Games and Gamers

Rubik's Cube Is Back To Teach Math And Taunt Your Inner Ten-Year-Old

A fully solved Rubik's Cube.

hide captionMy solved cube. You guys will be my witnesses,right?

Linda Holmes/NPR

The Rubik's Cube dates to my childhood, when it was for leaving on a desk to be fiddled with — or, for a select few strange birds, for actually solving, sometimes very quickly. At that time, knowing how to do it was a brand of useless but very cool knowledge that seemed like it could only have come from someone else who knew the trick: if there had been an entire society of eleven-year-olds who stayed that way forever, knowing how to solve the Rubik's Cube would have been an essential element of its oral tradition.

Since most of my game-playing time these days is devoted to keeping Super Mario from getting squashed by giant bugs, I hadn't much thought about the Rubik's Cube in quite a while. Then I learned that there's a new push for it as an educational prop, and the entire point is that they tell you, right out, how to do it.

Solving cubes and settling old scores, after the jump...

Yes, the cube's makers are back with a web site, called YouCanDoTheCube.com, where you can, at no charge, look at a (relatively) simple explanation — with a lot of steps, but ones you can follow — of how to transform your discombobulated cube into the finished product. You can also see a lovely video about the many educational benefits of the cube "program" for use in classrooms.

I'm not 100 percent convinced that the Rubik's Cube has extensive math-related educational potential, even though I can definitely understand how a cube of this construction could be used to talk about perimeter and volume and surface area on a very basic level. Unfortunately, geometry of solids moves pretty quickly past ... cubes divided into equal segments.

There's also something that feels moderately depressing about marketing a famous puzzle toy by selling it along with its solution. ("Kids will love these crossword puzzles with the letters already filled in!")

It's not really "learning" if they show you, move-by-move, how to do it. It doesn't deserve the same kind of pride if you didn't figure it out for yourself. Which is why I was so surprised to find that I almost ran a victory lap around my house with the thing hoisted over my head when it was done.

I admit it: I still wanted to beat the Rubik's Cube. Educational benefits, my foot. My thinking was less that you could use the cube to teach math, and more "SURRENDER, CUBE!" I have a feeling that the effort to create cube-oriented lesson plans (although some of the lesson plans I saw, involving rotation and reflection around an axis, were surprisingly plausible) may not be a great success, but selling the cube to adults who can no longer beat their children at Wii boxing but would like to at least defeat a childhood nemesis at long last, all in the name of making their kids smarter? That may work quite well.

As for me, I noticed that my solution kit came with a certificate, suitable for framing, stating that I had solved the Rubik's Cube. But it requires a witness! Apparently, without a witness, my Rubik's Cube certificate is not legally binding. Once again, I have been bested.

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