Sacrificing a Few Squares

Hard to believe my mom allowed me to take a Rubik’s Cube to school. This was before kids were expelled for bringing tweezers to class. But every 7th grade boy had a Rubik’s Cube, and what better place to practice than during biology.

After a few months, my cousin learned how to solve the cube. Over the next couple of weeks he taught me the dozen moves required to solve it. I practiced for many hours until I could solve it in about three minutes. Occasionally the corners would line up properly, and I could finish it in just over two minutes. I was obsessed with my cube to the point where I’d take it apart, dust each piece with graphite in order to gain the slightest speed advantage.


Last year I picked up a Rubik’s cube and was surprised I could still solve it. I’d forgotten a few shortcuts I’d learned back in middle school, but I could solve it in four minutes.  Maybe learning to solve the Rubik’s cube is similar to riding a bike: once you learn you never forget.

Last month I found a Rubik’s cube at work and brought it home. My oldest son was the first to approach me with questions. I showed him two simple moves that allowed him to solve one side. Then I showed him a couple more moves. He practiced after school and in bed. It wasn’t long before he could solve one side plus one layer. The next layer takes some work because you must be willing to mess up the solved side in order to move closer to completion.

Life is similar. 

At times, I’ve worked to improve a part of my life. I’ll put forth the effort to get that area exactly how I want it. And once I’m there it’s easier to stay put than to risk messing it up by arranging the next area that needs fixing.

Initially, my son had a difficult time understanding the need to sacrifice a few squares in order to move forward. He made a number of mistakes. When he’d ask for assistance, I’d help him understand how he got to where he was. He seldom made the same mistake twice. Over time, he learned that making mistakes wasn’t the end of the world. He began to understand how sacrificing a few colors in one area allowed him to move closer to solving the entire cube.

Yesterday afternoon, he walked up beside me while I sat at my computer. He was getting close to to solving all six sides. I showed him the last two moves just as my older cousin showed me over 30 years ago. They are the two most difficult moves because they require one to estimate where a couple of corners will land. Neither move feels intuitive. And if you miss even a single turn, your cube becomes a jumbled mess.

I showed my son the two moves. He gave me that “I hope I don’t screw this up” look and began turning. I watched in amazement as the colors separated and then blended back together. Was he really going to solve it? A few more turns and he realized he had it. He’d solved the Rubik’s Cube for the first time.

I raised my hand, and he gave me a casual high five.

Given how soundly he beats me at Halo, I’ll be keeping a few shortcuts to myself.

Photo by Toni Blay

2 thoughts on “Sacrificing a Few Squares

  1. What a clear analogy! The progress to perfection in both life and the cube gets messy. And, its So awesome the cube is carried on to the next generation. This is really a great article, thanks for writing.


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