11 January, 2008

We mark the passing of a Good Keen Bloke.

The first man to ascend to the top of Mt. Everest, along with Tensing Norgay, Sir Edmund Hillary finally managed to climb the mountain no other man had succeeded in climbing until then. Not only that, but four years later, he was to chalk up another history-making moment when he arrived at the South Pole in 1958 as a member of the first team to achieve a land passage ahead of the British explorer Fuchs. Sir Edmund did many other things too, probably too many to mention here. A New Zealander through-and-through, he was self-effacing. I wish I had met him, and I think a lot of others did too. Now we won't get the chance, as he has died, at 9:00 this morning.

The family have agreed to the New Zealand Government's offer of a state funeral, stating that they would be honoured by the gesture. I believe that the Nepalese Government is also marking the death with a memorial service of their own. Somehow I suspect that Sir Edmund will not actually get another of his wishes, that of not being marked by any statues or markings of honour. Surely someone will want to erect a statue to him, just to mark the fact that the man did the many things that he did. However, I imagine that his main wish, that of the continuance of the Himalaya Trust, will be eagerly continued.

It is a sad day, but tinged with the sadness—at least for me—is a sense of what he has achieved, and what he refused to say about it says more to me than what he has said. He did not shout it from the mountains, aside from one comment of "Well George, we knocked the bastard off". He simply got on with it, like the quintessential Kiwi Good Keen Bloke.

I've said enough, and will let this tribute stand - one of few words, like the man himself.

Sir Edmund, we salute you.

08 January, 2008

A cube, I profess.

Back in the eighties

They were the times. Shoulder pads. Electronic music. The Death of Punk music. The Rubik's® Cube, snake puzzle, links puzzle, and others. Children got so good at the Cube that competitions were held, and are still held on a semi-regular basis today. In addition, several hundred books were written showing how you could solve the cube. One book that I read was written by a 12 year old, and is still the clearest explanation I've seen to date. I've also seen some good websites that describe cube solving methods, including this website.
Then, they came out with other cubes. Cubes with pictures on instead of just simply colouring each side. Of course, this made the cube just that bit harder, as now you had to get the middle piece of each face oriented correctly with respect to the rest of the face. That was harder than simply putting a coloured face into place, in any one of four different directions. Then there were the little cubes that became keyrings. Too small to really do justice to the job of being a cube, they were a talking point for about 5 minutes, and were then discarded for serious 'cubing. I think mine fell apart about six months after.
It\u2019s tiny! Only three million combinations
Modern "twists" on the cube include Sudoku cubes, where not only do you have to get all nine numbers facing the right way, you've also got to make sure there's only one of each number on each face, just like a Sudoku puzzle, only there's six sides, you see. So it's more difficult. Then, there are cubes that got shrunk—such as the 2x2x2 Rubik's Mini shown on the left. And some cubes just got some grow juice—the 4x4x4 Rubik's Revenge, and biggest of all at 5x5x5, The Professor.

The biggest of all

I wrote about the other cubes I'd bought previously in my previous article all about Rubik's cubes back in June 2007. And I have an update. I've FINALLY managed to purchase The Professor. The Largest. The Meanest. The Ugliest. The Hardest Cube To Master. If you can master all the others, you'll probably do okay at this one. But if you gave up on the normal 3x3x3 Rubik's Cube when it came out in the eighties, then this one will send you running screaming for the hills. All ninety eight pieces to get right. Still only six sides, but might as well be twelve. Luckily, it was bought at the same store that I bought most of the other cubes from. And it wasn't much more expensive than the others, at only $34.95. So I now have the complete collection of cubes, with no more to buy.
I heard that someone actually came up with working prototypes of both a 6x6x6 cube and a 7x7x7 cube, but I seriously doubt that anyone will bring them to market any time soon. And don't even think of trying to speed-cube with this monster. It's simply too fragile, and even the manufacturer doesn't guarantee the product against improper usage, stating on the base this disclaimer:
NOTICE: The 5x5 Rubik's Cube by its very nature has more moveable parts than the 3x3 Rubik's® Cube and is not recommended for “speed cubing.”. Be sure to align all rows before moving them and do not force pieces to twist or turn. Winning Moves Games can not be held responsible for damage due to improper use.
And so we have it.

Gone to pieces

I'd hate to drop it and have it fall apart, as I have no idea how it's put together. Nor is there a reassembly diagram available from the Rubiks.com website, even though there are reassembly diagrams for every other size available. I also don't know how to solve this cube. Thankfully, there is a "booklet" that describes some ways of solving sides of the cube. I'll let you know how I go, if I can do it at all. For those that are interested, I found them mentioned for sale via Winning Games, at Amazon.com; for those of us in Christchurch (New Zealand), they're on sale at the Natures Discoveries shops, so they may also be in other places in the country.

Count them. Count them all, and despair

Again, thanks go to the providers of the related images from Wikipedia.org. It's probably the last time I'll waffle about cubes in this blog, though I imagine I'll have fun trying to do each of the cubes in turn. I've got the 2x2x2 down pat, just about. I can do the 3x3x3 with help from the webpage I pointed to above, as well as the 4x4x4. But frankly the Professor is going to be difficult.
Mathematically, the number of unique combinations is somewhat more than the number of combinations of pieces that we can actually tell apart, at least for the 3x3x3 and 5x5x5. This is because the middle piece of the 3x3x3 face has four indistinguishable directions; the same applies for the 5x5x5 cube. Additionally, for the eight pieces surrounding the middle piece, the corners are all interchangable, and the sides are all interchangable as well, without us actually knowing the difference. One way of telling them all is to actually print a pattern up on sticky sheet in six colours, then stick those to the cube faces. But then that makes your cube even harder to do. And it's already hard enough to do now, isn't it?

Update to post

Incidentally, paragraphs I forgot to add when writing this article before, about how to reassemble and solve the Cubes. Firstly, there are reassembly diagrams for all the Rubik's Cubes except for the Professor, up at the Rubiks.com website, though you may have to dig a little if these links no longer work.
For the Professor, the diagrams are a bit more instructive, so I lead off with how to Disassemble the Professor and then Reassemble the Professor. This particular website also offers parts for sale for the Rubik's Revenge and the Professor, though these parts are not always in supply.
Solution guides also exist for each of the cubes, try this link to find the free downloads or hunt around if it doesn't work. These are in PDF format, so that you can even print them off if you need. In addition, one good site I have found is here (www.waldsfe.org) and covers all four cube models I've mentioned here, though he mentions the Mini-cube in passing as being "all corners".