Math professors solve the rubik's riddle

 

September 29, 2011

 

PLAINVIEW – How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know. But unlike the tantalizingly tasty treat, the world has been able to uncover the solution to another pop-culture question that has plagued the masses. How do you solve the Rubik’s Cube?

Wayland Baptist University School of Mathematics and Sciences held a discussion hosted by its chapter of the Mathematics Association of America in its ongoing attempt to help bring mathematics to the main stream. Dr. Scott Franklin, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Mathematics, focused on his childhood nemesis, the Rubik’s Cube.

Developed in the late 1970s by Hungarian Erno Rubik, the 3x3x3 puzzle was introduced to the world in 1980. Since then, more than 350 million cubes have been sold.

Like many people who spent their formative years in the 80s, Franklin was frustrated with the puzzle, eventually giving up on it.

“I decided there were some things in the world I’m not going to be able to do,” he said. “But I couldn’t live with that.”

For Franklin, the natural avenue to decoding the puzzle was mathematics, but first he had to know what he was up against. Based on his research, Franklin determined there are more than 43 quatrillion possible configurations of the puzzle: that’s 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 to be exact.

“It’s enough to cover the surface of the earth 257 cubes deep,” Franklin said.

From there, he determined there are 2,048 possible solutions to the puzzle with “God’s number,” the minimum number of moves needed to solve each configuration, being 20. Franklin said God’s number was determined in 2010, 30 years after the cube was introduced.

According to Franklin, solving the puzzle is a simple question of using algorithms and permutations. New cubes include an answer sheet with their packaging, only offering 1 solution, however.

And the answer is ….