When I was young, I had an eidetic (photographic) memory. This stopped around age 12, but prior to that, I was able to memorize just about anything I read or saw. This is probably why I did quite well at spelling bees, and why my grades in elementary school were always so good. Still to this day, I can remember some things from that time, not with perfect recall; but certain things — I could probably (for instance) list my kindergarten classmates with remarkable accuracy. This would just be an interesting (if arrogant) anecdote, if it weren’t for one skill that I learned when I was about six that has stuck with me for almost forty years.
The original Rubik’s Cube has a lot of threes. Each face has three squares across and three down. The cubes have three dimensions (well, so does any cube). There are actually multiple versions of the cube available, some with two squares to a side, some with four or more. There’s even an absolutely insane one with fifteen.
Anyway, these cubes are usually described as 2x2x2, or 4x4x4, or in the case of that monstrosity, 15x15x15. This post is not about those cubes, however, it’s about the original, the finest and best, the 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube. Lots of threes — three of ’em.
So, when I was about six or so, Rubik’s Cube were the bomb. Everybody had one, and my mother bought me one as well. I enjoyed it, but I really, really wanted to solve it. So my mother also bought me a copy of a solution book. This one:
And, to put it simply, I memorized it. I memorized the whole book. I was suddenly able to solve Rubik’s Cubes, and I still can to this day. I’m no champion at it, but I can generally do it in less than two minutes, no matter what state it’s in at the beginning. It’s a weird skill. I can’t solve any other puzzle like that. Hand me a 4x4x4 cube, and I’m lost. Hand me one of those pyramid versions, or the (much simpler) link-the-rings puzzle, and I’m lost. It’s just this one puzzle, and all because of this one book.
Another interesting thing is that I really don’t intellectually know how to do it. I’ve tried to show other people. I’ve tried to teach other people the tricks I know. But as soon as I slow down and pay attention to what I’m doing, I lose it. It’s like my hands know how to do it, but my brain doesn’t. It’s muscle memory. And I have a compulsion to use it. Whenever I see a Rubik’s Cube (which is usually at rummage sales these days), I can’t stop myself from solving it. More often than not, I get a small audience when I do this.
It’s funny — people tend to be impressed by this, as though it’s a sign of great intelligence or something. But really, it’s just a parlor trick. Someone who is able to work out their own solution to the Cube — that’s intelligence. Someone who is able to solve various 3-dimensional puzzles — that’s intelligence. Me? I just memorized a book when I was six. Makes me kind of wish I’d read more important things then — what if I had a book about car repair or house repair memorized, and in my muscle memory? What if I had memorized a book about how to regulate your emotions, how to keep the demons of depression at bay? Or a book about meditation?
Boy, my six-year-old self was rather selfish. Next time I see him, I’ll punch him in the neck.