The Rubiks Cube

by Jono

"We turn the Cube and it twists us.''
--Erno Rubik

The Rubiks Cube is a cube consisting of 6 sides with 9 individual pieces on each. The main objective when using one is to recreate it's original position, a solid color for each side, with out removing any piece from the cube. Though it is colorful and looks like a children's toy, there have been many championships for it's completion. It amused five-year-olds yet inspired mathematicians. It has even used in college math classes dealing with group theory, a branch of algebra having to do with geometric symmetry developed in the nineteenth century. Group theory shows that a 60 degree rotation of a six-pointed snow flake makes the flakes appearance unchanged. Each group theory is symmetrical, and the cube represents this is after rotation. Some say the cube was built to teach Rubik's students how to deal with three-dimensional objects, but when he began, he was actually more interested in the structural movement rather than the mathematical sequence. When he made his first cube Erno found he had to complete it thought it might be impossible. What inspired Erno was the popular puzzle before his called the 15 Puzzle. Invented in the late 1870's, this puzzle consisted of 15 consecutively numbered, flat squares that can be slid around inside a square frame. Sam Loyd created this two dimensional version of the Rubiks Cube. The puzzle was originally called the Magic Cube, or Buvuos Kocka in Hungarian. It was later renamed in honor of it's creator to the Rubiks Cube.

It's unique design was made by an engineer named Erno Rubik. He was a socialist bureaucrat who lived in Budapest, Hungary. Rubik was born in the air-raid shelter of a Budapest hospital during World War II. His mother was a published poet, his father a renowned aircraft engineer who started a company to build gliders. He built the simple toy in his mother's apartment and did not know of the 500 million people who were going to become overly perplexed over it. He is now 52 years old. His first idea of the cube came in the Spring of 1974.

Many different cube variations have been made, but the one discussed here is called the standard 3x3x3. It contains 26 little blocks of plastic.

It can rotate around it's center in any way possible, no pieces are restricted to any singular movement. Since it's creation people have been searching for the quickest way to solve it in the least amount of moves. The official world record was set by Minh Thai, a sixteen year-old high school student, at the 1982 World Championships in Budapest Hungary, with a time of 22.95 seconds. The cube can be solved in two ways. One can use sequences to solve piece by piece, or you can attempt to solve it backwards. This means that after the cube is completed and mixed, you can figure what turns were made to mix it and undo them. Mathematicians have tried to find the shortest method of unscrambling, which became known as God's algorithm. There's speculation that an all-knowing being could restore any cube in 22 moves, but the shortest method discovered so far requires 52.

The cube is not easily solved because it does not have a definite scrambled point. This means that there is only one completed situation, where all the sides have one color each. If the cube is anything but that, it is considered scrambled. For example when the cube is complete and one simple rotation is made it is scrambled even though it would be easy to undo that. The cube has 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (43 quintillion) possible positions, and only one is the correct one. It has been calculated that if every person on earth randomly twisted a cube once every second, about once every three centuries one cube would return to its original state.

The more commonly used method is the piece by piece method. This usually goes in steps with different sequences. It is solved one part at a time, not all at once. Once a sequence has begun, you do not need to watch the cube, but you must to start an other one. The record for solving the cube in the least amount of looks was the mathematician John Conway, the inventor of the game "Life" (not the board game but the math logic game). He solved it in 4 looks. The amount of looks is the amount of times that one has viewed the cube between sequences when solving it.

The Rubiks Cube has been a successful product for many years. Though created without great intentions, people have spent millions of dollars on it. Math classes to this day study the complexity of the Cube. Erno, the creator of the cube, became an overly rich man from his ingenious creation, but remained-as a colleague remembered him-"a bit sour".

Tibor Laczi, a business associate, said when he first met him, ''When Rubik first walked into the room I felt like giving him some money. He looked like a beggar. He was terribly dressed, and he had a cheap Hungarian cigarette hanging out of his mouth. But I knew I had a genius on my hands.''

After Rubik's success having returned from a conference in the Unites States, Laczi said, "It was his first trip to the West, and he didn't ask me to take him anywhere after the press conference. Most Hungarians that come here want to look at shops or buy jewelry or visit a bar. Rubik went back to his hotel. He was always that way, even after the money started. He never liked to be away from his family for long or spend money on himself. The only thing he did was start smoking better cigarettes. There was no drinking, no excitement--he just went back to his hotel room to read. He was always in another world. I really do like Rubik, but I can't imagine having a real friendship with him. He doesn't enjoy talking."

It is amazing that a man with such small intentions would create such a international sensation, the Rubiks Cube; the puzzle with trillions of permientations, but only one solution.