Let’s Do the Twist!

My Amazon order history says a lot about my purchasing habits. I am a buyer of needs vs. wants. Pet food. Printer ink. Humidifier filters. But every now and then, a little something nostalgic sneaks into My Shopping Cart. Favorite childhood books for my one-year-old granddaughter.  A balloon-launching catapult to make a Thanksgiving turkey fly (it didn’t).  Italian chocolates from Perugia, also discovered during a year abroad in college.  And just today – on total impulse – a Rubik’s Cube.

Rubik’s Cube – adding a few wrinkles to us baby boomers – celebrates its forty-fifth birthday this year.  Back in 1974 when it was invented (and originally dubbed “Magic Cube”), the 3x3x3 trinket earned our attention for its mechanical magic as well as its almost-impossible-to-memorize solution.

To be precise, there are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (that’s “quintillion”) possible positions of Rubik’s colorful squares.  The Cube comes with neither instructions nor answers.  Already solved in its packaging, you can’t help twisting it up into a mess of color.  In our pre-Internet world, Rubik’s Cube required endless gyrations in search of the answer (instead of just, “Hey Alexa”).  But there was something immensely satisfying about the resulting nine squares of single color on each of its six sides.  There was also something tempting about peeling off the colored stickers and rearranging them instead.

Erno Rubik (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Erno Rubik, a Hungarian inventor, was an architect and architecture professor “searching to find a good task for his students” when he completed the Cube’s first working prototype – a mess of wood blocks and rubber bands.  A small plastics company took a chance on its manufacture and the rest is history.  In the first four years alone, two hundred million Cubes were produced and sold.

I was in college (and also an architecture student) when Rubik’s Cube first hit the shelves.  Its perfect symmetry and twisting ability to reinvent its colorful look went hand-in-hand with my interest in building design.  I remember keeping a Cube on my dorm room desk – at first for mindless manipulation; later for successful solving.  Not that I could solve it quickly, mind you.  The world record – an average of five solves – is six seconds.  The world record with one hand (???) is nine seconds.  The world record using only your feet (again, ???) is twenty-two seconds.  My solve is expressed in minutes, if not hours.

               

Few puzzles compete with Rubik’s Cube for sheer “can’t put it down”.  But there are a few.  One of my favorites was the wooden double maze, the box-like puzzle with the Etch-A-Sketch dials on the side, maneuvering the steel ball through the walled maze without dropping it through one of several holes.  I devoted hours and hours to that puzzle, always sweating those final tricky turns to the finish.  Another favorite: Marble Solitaire, where you hop-eliminated marbles in search of the perfect solution: a single marble standing proudly in the board’s center divot.  Finally (courtesy of Cracker Barrel restaurants), how about “Triangle Peg Solitaire”, the hop-elimination puzzle with the colored golf tees?  Thanks to that little game, my kids were supremely patient after the dinner order was placed.

With somewhere near four hundred million sold, Rubik’s Cube is considered the best-selling toy of all time.  Its inventive design landed the Cube in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1982.  The Cube also garnered “Toy of the Year” in eight countries, including Germany, France, and the U.S.

GoCube

Inevitably, there were attempts to advance Rubik’s design, such as a 4x4x4 version (“Rubik’s Revenge”), or pyramid, dodecahedron, and hexahedron shapes.  But going completely off the rails, look no further than GoCube – a thoroughly high-tech update to Rubik’s.  GoCube is also 3x3x3, but rimmed with LED lights, and contains wireless smart sensors, an embedded gyro, and an accelerometer.  Download the GoCube app to your phone (of course there’s an app), and watch your twists on-screen instead of on the cube itself.  The app guides you to the solution (if you so choose), creates alternative mosaic-looking puzzles, and run reports on solving speed and efficiency.  You can even wage virtual head-to-head competitions.  All for “only” $119.

“The Pursuit of Happyness” (courtesy of Warner Brothers)

I’m sure Erno Rubik (and Will Smith) would pooh-pooh GoCube as too much of a good thing.  I would agree.  The app-driven, light-up, hundred-dollar GoCube is over the top, with zero nostalgia to boot.  On the other hand, Rubik’s Cube cost me $4.59 on Amazon.  That’s a sweet deal, and a cheap way to learn how to do the twist all over again.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and the Wall Street Journal article, “Never Solved the Rubik’s Cube?…”

To and Fro

The band Lonestar penned a catchy tune back in 2003 called “My Front Porch Looking In”. The lyrics included the happy antics of the little family inside the house, implying the view “looking in” beat anything to the outside.  That song enters my mind every now and then, especially with the view from my home office looking out over our property. Which got me to wondering, whatever happened to the front-porch swing?

Swings have withstood the test of time, in a world increasingly complex and sophisticated.  The playground swings of my childhood – those chain-and-cloth contraptions suspended from a simple framework of iron pipes – are still in abundance in countless parks and schoolyards today.  Just last week – as my daughter chose an apartment in a large complex in Los Angeles, I noticed the grounds were scattered with small open spaces, each with benches and fountains… and lots of swings.

I can still remember my early days aboard a swing.  Once you figured out how to get your body to generate the momentum, there was no turning back from the addicting to-and-fro.  The reckless objective was to see how high you could go – to the point where you’d almost fall out as you stared down at the sand from the sky above.  If you really pushed it you could get high enough to cause the chains to lose their slack, resulting in a nasty jolt of the chains before you came plunging back to earth.  Finally, there was the I-dare-you launch, where you completed the forward swing with a propel of the body skyward, then dropping to the sand.  I often wondered if you could throw in a gymnastic somersault before you stuck your landing.  Never tried it.

Just yesterday I passed a large carnival in a city park, with those bright, colorful thrill rides popping up higher than the trees.  Sure enough, they had one of those massive swings, where a dozen or more riders are suspended in a circle and twirled up into space.  That first rotation is a little unsettling, but I expect the rest is as relaxing as a merry-go-round.

Swings may still be in parks, but they seem to have gone missing from the front porch.  Therein lies my favorite “swing memory”.  My grandparents’ modest one-story house included a smooth concrete landing just outside the front door, facing a small lawn.  On this spot lived one of those wonderful old mechanical porch swings.  Picture a rocking couch really, with soft cushions and a cloth surround to keep in the shade and cool.  Over time the swing developed a bit of a smell from years of rain and morning dew, but we kids didn’t care.  Our feet easily touched the ground, creating the frantic engine of the to-and-fro.  When two or three of us would sit side-by-side (arms folded so as not to – ewww – touch each other), we would rock the swing so hard it’s mechanics would protest as loudly as my grandmother.  Sometimes we would lie down sideways and swing with just a push of the hands on the concrete.

No doubt, the appeal of the swing stems from those first few years of life, when all of us were rock-a-bye babies.  Just watching or listening to the cadence of something going to-and-fro is almost as appealing as the physical feel.  So when I see an adult on a swing, I’m not surprised.  When I see the long line of rocking chairs at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, I’m not surprised.  And when I find anything that goes back-and-forth, it gives me a sense of calm.

My front porch suddenly seems to be missing something.  I should get a swing.