Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pride Leavened With Shame

So this last Friday, while my eldest daughter was off at day camp, my wife and I took the Adrenaline Junkie and the Omnivore to a couple of shops. One of them was a toy store. We looked around at the stuff.

We didn't get anything for the kids.

I, on the other hand, saw something that I just had to have.

What? I can hear you say. You just had to have that? That's, like, soooo early Eighties.

Yes, it is. And I wasn't even a teenager yet when the Rubik's Cube came out. And by the time my mental powers had matured to the point where I could really have taken it on and won, the craze had passed and there was no more glory to be had in the struggle.

So, to my shame, I had to admit to myself: I had never solved the Rubik's Cube.

Of course, I have to qualify that statement. I had been able to solve one side. And I had been able, on one occasion, to solve two sides at the same time, which startled me, as it was quite unexpected. Beyond that, I did figure out how to "solve" it the same way Alexander the Great "solved" the problem of the Gordian Knot: I popped the cube apart and put it back together the right way.

But I'd never actually done the cube myself, the way that smart people are supposed to do it.

And it has haunted me, through the years....

And you know what really chaps my hide? My wife and her best friend growing up had managed to figure it out. She says she had it down to within a minute, of which I'm pretty skeptical.

So this weekend I got myself a cube, and started messing with it. I actually managed to figure out a couple of cool algorithms on my own. For those of you who are uninitiated, Rubik's cube "algorithms" are sequences of moves that produce a predictable shift in the cubes. For example, if there is a side piece in the top layer which you'd like shifted down to the middle layer, without disturbing anything in the lower layer, you can use a specific, pre-planned series of moves to accomplish this. Generally, solutions to the Cube can be thought of as a series of the right algorithms. One common solution is:
  1. Pick one face, and solve a solid-colored cross in this face, with the edge pieces at the ends of the cross matching the colors of their adjacent sides.
  2. Solve the corner pieces on this side, so that it matches the colors of the adjacent sides.
  3. Orient the cube so the now-solved side is downward. Now, find the four edge pieces that belong in the middle row, and solve them, thus leaving the bottom and middle layers solved.
  4. Solve the "cross" on the top layer.
  5. Use the right algorithm to rotate the arms of the top-layer cross, until they match colors with the adjacent sides.
  6. Rotate the top corners until they each match the three colors of their adjacent sides (albeit perhaps in the wrong orientations)
  7. Get the top corners twisted into the right orientations.
Well, although I could figure out a few good algorithms, I couldn't come up with enough to solve the cube, and after twenty-five years, I was impatient. So I grabbed the little solution booklet that came with the cube.

Thus, even more shame.

But! But but but! Now I, too, can finally solve the cube. Give me a messed-up Rubik's Cube, and I can now get it back into its all-solid-color original state. I have the knowledge. I have the power. And I don't even have to pop the thing apart, although I still remember how to do it.

I have to say, when I first followed all those directions correctly, and the cube magically turned into solid colors in my hands, before my very eyes, it was almost like a religious experience; it was almost like Sir Percival finding the Grail. (Or was it Galahad? Depends on the version you read, I think). The thing I have been hunting for all my life is here! This is The Moment.

Now what do I do?

1 comment:

Chris said...

As a child of the 80's, I can truly revel in your glee and pride in this august accomplishment. I too only mastered the dad-blamed thing by using the Alexandrian method.

Read the instruction's? Huh, who'd a thunk it!