Cubism

Rubiks cubes

I was the perfect age and temperament for the peak of Rubik’s cubemania in the early 1980s and was one of those kids who was always spinning one around and solving it and making adults feel dumb. I wasn’t much of a speed solver, though I could generally do it in three minutes or less unless I messed up.

Admittedly, solving a cube is not really about being a genius. It is mostly about memorizing patterns. Of course all problem solving is somewhat about applied learning, but most puzzles (crosswords, sudoku, even jigsaws) present opportunities for “aha” moments of insight and intuition that the cube will never give you. The cube is essentially solved the same way every time. The exact sequence of patterns might change but there is no challenge to it once you memorize the solution. I guess that’s why during cubemania they started having speed competitions (that, and seeing a bunch of cubes being spun at lightning speed makes for good television).

So the cube is a flat puzzle, but this is a year where I’ve been recovering interests and hobbies, and the cube is one of them. I have been solving them throughout the day, getting most of it back from muscle memory and a few final steps refreshed by the Internet. And now, as then, I find actually solving them kind of a warm-up to the more meditative practice of simply making and unmaking patterns, like little mandalas. Flowers, crosses, stars. Cubes nestled into cubes. Seeing what’s possible.

The one in the front center with the Xs is an old favorite pattern; it looks at a glance like a very simple trick every solver knows of flipping all the sides two turns, but if you look closer you’ll see the red, blue, and yellow edge pieces have actually turned counter-clockwise, not flipped sides with the back. This is gibberish to anyone who hasn’t played with a cube a lot, but back in ’81 it meant I could easily trick another cubehead by showing them the cube and asking how long it would take to solve it. They would say “fifteen seconds,” or whatever, then after a wager I’d flip it their way and they’d start turning the sides, each one halfway around, and find… they still had six Xs. I must have one a few quarters that way. I am certainly not the only one who made that up, but I also certainly made it up on my own, as well.

So even flat, formulaic things have opportunities for novelty. Take what you can from that as a lesson about creative writing.

One thought on “Cubism

  1. Writing yes, cubism no. The cube has always had me muttering even when I was young, but writing is a different matter. First not being a writer a thought will pass through my head and if I am lucky enough to grab it I write it down… but then come the tricky part to make it readable to total strangers. A raw idea like uncooked meat is just a lump of potential…it is what you do with it when cooking/rewriting that makes it worthy of others.

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