31 Aug

Puzzling

This past Sunday, we invited some friends over for dinner. Among the company were a couple kids — two boys — who were a little bored at times with our childless home.

I snuck downstairs at one point and looked through our puzzles and games, which we keep in a big wooden cabinet shaped and painted like a cat. I was trying to move quickly. I grabbed something called the “Log Stacker,” which claims to be the “World’s Most Difficult Puzzle Box,” and a Rubik’s Cube.

I figured the puzzle box would be a little more captivating, so I introduced the poor kids to it and left to go socialize with the adults.

Turns out the Log Stacker really is the world’s most difficult puzzle box. The kids couldn’t solve it, and I spent about 30 minutes trying to figure it out once everyone left.

Eileen kept saying, “Time for bed,” but I had to solve the damn thing. I’m just like that.

When I did finally get it, I pumped a fist in the air and yelled, “yessss!” But before I headed off to bed, I picked up the Rubik’s Cube.

I didn’t do much with it. I just looked at it.

And I had an epiphany: the middle piece on each face of the cube cannot move from the middle! It only has one exposed side, so it will always stay in the middle of a face. And the corner pieces can only fit in the corners. They have three exposed sides. And the pieces on the edge have two exposed sides. They can’t be middle pieces or corner pieces!

Okay, granted, this “epiphany” was a pretty obvious one, but I haven’t looked at a Rubik’s Cube since I was 12.

The next day, I began casually searching “rubik’s cube” on google. I perused a few sites, which were all overly complicated with their explanations. Most of them start by saying something like, “First we need to get some terminology straight. The cube has six sides. In this article I’ll be referring to the sides as front, back, up, down, left, right. A clockwise turn on the front side, will be notated as F. A counter-clockwise turn will be F’ (F prime). And a 180-degree turn will be F2.”

“Screw this,” I thought, and I closed the web pages and started turning the faces of the cube.

I got nowhere.

So I set it down and left.

Hours would pass, and then I’d suddenly get an idea about how the math of the cube works, so I’d pick it up again and try.

I’d fail again and leave.

I went through this process a few times; then I finally broke down and searched “rubik’s cube” again. This time, I understood a little more. I decided to give the notation a try. I struggled with formulas like this one: D L D’ L’ D’ F’ D F. I couldn’t get it to work.

But last night, I couldn’t get to sleep. I kept picturing various permutations of turning sides and having corners line up with middle pieces. It had invaded my head, like Tetris.

So I got up and went back to the computer. I tried just holding the cube and following the formula without even looking at the cube. After meticulously executing each step, I looked down at the cube. It worked!

I followed the other formulas. The final one is a killer. It reads like this: R2 U F B’ R2 F’ B U R2. It took about three tries, but I did it. I solved the Rubik’s Cube.

I could sleep easy now.

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