You CAN Solve the Rubik’s Cube

You CAN Solve the Rubik’s Cube

Rubik’s Cube, 1980. Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.Initially known as the Magic Cube, today’s Rubik’s Cube—a six-sided puzzler that has challenged several generations—holds the title of best-selling toy of all time. Along with bubbles and little green army men, Rubik’s Cube is one of the 2014 inductees to The Strong’s National Toy Hall of Fame. I first tackled the cube in the early 1980s during the initial craze. I solved about one and a half sides and then gave up. However, in the process, I discovered that solving the cube had to involve a systematic series of repeated patterns. But like many casual puzzlers, I found that utilizing a pattern to solve a side seemed to undo the progress I’d made on a different side. Puzzlers more serious than I found ways to systematically manipulate the cube in serial patterns without disrupting progress already made—and to backtrack to repair previously-solved sides.

Solvers call themselves cubers, and these pattern systems are algorithms. In mathematics, an algorithm is a series of defined tasks, such as equations, used to arrive at a predictable result. Cubers have defined shorthand ways to name each side—and indeed each mini-cube within a side—and write out algorithms to solve the multi-colored conundrum. If it sounds like serious math, it is. Rubik’s Cube demonstrates mathematical group theory, meaning that cubers use formulas within well-defined subgroups through increasingly difficult levels. We may not all understand this math, but a computer does—which is why computer-controlled “hands” can solve the puzzle faster than humans. Thus far, anyhow.

Screen-Play: 123-45 Sesame Street

Screen-Play: 123-45 Sesame Street

Well, paint me blue and call me Grover—Sesame Street premiered 45 years ago today, on November 10, 1969. With more than 4,300 episodes to date, it is one of the longest-running shows in television history. My colleague Scott Eberle has written about the series’ cultural and educational impact. And as The Strong inducts three new…

Little Green Army Men Join Forces with the National Toy Hall of Fame

Little Green Army Men Join Forces with the National Toy Hall of Fame

Little green army men marched right into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong on November 6, 2014. The tiny figures, along with Rubik’s Cube and bubbles, took their place of honor among the other 53 classic toys that evidence the iconic status, longevity, and play value necessary for induction. The green army…

The Dolls that Haunt Us: 50 Years of Terrifying Toys

The Dolls that Haunt Us: 50 Years of Terrifying Toys

Autumn is upon us, replete with all things paranormal and pumpkin spice. Hollywood once again offers us an opportunity to be terrified for the cost of a movie ticket and large popcorn. Annabelle (2014) isn’t the first “playful” villain that has captured our collective attention: for a half a century, scary toys have come alive…

“I’m Sorry, the Card Says ‘Moops’”: Play in Seinfeld

“I’m Sorry, the Card Says ‘Moops’”:  Play in Seinfeld

Seinfeld is not, as people often claim, a “show about nothing.” It is a television show about four narcissists whose seemingly petty dialogue and ripple-effect exploits produced a significant impact on the modern pop culture landscape. I confess―I’m a Seinfeld devotee. In fact, I recently completed my own personal “Summer of George,” where I re-watched…

Cabbage Patch Kids: A 1983 Phenomenon

Cabbage Patch Kids: A 1983 Phenomenon

As a child who preferred playing outside with sticks and leaves, only a handful of dolls ever really captured my attention. In fact, I only recall true fondness for four dolls: Baby Tenderlove, Raggedy Ann, Darci cover girl, and my Cabbage Patch Kid—Kendall Walter Winner. In 1983, at the age of 13, I wasn’t interested…

Screen-Play: Television Characters Ruin Game Night, Too

Screen-Play: Television Characters Ruin Game Night, Too

My friends and I embrace game nights: snacks, beverages, stuffed mascots, inspirational posters. Some people don’t, probably because not everyone can handle it when (not if) their true colors emerge in the throes of battle. Similarly, television series use games as plot devices to place characters in opposition to each other, draw out the best…

Of Monsters and Airplanes: The Enduring Joy of Paper Toys

Of Monsters and Airplanes: The Enduring Joy of Paper Toys

What comes to mind when you hear the term “paper toys”? Whatever you envision, chances are the idea of paper toys in our digital era doesn’t evoke quite the same level of enthusiasm as some other playthings do. Paper toys seem quiet and simple, perhaps even old-fashioned. But paper toys such as paper dolls, which…

Let Me Teach You the Game of My People: Card Games, Identity, and Finding Home Again

Let Me Teach You the Game of My People: Card Games, Identity, and Finding Home Again

What is your game? There seem to be an infinite number of games to play with one simple deck of playing cards. What game did you learn, perched on your parents’ or grandparents’ knees? What game brings you feelings of home and belonging? My family’s game was Rummy. After we had mastered Go Fish, we…

A Family of Meticulous Puzzle Cutters: Fiss Puzzles at The Strong

A Family of Meticulous Puzzle Cutters: Fiss Puzzles at The Strong

Today gamers often seem immersed in their favorite games. But serious, focused gaming is nothing new. Just after the turn of the 20th century, many Americans concentrated and deliberated in a similar manner trying to assemble the latest plaything for adults and families—jigsaw puzzles.