Adventures in Science

Posts tagged ‘programming’

Rubik’s Cube


Back in 1981, the big toy of the year was the Rubik’s cube. We –the kids of olden times of yore– went bananas over this thing. We fiddled with them constantly  and everywhere to the dismay of our parents, teachers, and that poor little old lady we accidentally knocked over because we weren’t paying attention to where we were going on the sidewalk. (Sorry again, Mrs. Theibault.)

As you can see from the picture above it was a simple cube made up  of what appeared to be 3x3x3 equal cubes with one cube always hidden in the middle. The exterior surfaces of each of the cubes had colored stickers on them. When the cube was fresh out of the box all of the squares on each side of the whole cube matched with different colors on each facet. The three layers of the cube could be turned independently in all directions. Within a few turns and flips of the cube you were able to mix up the blocks of colors until you had shuffled the colors randomly around the cube. Then it was time to solve the puzzle by twisting the cube until all of the colors matched on all sides.

If you haven’t played with a Rubik’s Cube before, give it a try. Beware! It can be a little addicting. Puzzle it over for a few weeks. Remember that if this toy was actually a 3x3x3 cube of cubes there is another imaginary cube in the center that you can’t see and imagine how that is spinning around in there too.

If you are lucky, one of the pieces will fall off and you will get a glimpse of how the mechanism inside makes it work. You’ll probably want to deconstruct and reconstruct the whole thing. If so, take a look at these amazing mods:


Some people can solve the Rubik’s Cube without cheating. I never solved the Rubik’s Cube analytically. I solved it sort-of-by-accident two or three times. At best, I developed a sense that you had to get one layer solved to improve your chances.

If you have struggled with your Rubik’s Cube for a few weeks and it’s starting to pop its parts, I encourage you to cheat and watch one of the solution videos on YouTube. Why should you cheat? Because knowing how to solve it, helps you understand how to think and plan in 3-D.

Check out RuBot. It was programmed to solve the Rubik’s Cube:

(There is newer version of RuBot with a face and cheesy robot noises, but it creeps me out.)

If you enjoy the original 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube, you will love Jaap’s Puzzle Page. It is a huge site devoted these kinds of spatial puzzle games that will continue to challenge you.

Now, I will blow your mind. A square is a 2-dimensional shape. A cube is a 3-dimensional shape. Imagine, if you can, a cube in four dimensions. This is what is known as a hypercube. Here is a pathetically inadequate two-dimensional animation that gives the impression of what a hypercube is sort of like, but not really:

We have a hard time imagining hypercubes because our brains evolved to live and survive in three dimensions. Fortunately, computers don’t trip over their own brains and can compute geometries in other dimensions for us.

Here is a YouTube video uploaded by drag0nfur of what the programmer calls “A 3D depiction of a 4D rubiks cube being solved by a computer.”

Did you catch the text at the end that said “There are actually 8 3x3x3 cubes, one is hidden in a non-visible dimension. Please don’t ask me why it’s hidden, brains will splode if you do.”

My brain already popped its parts at the mere thought of a Rubik’s Hypercube, but thanks for the warning.

08 May 2001 --- Exploding head --- Image by © John Lund/CORBIS


Learn to program with Scratch

Do you want to create your own video game, music video, cartoon, robot slave, maniacal war machine, and much more? Of course you do! Then you need to learn the basics of programming. By learning to program, you will have complete control over the design and performance of your creation or invention.

One of the easiest introductions to beginning programming is with Scratch. Scratch is a free program developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It was developed to give kids the tools they need to be creative with computers.

You can download it here:

Here is one of several tutorial videos, sometimes presented by kids, showing how the program works:

Go ahead and watch some of the others. See how Scratch can help you do amazing things!

The Scratch web site has many help pages and different forms of tutorials and tools to get you started. Adults will especially appreciate the handy Scratch Help Screens within the program. I found it easy to refer to while trying to figure out how to make our magic unicorn do our bidding.

We played around with it and the three of us–an adult, 5-y.o., and a 12-y.o.–designed and had a simple, silly playable game with just a few hours of trial and error.

Hungry Unicorn by One Giant Leap of Awesome
Scratch Project
You say: “lame.”
We say: “AWESOME!”
“AWESOME!!!” might need some tweaking here and there…

The Scratch interface has a wonderful, easy to use design. The built-in image and sound editors make it easy to do everything from within the Scratch program. The colorful graphic command blocks ease novices into the concepts of programming blocks and the systematic reasoning needed for programming. Finally, once you have become used to programming with Scratch, you can graduate to learning the nitty gritty of programming without the graphic command blocks. Go for it!

Here’s a cute cartoon by Scratch user Robojam200
Scratch Project

Robot party tonight…all right!

Dean Kamen

Photo of Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST, robot, and, FIRST enthusiast, via ABC

If you are an American middle or high school student YOU can build a real robot by joining your high school’s FIRST robotics team. If your school doesn’t have one, you need to pester the science and technology teachers to start one. Send them to

FIRST, also, is a national annual robot build and design competition for high school students. Students start with a robot kit with no instruction manual and a task their robot needs to perform. With the help of a team mentor, the teams use their combined skills to rise to the challenge of assembling and programming their robot. Through innovation, cooperation, and problem solving the kids work to make the best performing robot they can. The teams compete on a local level and then winners move up to nationals for the super robot smackdown and killer party as seen in the following video about and the 2011 finalists.

Robot partay!

You and your team will gain experience in engineering, design, electronics, programming, problem solving, communication, team building and fashion.

Robot Team Spirit Wear

Above photo courtesy of BurningQuestion

Well, maybe not fashion.

In the video, I heard one of the team mentors say that the kids needed to use their language skills to apply for grants (donations of money) as well. I can’t think of a better way to acquire and use such a wide variety of valuable life skills while having a blast with friends.

Kids in the FIRST program have an awesome cheerleader, the super talented, of the pop group Black Eyed Peas. is a passionate promoter of science and technology education. He paid for and produced the program televised on ABC in the United States. He understands that the valuable the hands-on science and technical experience gained from building a robot can give kids a leg up on a better future. He rocks and rules.