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A Puzzling Exhibit: Beyond Rubik’s Cube | By Srosh Hassan

What originated as a small puzzle for his math students in 1974, Ernő Rubik’s Cube has become a worldwide phenomenon. As a puzzle with over 43 quintillion possible combinations, the Rubik’s Cube is featured as one of the world’s most popular toys in its only stop in Canada at the TELUS World of Science Edmonton. Beyond Rubik’s Cube is the third stop in the worldwide tour, developed in collaboration with Ernő Rubik himself for the 40th anniversary of the cube in 2014.

Featuring interactive displays and challenges that allow visitors to explore the history and mechanics of the Cube, the exhibit illustrates how an invention created in Communist Era Hungary went on to foster creativity across the fields of science, technology, engineering, robotics, visual arts, music, film, architecture, and mathematics.

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“It’s a very experiential thing,” Annie Prud’homme-Généreux, the Vice President of Science at the TELUS World of Science says. “When you get a Rubik’s cube, there’s no instructions provided on how to solve it. You’re supposed to tinker with it to try to work out what it is that you’re supposed to do and solve it. That’s very much the spirit of this exhibition as well.” She says the exhibit is purposefully designed to allow more of a hands-on understanding of the toy in its three discovery zones of Invent, Play, and Inspire.

Living proof of the Cube’s ingenuity is seen in the robot Rubik’s Cube solver, possibly a favorite for most at the exhibit. Engineers designed an industrial robot, usually tasked to design cars, to solve the Cube in 20 moves or less. After solving each Cube, it performs a victory dance. Across from the robot are displays of homemade Lego robots people have made that can solve the cube using a series of algorithms. The exhibit proves to appeal to visitors of all ages, from children getting their hands on the Cube for the first time, to adults for whom the toy was a part of their childhoods in the 1980s.  They work collectively to complete the mosaic of Rubik’s Cubes at the exhibit entrance to display the Alberta flag.

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“Many people think they cannot solve it, and it turns out to be remarkably simple. Once you understand the steps, it’s definitely within everyone’s reach,” the VP of Science explains. “It’s the simplicity; it’s a block, a puzzle with six colors on it, and yet it gets you intellectually engaged right from the beginning. Its simplicity lends itself to being used in other ways, like creating music, or even poetry.” A section of the exhibit holds a Rubik’s Cube with words carved on its different squares. When mixed, it can be read to make a haiku. Another corner of the exhibit features a Google Chrome station in which an app can create different sounds and music depending on which way you spin a digital Cube.

The exhibit features one of a kind parts and pieces from Ernő’s workshop, such as the first prototype Cube, the world’s largest working Cube, and the world’s most expensive toy – a fully functional, 18-karat gold Rubik’s Cube encrusted with jewels, estimated to be valued at $2.5 million.

The exhibit is open daily at the TELUS World of Science Edmonton from November 7th through February 15th.

Photography courtesy of the TELUS World of Science Edmonton

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