Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Inscrutable Cube

When I'm not gazing at the sky and wondering about the birds, I am absorbed by another distraction - Rubik's Cube.

One of our clients had launched a new mall; the Cube, with the mall logo printed on one of the sides, was a souvenir. The plastic-covered, multi-hued Cube was distributed to everyone at work. Some turned it around, scratched their head and tossed it into the back of a drawer, plastic wrapping untouched. Others took it home for the kids - who would probably look up from the video game console, shrug and go back to killing one-eyed aliens.

None of that for me. I viewed the Cube as a wonderful opportunity to brush up my mechanical and logical skills. I remembered having a go at it once when in school, and the rush of triumph when I managed to complete one side without even realising how I'd done it, puffed up my not-so-tiny ego. The Cube, I figured, could provide the much needed relief when lateral thinking hit a roadblock or when logical thinking by Client Servicing proved impossible. I'd heard about pros who cracked the Cube using their feet. I figured it would be a matter of time before I could work it using one hand only.

Perhaps Rubik made some complex modifications to the Cube since my Primary School days. But how was one expected to get the pink squares on adjacent sides to meet on the same side? Maybe pink wasn't my colour. So I tried green. Ok, that wasn't so bad. Let's not split hairs over light and dark green now. Clients' logos will always be a pain in the posterior; you can never get them right, either in a layout or on Rubik's Cube. If I got the bottom row, the top row would stray. And vice versa. And vertically. And so on. And so forth.

If sky gazing left me all dreamy-eyed, cube-grappling had me scowling. A colleague feeling sorry for me (or perhaps, irked by my frequent groans of despair) showed me a few easy moves. Things improved a little after that. Now I could get two rows out of three in the same colour.

The more I sweated over the Cube, the more I came to appreciate (and loathe, in equal parts) its elegant yet fiendish complexity. Crosswords, I could crack with ease, even the ones with obscure American or Brit references. Sudoku ceased to be a challenge after a while. But the Cube, with its many million combinations, confounded me thoroughly. And I was still struggling with just one side. Logic simply collapsed and sat with its head in its hands, looking glum.

And then the weirdness began.

I would toss the confounding Cube on my desk, one side pathetically close to completion, and the next morning I'd find the offending side immaculately resolved. I questioned my colleague but he refused to take credit. It happened several times, sometimes during the day as well. The Mystery of the Self-Solving Rubik's Cube was almost as bad as the Misery of the Un-resolvable Cube. How did the Cube gremlin nudge that single square, that had foxed me, into place? And how did it succeed in completing TWO sides?? I was ready to concede defeat to this genius when even the other sides were in varying stages of completion.

One day, in utter frustration, I just said aloud to no one in particular, "Who's working out my Rubik's Cube??"

A colleague looked up from a magazine and said, "Oh that. I've seen Raju playing with it."

"Raju?!" I asked, hoarsely

"Raju," she repeated, "our canteen boy."