I have recently been teaching myself to solve a Rubik’s Cube. This is mainly because my self-image as an intelligent, analytical geek suggests that it’s the sort of thing I should be able to do.
I also want to be able to show off, and in my warped world-view, being able to ‘do the cube’ is something that one can boast about.
Solving the Rubik’s Cube is the International Genius Symbol. Screenwriters use a character’s ability to solve the cube as a shorthand for high intelligence. But as this clip from one such film shows, there is actually a method to solving the cube that can be learnt.
Solving the cube does not actually require particularly high intelligence or super-spatial awareness. It just requires that you remember a number of algorithms. Seven, actually, set out here:
- White cross;
- White face;
- Middle layer;
- Yellow cross,
- Yellow face;
- Yellow corners; and
- Yellow middle pieces.
Of course there are people who can transcend the basic algorithms, see the whole cube and perform lightning quick solutions.
But that is not me. I plod through the same steps and solve the thing in about 3 to 5 minutes. No genius to speak of, just rote learning.
And yet, completing the cube is still incredibly satisfying and slightly addictive.
I assume this is because one receives an endorphin hit as the cube resolves to completion. It’s the same anachronistic biological mechanism that compels us to put more money into slot machines and obsessively check our mobile phones for new messages.
Despite the fact that I play games on my mobile phone a lot, I always feel slightly guilty for doing so. This is especially true when the games are simple games where one taps the screen, like Crossy Road. Or clicker games like Adventure Capitalist and Universal Paperclips. Essentially, one is watching pixels change colour on a screen according to a mathematical algorithm.
For a few days, while I was learning to solve my Rubik’s cube on my train commute, I felt I was an intellectual class above all the phone drones playing Angry Birds. Doing something in the real world felt somehow more worthy. But quickly it dawned on me that I was doing exactly the same thing as the gamers: allowing a set of mathematical rules to manipulate coloured squares for my fleeting pleasure. There is no particular virtue to doing this in the physical world, over the virtual.
During this period of rapid technological innovation, the contrast between old and new can sometimes be a source of amusement. There are YouTube channels dedicated to watching kids react to old technology like the Sony Walkman. And then there is this perennial:
In the "I'm getting old" department.., a kid saw this and said, "oh, you 3D-printed the 'Save' Icon." pic.twitter.com/rwgCpSjfDQ
— Bill Gross (@Bill_Gross) October 17, 2017
I like this backwards thinking. By the same conception, vinyl records are PVC MP3s. Books are single-use, battery-less Kindles. And a Rubik’s Cube is a 3-Dimensional App.