Google and Rubik’s Cube: Puzzle unlocked

May 28, 2014

It seems incongruous: A $350 billion Internet behemoth and a quaint toy that had its heyday in the 1980s.

And yet, when Erno Rubik, the 70-year-old Hungarian architect that invented the puzzle that bears his name, sought a partner to celebrate Rubik’s Cube’s 40th anniversary, Google was a natural fit. And the search engine company understood the connection.

rubik.JPG“We want to create order and they also want to create order,” Rubik said about Google. “The Internet, if chaotic, is useless. We need tools that can help us in the chaos.”

The result is a $5-million multimedia exhibition that debuted at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ and will tour the world in coming years. What Google gets out of the project is an opportunity to connect with the next generation of talent.

“We were both born out of the desire to simplify something complicated,” said Robert Wong, Vice President of Google Creative Lab. “In the case of the cube, it was spatial geometry. In the case of Google, it was the Internet. We’re simple enough for young people to use, but also advanced enough to engage and satisfy the world’s deepest thinkers.”

Liberty Science Museum Chief Executive Paul Hoffman was already aware of Google’s long association with Rubik’s Cube. “There are 2 million entry level jobs that can’t be filled by… students, because they do not have the technological and scientific skills.”

Both the museum and Google thought the famous toy would get kids excited about science, math and engineering.

“Science is one part of it,” Google’s Wong said. “But the bigger thing here is sparking imagination, curiosity and confidence to tackle anything that comes their way.”

Rubik’s Cube is already part of the Google culture, he said. On May 19 Google had paid tribute to the 40th anniversary of the cube by a 3D interactive Rubik’s cube on its front page, as 5/19 refers to the 519 quantillion ways the puzzle can be turned.

 Over 350 million Rubik’s Cubes had been sold worldwide , according to its distributor SevenTowns Ltd.

Dan Shapiro, a former Google employee and inventor of the board game “Robot Turtles,” sees a strong connection between physical games and computer programming.

“Even the most digital, software-centered companies realize that there is something missing if you only look at the world of software,” he said. “The amazing thing about the Rubik’s Cube or a board game is that it takes these ideas and turns them into something you can feel with your hands, that you can turn over and you can turn around.”

The Cube is on the border between the digital and the analog world, Erno Rubik said, who also believes that the real charm lies in the physical nature of the toy. “There is no user for whom the virtual cube could substitute the real one,” he said. “It proves that we have to stay in touch with our world, our real world.”

PHOTO: The Empire State building is lit in the colors of the Rubik’s Cube to mark the puzzle toy’s 40th anniversary, in New York City May 8, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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