The Cubes

IMG_3143At some point this summer, my son became interested in the Rubik’s cube and begged us to buy him one. Happy that it wasn’t a video game, my husband went to our local toy store and bought him one, and while he was there, he bought two more because our children have trained us never to buy just one of something when there are three of them.

Our first child, the oldest, must have heard how impossible the Rubik’s cube was to solve because she decided that she was never, ever going to mix hers up and leave it forever as she received it, treating it more like an abstract piece of art to display in her bedroom. This was a good plan; there was no other place in the house that was safer because she had trained her brothers a long time ago to never EVER enter her bedroom for any reason whatsoever.

Our last child, the youngest, watched his older brother for clues on what he should do with his Rubik’s cube. Together, they each twisted and turned their cubes until they had them really mixed up, and then put dots with Sharpie markers in one of the center cubes to tell the difference between the two of them.

After about an hour, our youngest child no longer had any interest in his cube, and ran down the street to play outside with our neighbors. But our second child got serious, consulting YouTube for visual instructions on how to solve it. That didn’t work; the videos were either too complicated, too vague, or too fast. One video recommended we lubricate the cube with some WD-40 to make it spin faster so that the solution would be more obvious. That didn’t work either.

Still, he kept at it. He took the cube with him everywhere: the pool, basketball camp, restaurants, etc., but he still couldn’t solve it. At the end of his rope, he asked us for help but was amazed to find that we were as dumbfounded as he was; usually we were able to solve complex problems and provide answers to difficult questions, but this time was different. I imagine he started to feel vulnerable; “If my parents don’t know how to do this seemingly easy thing, what else do they not know?”

It was around this time that he started to consider “borrowing” his sister’s Rubik’s cube on display in her bedroom that is never to be entered under any circumstances. His thinking was, “If I mix it up only a little, I will be able to solve it pretty easily and apply what I have learned to my cube and will then be able to solve any Rubik’s cube on earth no matter how mixed up it is.”

And so, my second child stole his sister’s Rubik’s cube, mixed it up only a little, but was unable to get it back. Scared out of his mind, he wept to my husband, who decided the best course of action for his son was to approach his sister honestly and with sincere regret. She of course was very angry until my husband diffused the situation by mentioning that he could simply peel off some stickers, artificially returning the cube to its original state. That made me and my OCD crazy but it impressed the children and made my husband look like a genius.

A few days later, my son asked us to buy him another, more sophisticated cube, a Newisland cube he found on Amazon. The Newisland cube spun faster than the Rubik’s Cube without having to add any additional lubricant and it didn’t have any stickers to peel. It was for serious cubers. It arrived by courier, and he was ecstatic, spinning it and manipulating it in the same way over and over again but never getting it truly mixed up, until his brother inadvertently bumped his arm and caused him to make a wrong turn. He tried to correct it but it was too late – the cube was forever mixed up and this time there were no stickers to peel.

My son broke down into sobs once again. I could not take the stress anymore and wished for a simpler life, before the cubes. I gave him the speech of a lifetime:

“The Rubik’s cube is a lie in the same way the claw from the arcade at the beach is a lie. Even though it appears from YouTube that anyone can solve it, only a very small percentage of the population can solve it. If it turns out that you can’t ever solve it, I don’t want you to think you aren’t smart because you are! Also, the inventor of the Rubik’s cube never meant for it to sit perfectly on a shelf in a bedroom. It is supposed to capture your imagination and dare you to dream, to reach for the impossible. It’s not supposed to be perfect, and that is what makes it great.”

I was pretty proud of myself for being so philosophical on my feet and thought maybe I was going to emerge the ultimate hero, until my husband announced from the kitchen that he had pried open the mixed up Newisland cube with a screwdriver and was able to gently pop it back together again perfectly. With a quiet awe, we all gathered around him as he showed us how he did it. It is because of him that we live peacefully among the cubes today.

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