The Rubik Cube Turns 50

The Cube is also a good challenge for machine learning systems and robots.

And Maria Mannone, an Italian theoretical physicist and composer, invented the “CubeHarmonic,” a musical instrument, developed with Japanese collaborators. “It is a Rubik’s Cube where, on each face, there are musical chords, a note on each facet,” she explained in an email. “Scrambling the cube, we scramble musical chords.”

The Parisian street artist Invader creates “Rubikcubist” works, figurative canvases configured like a mosaic with hundreds of cubes. Invader’s version of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” Picasso’s first Cubist painting, used 1,848 cubes in order to make a reproduction the same size as the original.

Lauren Rose, a mathematician at Bard College in New York, uses the Cube as a teaching tool in courses for both math majors (who delve into the algebra) and non-STEM majors (they learn to solve the puzzle, explore patterns, count its configurations, and design and build mosaics). “There’s so much depth to this puzzle,” Dr. Rose said at the conference in San Francisco. She believes that part of the reason that the Cube has endured is that it is “so accessible and fun.”

“It’s a good way to get people to want to learn math,” she added.

By now, all the Platonic solids have been transformed into twisty puzzle variants. And riffing on the original, there’s the 4-by-4-by-4 Rubik’s Revenge, the 5-by-5-by-5 Professor’s Cube and going on upward to the 7-by-7-by-7, the largest cube used in World Cube Association competitions. The 21-by-21-by-21 is the biggest cube generally available on the mass market ($1,499.99). The 256-by-256-by-256 exists only in the virtual realm, where it was solved by a team of six with 633,494 moves in a cumulative time of about 96 hours.

During the Q. and A. session, Dr. Rokicki asked Mr. Rubik about the hollow Void Cube, by the Japanese inventor Katsuhiko Okamoto, who has created dozens of variants of the original. Somehow, the Void is missing the central cubies and the interior mechanics that hold Mr. Rubik’s iconic invention together. On this subject, Mr. Rubik got philosophical again. “Perfection is an idealistic encounter,” he said. He understood the curiosity-driven explorations, adding something, taking something away. He preferred the classic combination of cubies and colors. “I love the sound of the Cube as well, the movement,” he said.

Mr. Rubik added later that he wasn’t so keen on puzzles that are designed merely to be puzzles. He said, “I love the puzzling content of life and the universe as it is.”

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