Rubik's rube

Erno Rubik’s got nothing on me.

Rubik is the Hungarian sculptor and architect who invented the Rubik’s Cube and other games. It takes a special sort of mind to devise such clever, addictive puzzles.

I have two teen-aged sons, so naturally we have Rubik’s Cubes lying around the house. My sons busily work the puzzles while simultaneously watching TV, texting on their phones, scratching, playing video games, listening to music and eating. Such are the nimble minds of multi-tasking youths.

My experience with Rubik’s Cube has been less casual. I sit down and give the cube my full attention, and after turning the colorful tiles every which way for 24 seconds, I say, “That was fun,” and toss it aside. Because that’s enough for me. It would take me hours of concentrated effort to even sort of figure out how the danged thing works, to get some type of system going, much less solve the puzzle, and it’s not worth it. The payoff’s not big enough for the time wasted. Unlike, say, a crossword puzzle, which only takes me a few minutes to work and the solution of which makes angels sing.

Scientists call the ability to see and manipulate objects in two and three dimensions “spatial visualization.” The term comes from the Latin roots “spatia” (or “shoulder”) and “visuali” (“door jamb”).

Several experiments have found that men tend to be better at spatial visualization. Yay, men! No offense to women, but we men don’t get many wins in our column these days. Along with spatial visualization, scientists have found that men tend to be better at lifting furniture, stealing elections and competitive eating. That’s about it.

Men’s special adaptation for spatial visualization, which may go all the way back to the days of prehistoric hunters, certainly explains teen-aged boys’ affinity for video games. I’m no better at video games than I am at Rubik’s Cube, and my failures led me to doubt my spatial visualization manhood. I felt intimidated. My sons mocked me, saying within my earshot: “Imagine the hefty Hungarian brain of Erno Rubik!”

Just as I was wondering whether there was a cure for my spatial visualization shortcomings, a mental Viagra, if you will, I had a breakthrough. I saw that non-Hungarians such as myself face spatial visualization puzzles all the time in everyday life and manage to solve them just fine.

Take, for example, our laundry room. We have two (usually full) laundry baskets. We have a washer and dryer, the tops of which serve as the work surface. The washer’s a top loader. The dryer’s a front loader. No problem, the baskets sit on the dryer, right? Except the lint trap is on top of the dryer. So I have to move baskets to put clothes in or out of the washer and to start each new load in the dryer. Back and forth, open and close. I’m so accustomed to this routine, I do it without thinking. My movements are polished by repetition. The baskets slide back and forth and lids slam and, ba-da-bing, new loads of laundry are under way.

Take that, Erno.

Don’t even get me started on the proper way to load a dishwasher. Oh baby, we could be here all day. Nothing arouses my manly spatial visualization skills like a sink full of dirty dishes. The geometry of loading the big stuff and filling in with the smaller items. The proper tilt to catch the best spray. The ups and downs of silverware.


Maybe I’ll try that Rubik’s Cube again.

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