Rubik’s Cubes are my life.
As a child, I had a box full of Rubik’s Cubes: the traditional ones, cheap souvenir versions, and even some variants on the cube. Though I had no clue what they were about at the time, I was fascinated by the way the colored squares moved. I would sit and twist them into puzzling patterns until I was able to get one side solved. Eventually, the cubes were placed in storage and forgotten.
During the summer after high school, I was at Saint Mary’s College for orientation when I met my best friend; he was holding a Rubik’s Cube, twisting the little cubes, trying to solve it. I sat next to him, and we discussed how the squares moved around the cube. This moment reignited my interest in the cube, and when I saw a Rubik’s Cube at the store a few days later, I bought a new one. Since I didn’t know how to solve it, discovering its mysteries became my goal.
The first time that I solved the cube, I didn’t believe it. I thought it was a stroke of luck. But when I was able to solve it again, I realized I was beginning to understand, and I created new challenges. Visualizing a pattern in my head, I was able to take the cube from an unsolved state to a patterned state.
By the time summer ended, I considered myself competent in the language of the cube, and it became a source of comfort for me throughout college. When I needed to center myself, I would pick up the cube and solve it. I understood how it moved, and had control of it. I got it. It became my “interesting fact” and my “party trick”.
My relationship with the cube stayed this way until my Topology class. It was then that I realized just how applicable to mathematics the cube was. I realized that there were many mathematical secrets hidden in my interactions with the cube. From algorithms, to spacial awareness, to graph theory, this cube emanated mathematics.
I began to read mathematical articles about this cube, which led me to consider graduate school for math. As the deadlines approached, I realized I wasn’t ready for that step yet. I needed to do something else first, so I joined the Lasallian Volunteers, a religious organization that works with the De La Salle Christian Brothers to serve the poor. This experience took me from my home in California, a state where I had spent my entire life, and placed me in New York City. I packed up my bags, grabbed my Rubik’s Cube, and headed to the unknown.
I became a volunteer at a Lasallian, inner-city boys high school. For the first month or so, I struggled to connect with my students. There were a few students who would come to me for their tutoring needs, but most avoided talking to me until something happened. One day, my rubik’s cube was sitting on my desk, and a student picked it up.
He asked me if I could solve it. Nodding, I held my hand out, and, within three minutes, I had solved the cube and placed it back in his hand. After that, students began to stop by to chat and get help on their homework.
Most of my students struggle with math. It’s understandable, especially once you realize that math is a different language, much like the movements of the Rubik’s Cube. I loved tutoring them and teaching them about one of my passions. There was one student, though, who just didn’t get it.
One day, he and I started to work on the Rubik’s Cube, and eventually he got used to the movements. Now, he can solve it on his own. The Rubik’s Cube keeps him quiet during his classes, and now when we go over math, we talk about the steps in terms of the steps to solving a Rubik’s Cube.
Eventually, I moved up from my traditional Rubik’s Cube. The really impressive one that I have is my Professor’s cube (the 5x5x5 version).
It really wows my students and brings a little more of a challenge into my world. I sat for almost a week when I first got it and challenged myself to figure it out without “cheating.” I didn’t want to look up how to do it, even though there were times where I was really tempted. I remember the moment I solved it, and the pride and happiness that I felt. I wish I could share that feeling with others. That sense of accomplishment still greets me anytime I solve this cube.
Still, there are times when I pull out the traditional cube, sit back, and make the colors dance around the surface.