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Rubik's Cube Inspired Puzzles Demonstrate Math's "Simple Groups"

A new set of puzzles inspired by Rubik's Cube offers puzzle lovers the chance to get acquainted with the secret twists and turns of mathematical entities called sporadic simple groups

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Editor's Note: The online puzzles mentioned in the July magazine can be found here.

Millions of people have been perplexed at one time or another by Rubik’s Cube, a fascinating puzzle that took the world by storm in the 1980s. If you somehow missed the puzzle—or the 1980s—the cube is a plastic gizmo that appears to be made up of 27 small cubes, or “cubies,” stacked into a larger cube, three cubies to an edge. Each of the six square faces of the larger cube is colored in one of six eye-catching colors—typically blue, green, orange, red, yellow or white. We said the cube appears to be a stack of cubies, but appearances here are deceptive. An ingenious mechanism, invented in 1974 by a Hungarian teacher named Erno Rubik (and, independently, in 1976 by a Japanese engineer named Terutoshi Ishige), enables any of the six square faces of the large cube to be twisted about the center of that face. Twist the faces in some random sequence five or six times, and you have a cube so scrambled that only an expert—a cubemeister—can restore order. The object of the puzzle is to put an arbitrarily scrambled cube back into its original state, one solid color per face, thereby “solving” the cube.

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