solving. That latter is when a contestant studies up to ten cubes, memorizes their configuration, then dons the blindfold and solves them all. The seconds spent studying the cubes are included in their time. I know. Unbelievable.

In 2020, I watched the Netflix documentary The Speedcubers, which explores the rivalry and friendship between two of the fastest speedcubers in the world, Australian Feliks Zemdegs and American Max Park. Diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Max Park developed both social and fine motor skills through cubing. I highly recommend the film.

What boggles my mind more than a Rubik’s Cube is how anyone can believe we humans don’t have a Creator. Believing the brains of these Cube-solvers merely evolved takes more faith than taking apart a Rubik’s Cube, throwing all the pieces in a bag, then shaking the bag until the cube is reassembled with all six sides correctly aligned.

No? Just me?

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

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