Monday, August 23, 2010

Art, cubed?

Crazes. There don't seem to be that many going around these days. In this super-connected era, there isn't one single product that every child must own. The new Buzz Lightyear is just, well, meh, even with a whole new movie to star in. Who cares if the fully poseable action figure has over 50 phrases? Mine (circa 1995) has three. And is just as poseable.

But anyway, I have to trawl all the way back to 1980 to find a real craze. Call it a global phenomenon. I'm talking cube. Rubik's Cube. The one single object that can identify a decade. Ok, that and the Motorola 8000X.

But I'm not talking about technology today, I'm talking puzzles.

Back in the day, I felt a need to know how to 'do' the cube. There were no computers to help solve it. No Youtube videos show you how. No robotic Lego contraptions to actually twist the cube for you. No. You either had the Krell machine-enhanced brain of Morbius (er, but not The Brain of Morbius) and worked it out for yourself, or, like me, you bought one of the umpteen books published on the subject. Or you just took it to bits to reassemble correctly. Or peeled the stickers off.

Needless to say, I learnt 'the moves'. Ok, after 30 years of cube I can't quite remember all the shortcuts, but enough to solve a standard cube in a couple of minutes or so.

Now, I still have my original cube from 1980. I keep it in my desk drawer at work. Now and again I'll whip it out, scramble it, then solve it. Just for the sheer heck of it. It's the one on the left, pictured below. Paradoxically, it's not even an original Ideal Toys Rubik Cube, but one of the many many rip offs. A clone.

So it was with a mixture of surprise, delight and a modicum of fear, that I stumbled on, an online store almost completely devoted to puzzles of a twisty nature.

Let's just say that there is a bewildering assortment of cube like puzzles, in an equally bewildering assortment of geometries and configurations. Almost all unsolvable, probably, by my learnt by rote methods. Or any method, for that matter.

So with a little trepidation, and tempted by the unique engineering, I ordered up a 5x3x3 cube, shown below.

As you can clearly see, this cube differs from the norm by having an extra plane of cubies (look, I don't know what the terminology of the little cubes is - cubies, cubits, cubelets?) that rotate independently from the others. The pleasing aspect of this puzzle, is that when scrambled, it looks like a work of art.

I'm not kidding. Look at the picture. Is it Bauhaus? Mondrian? Cubism?

Another surprise is the fluidity of movement of the faces. This is a really well engineered item. Helped by the precise moulding of each cubeling, lubricated and sprung just right, the result is a smooth, tactile objet.

With a little sleight of hand, it's possible for me to make this cube look scrambled, yet solve it as normal for muchos kudos.

But then it's just as easy to fuck it up completely.

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