Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All, Ernö Rubik. New York: Flatiron Books, 2020.
Summary: A memoir that explores both the role of puzzles in our life, and the creation and afterlife of the eponymous cube that bears the author’s name.
You’ve probably tried to or even succeeded in solving the Cube. I remember when one of these turned up as a Christmas gift to my nephew. He was about the only one who didn’t get much chance to try to solve it that Christmas day. We all took a turn at it, but the real challenge was getting it away from my brother, the logical one in our family. I don’t think any of us solved it that day.
This is the story not only of how this puzzle came into existence, but also on the value of puzzles in our lives. Along the way, we learn a bit about the puzzle’s creator. Ernö Rubik. Rubik is a Hungarian architect who always has loved puzzles from the time he received a 15 puzzle as a child. Not surprisingly for an architect, geometric puzzles always fascinated him.
Rubik believes puzzles are far more than mere diversions:
“Puzzles bring out important qualities in each of us: concentration, curiosity, a sense of play, the eagerness to discover a solution. These are the very same qualities that form the bedrock for all human creativity. Puzzles are not just entertainment or devices for killing time. For us, as for our ancestors, they help point the way to our creative potential. If you are curious, you will find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”
Rubik talks about his fascination with the nature of the cube, and his movement from a 2x2x2 to a 3x3x3 cube. His account made me think about how the thing works. How is it constructed? How can you turn sides or layers on different axes?. After all that twisting, why doesn’t the whole thing fall apart? Actually early versions using rubber bands did. The main hint Rubik gives us is the cube none of us see in the center. He leaves most of the rest to us.
For a period, the Cube became wildly successful, not only in Hungary but globally. One has the sense that he was blindsided by all the fame. More than that, he discovers that the Cube is something of an altar ego, a “he” with its own existence. He recounts the fascination of children, the gratitude of adults, and the incredible cult of gamers, some who are able to solve it in under five seconds–something Rubik has never been able to do.
He rhapsodizes on the form and functions and colors of the Cube:
“Some objects at first sight are as baffling as assembly directions in Japanese (for those who do not read Japanese), but the Cube in its calm state is dramatically simple. When all the colors are in place, it suggests peace, a sense of order and security. The regularity of its shape, the recurrence of identical forms, the tranquility of the planes, the compactness of the closed form are in sharp contrast to all it means once it is brought to life, when it is in motion and changes.”
Rubik awakens us to not only the joy of puzzles, but also the wonder of the shapes around us. We see them all around us. Rubik reminds us to really look at them, and what it is about us that so fascinates us when we notice the intrigue of the world’s puzzles around us.