Palo Alto Weekly 20th Annual Short Story
How to Solve a Rubik's Cube
by Katherine Yu
Observe God's creations locked in a picture; the solid blue sky and white clouds, and the dark green moss that grows on the wide trunks of trees. You paint a still-life of a fruit bowl; orange, lemon, and bright apple.
Then observe the cube. You conclude that it is just a matter of getting the nine pieces of the same color on one side. Complete the white face and set the cube down. You are satisfied.
Go out into the sphere of the world again. A cloud shifts across the sky, circling around you. Follow it with your eyes; turn your body to keep it centered in your view. It becomes a line of dark green pine trees. On the matter of fruit, set an orange on your kitchen table. Wait for sun to set and listen to the clicking of the clock. As the light in the room becomes a bright yellow, notice how the orange casts a shadow across the wood. You notice its depth. You feel the tectonic plates shifting beneath your feet.
When you come back to the cube, 125 days later, you notice that the other sides of the cube are still scrambled. So you learn the 4 basic cube formulas from a physics major and use them to solve the cube. As you drill the moves into your thumbs, your fingers become locked in motion. Complete the cube 64 times in one sitting. Find yourself somehow wanting more.
Attend chemistry class. Write in chemical formulas for the decomposition and synthesis of sodium nitrate. But find yourself asking, "Does this quiz really mean anything?"
You compose your own cube formula. You spend 3 summer months locked in your room, digging away at it--listening to the clicking of the plastic. Your best time becomes 27 seconds.
When summer's over, unlock your door and return to the lab. Experiment with that sodium nitrate solution. Explore polyatomic ions and their charges. Make sense of the equations you memorized for that quiz last semester.
Maybe you end up teaching science at a middle school. Watch your 8 students write up their own experiments. Open the classroom cabinet, the one with the jungle of Bunsen burners. Hand them out and watch the kids stare in amazement as the green ocean in a beaker quickly turns to gas. Later, you tell them about your cubing days.
Perhaps you win a Nobel Prize for mathematical group theory. If you do, find that cube again--that 1 cube that taught you to explore the world. Hold it in your hands and thank Mr. Rubik.