Of Rubik and His Cubes

Predictable, and hilarious to the sentient:

Creationists Demand Airtime On ‘Cosmos’ For The Sake Of Balance
Brian Tashman / Right Wing Watch

The Creationist group Answers In Genesis, which was already incensed about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s revival of Cosmos, is now complaining that the show lacks scientific balance because it fails to provide airtime for evolution deniers….

Listen to their fine red whine:

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Because we’ve told the lemmings (or someone has) that science is bad, and knowing about it is bad.

And, since that philosophical bent leads inevitably to extinction, I will tell you a science story.

You might remember the Rubik’s Cube fad of the early 1980s.

rubiks cube

Rubik’s Cube (scrambled)

I did my best to avoid it. The only “puzzles” that I did at the time were chess problems, and not often at that. That part of my brain was entirely taken by constructing story plots and other fictive and non-fictive devices.  I went through some puzzle phases as a child, and one — crossword puzzles — as an adult, but, like gambling, the life experience that the recreation simulates is already something that I’m doing as a matter of course, and, thus, a busman’s holiday.

Or, to put it another way: I worked in men’s magazines and adult films in Hollywood for a decade, and, during that time, it never occurred to me to go to a “strip club” for any recreational reason whatsoever.

So, I don’t do puzzles and I don’t gamble. But that does not, and did not relieve me of the onus of partaking in the Rubik’s Cube fad.


This is about a way of thinking: but, unlike the notion that just because some mythic words are written in a magic book, we MUST teach those words as an EXACT alternative to the sum total of our empirical observations and science going back, at least, to Archimedes, whose naked run we still celebrate,  as he shouted “Eureka!” when he noticed that his body displaced the liquid in his bathtub by a measurable amount, and, thus, solved the problem of how — short of melting down and/or destroying jewelry and statuettes — it could be determined whether the jeweler had stuffed the interior of a precious metal artifact with cheaper metal to come to the same weight to cheat his king.

We used to use the term “natural philosopher” for those persons, like Benjamin Franklin or Leonardo da Vinci, carefully observed nature and made fundamental discoveries about the nature of our relationship to the universe that, mysteriously, had NOT come from repeated reading of the mythic words in the magic book.


And, over time, I have amassed my small reservoir of solutions to life problems based on observation: Wave forms and harmonics to clear a public restroom while I “do my business” in solitude. And, how to change underwear in snow boots and winter pants without having to remove either (topology and the three-hole solution).

Those are tricks for another day, but they serve to illuminate the thesis here: I observe my world, and approach my problems in an engineering and not a scientific manner. Science asks “why?”  Engineering asks “how?”


I got stuck with a Rubik’s Cube. Friend, acquaintance, maybe a party, person at work, whatever: I found myself burdened with a $2 Rubik’s Cube knockoff and challenged by someone to solve it.

rubiks cube


This is the nature of fads: we are not as much individual ice cubes in a freezer as fuzzily delineated drops of water in the greater conversational pool of humanity. And fads, like flu strains, are almost impossible to avoid without resorting to a monastic life. They are bound to impinge on our boundaries.

I hadn’t paid a lot of attention — other than to be bombarded with the bombast of fad, the endless ‘teasers’ for the evening news, the hip cultural references by the comedians of late night teevee, the humorous news items that show up in the magazines and newspapers. The latest color flushing through the chameleon of Pop Culture.

rubiks cube

And so I returned to my bachelor’s pad across the street from the graveyard and over the store front in Glendale, California, and in the silence of the evening, I played with the Cube.

It only took me a couple of minutes to determine that what was required was multiple moves to change TWO cubes. It would always affect two, and never one. And that if I carefully mapped out a course of Brute Force cracking, I could determine those moves and solve the cube.

The scientist in me liked that, and KNEW that to be the correct manner in which to solve the blasted cube.


The engineer in me resorted to Creative Laziness™ as in: TOO DAMNED HARD.

And I took a screwdriver and played around until I found that I could pop out a corner square.

I then looked inside as I took the Rubik’s Cube apart.


(Hey, NOWHERE in the challenge I’d been given or in any written material relating to said Damned Cube had I seen any prohibition on taking the cube apart and putting it back together.)

And put it back together in about five minutes.


Puzzle solved. End of Rubik’s Cube challenge.



Maybe it’s a “guy” thing. Maybe  just a geek thing, but taking stuff apart is deeply engrained into my DNA. For a long time, I wasn’t all that good at it: as in, I couldn’t ever get stuff put back together without having extra parts left over.

But, persistence. I got better and even got all the parts back in the same order eventually.

I was trained as a scientist but raised by engineers and in the end, the engineer’s “HOW?” trumped the scientist’s “WHY?” (0r, for that matter, the superstitious’ “BELIEVE! DON’T QUESTION!” — as you might have noticed, I am nothing if NOT a questioner).


And so, given the social demand to solve the puzzle, I was content with my solution, and then I was even given a book that had all those “Move” formulas written down and cross-indexed, and that was MUCH easier than doping it out myself. A screwdriver had worked just as well as that pamphlet did.

And I soldiered on in a Rubik’s-obsessed world and steered clear of those males who had mastered the NEW skill to show potential female (and male) sex partners what intellectual studs they were. I firmly believed that females who would be swayed by such a skill were not worth stalking.

So I could avoid the Cube at parties. And easy to avoid at most public functions.


Until my friend the Dialysis Tech came over. We were going to go up to Angeles Crest and he’d take pictures with his new camera. But first we had to stop off at his friend’s for some reason … borrow something, get some money owed, etc.

And this fellow, in his Hawaiian surfer t-shirt, shorts and sandals was THAT fellow. The kind who later entered Rubik’s Cube Competitions (which still take place, to this very day). And IMPRESSED people with it.

He tossed me the cube:

“Scramble it up,” sez he.

rubiks cube

I do, and toss it back.

He sort of executes a series of oversize raccoon on methadrine moves and we are suitably impressed.

Good actors, actually.


He goes into the kitchen to get something, and I decide to teach him a lesson:

I take out my trusty Swiss Army Knife, pop one corner, twist it, and replace.

I scramble the cube and pretend to be arduously attempting to solve it when he returns.

rubiks cube

“Gimme!” he says and  motions.

I hand the booby-trapped Cube back to Impressive Male.

backyard raccoon

He does his raccoon thing and …


He frantically rescrambles.

Raccoon washes sugar cube …


You see, he “got” that it was IMPOSSIBLE for only one cube to be flipped.


Because he might have been an arrogant twit, but he used his mind scientifically.

He did NOT run to his magic book looking for an answer in the mythic words. He used his intellect and observations of his environment to solve the impossibility I had given him. We all laughed, and I showed him how to flip the corner cube.

The Dialysis Tech and I drove out to the forest and watched the squirrels.



Mr. Williams has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.


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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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