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Image via Wikimedia Commons // Graphic by Rebecca O'Connell
Image via Wikimedia Commons // Graphic by Rebecca O'Connell

The Ultimate 3D Puzzle—The Rare, 20-Sided Dogic

Image via Wikimedia Commons // Graphic by Rebecca O'Connell
Image via Wikimedia Commons // Graphic by Rebecca O'Connell

If you find the Rubik’s Cube bewildering, you'd be astounded by its cousins in the 3D puzzle world. From the colorful, twisty Pyraminx to the 12-sided Gigaminx to the seven-layered V-Cube, solving the basic '80s Cube is child’s play compared to the big leagues.

But then there’s the granddaddy of them all, in rarity if not complexity: The Dogic, a 12-color, 20-sided icosahedron that can cost upward of $500 on eBay. If you can find it, that is.

Ernő Rubik—the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube—might be the most famous puzzle designer, but he’s far from the most prolific. An entire cottage industry of DIY designers emerged in his wake, supported by a fervent online community. Everyone from casual cubers working on building up their puzzle collections to the near-professionals who compete in speedcubing competitions are intrigued by the constant challenge of solving these 3D games.

Rubik invented his 6-sided cube in Budapest in 1980, and nearly 20 years later and just 15 miles away, two Hungarian men named Zsolt and Robert Vecsei patented their own design for the incredibly intricate Dogic. Their patent took five years to be approved, and in 1998 they finally manufactured a short run under their toy company Vesco, a tiny business based in the small town of Piliscsaba, located in the forested Pilis Mountain hills northwest of Budapest.

The Vecseis had no idea how popular their creation would be, and at the time, neither did anyone else. News of the puzzle spread quickly: A 1998 message to the Cube Lovers listserv reported the Dogic was “a true must for anyone who likes cube-type Puzzles.” Three months later, another member used a computer simulator to uncover the puzzle’s solution. His diagnosis: “Despite having more permutations than most magic puzzles, Dogic seems to be fairly easy to solve.”

Simplicity didn’t quell its popularity though: American cubers bought theirs from overseas, sharing names and email addresses for German collectors and toy shops. No one knows exactly how many Vesco produced, but it was roughly 4,000 in total. Few enough that availability complaints were already rampant in 2001, when the Dogic cost around $70 on eBay and European toy shops could no longer replenish their stock. But because the puzzle fit an astonishing 267 tiny pieces into its small frame, it required skilled workers and specialized machines to assemble them. A massive production run would have been totally out of the question.

Production appeared to have stopped by 2001, when members of the Twisty Puzzles forums began begging bigger manufacturers to take up the cause of creating these rare toys. “Uwe Mèffert, are you there?” one asked.

To the cubing community, Uwe Mèffert is a cornerstone, a prolific German designer who is known as “one of the leading Rotating Puzzle Inventors / makers in the world.” His extensive online shop is an enthusiast’s wonderland. When he heard about the shortage, Mèffert traveled to Budapest to purchase the plastic Dogic molds from the Vecseis. His assured fans—who were not shy about emailing him for updates—that he was working to get all orders for the $39 special-edition Dogics in the mail before Christmas 2004. However, Mèffert noted that future runs would "need to be substantially higher because of extremely high raw material costs."

Unfortunately for Mèffert, manufacturing the quirky puzzle proved immensely difficult: "The molding has been almost completed and was a nightmare," he wrote after struggling to fit the Vecseis' Hungarian molds into his Japanese production machines, and them breaking more than 20 times in the process. "You can imagine not only has it been frightfully expensive, but also very time consuming."

Because of these setbacks, Mèffert had refused to manufacture the Dogic until he received 1000 orders. Enthusiasts encouraged each other to purchase in multiples to meet the quota: “Come 2007 we could very well be singing the familiar Dogic tune again: ‘I wish I bought more when they were available!’” wrote Twisty Puzzles moderator Sandy Thompson.

And so they were. It only took a few months before cubers bemoaned Mèffert’s Dogics. The new batch drove down the cost of the Vecsei originals—second-hand prices dropped instantly from $500-plus to $100. Nefarious eBay sellers marked the newest versions as “original,” to much consternation. And to top it off, the aforementioned manufacturing problems were revealing themselves in the assembly: Models fell apart in the hand, pieces were harder to keep aligned, and the turning mechanism wasn’t as smooth as the Vecsei originals. While Mèffert continued manufacturing the Dogic until 2010, producing around 2,000 total, interest fell off sharply.

To the relief of collectors, once they were no longer on the assembly line, the price of existing Dogics rose accordingly. But if you want to score big, keep your eyes peeled at garage sales: While a Hungarian original will fetch much more, Ebay hasn't had a Dogic listed in six months, and that one was a Mèffert that sold for $550.

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"American Mall," Bloomberg
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Unwinnable Video Game Challenges You to Keep a Shopping Mall in Business
"American Mall," Bloomberg
"American Mall," Bloomberg

Shopping malls, once the cultural hub of every suburb in America, have become a punchline in the e-commerce era. There are plenty of malls around today, but they tend to be money pits, considering the hundreds of "dead malls" haunting the landscape. Just how hard is it to keep a mall afloat in the current economy? American Mall, a new video game from Bloomberg, attempts to give an answer.

After choosing which tycoon character you want as your stand-in, you're thrown into a mall—rendered in 1980s-style graphics—already struggling to stay in business. The building is filled with rats and garbage you have to clean up if you want to keep shoppers happy. Every few seconds you're contacted by another store owner begging you to lower their rent, and you must either take the loss or risk them packing up for good. When stores are vacated, it's your job to fill them, but it turns out there aren't too many businesses interested in setting up shop in a dying mall.

You can try gimmicks like food trucks and indoor playgrounds to keep customers interested, but in the end your mall will bleed too much money to support itself. You can try playing the bleak game for yourself here—maybe it will put some of the retail casualties of the last decade into perspective.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Why the Soundtracks to Games Like 'Mario' or 'The Sims' Can Help You Work
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iStock

When I sat down to write this article, I was feeling a little distracted. My desk salad was calling me. I had new emails in my inbox to read. I had three different articles on my to-do list, and I couldn't decide which to start first. And then, I jumped over to Spotify and hit play on the theme to The Sims. As I listened to the upbeat, fast-paced, wordless music, my writing became faster and more fluid. I felt more “in the zone,” so to speak, than I had all morning. There's a perfectly good explanation: Video games provide the ideal productivity soundtrack. At Popular Science, Sara Chodosh explains why video game music can get you motivated and keep you focused while you work, especially if you're doing relatively menial tasks. It's baked into their composition.

There are several reasons to choose video game music over your favorite pop album. For one, they tend not to have lyrics. A 2012 study of more than 100 people found that playing background music with lyrics tended to distract participants while studying. The research suggested that lyric-less music would be more conducive to attention and performance in the workplace. Another study conducted in open-plan offices in Finland found that people were better at proofreading if there was some kind of continuous, speechless noise going on in the background. Video game music would fit that bill.

Plus, video game music is specifically made not to distract from the task at hand. The songs are meant to be listened to over and over again, fading into the background as you navigate Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom or help Link save Zelda. My friend Josie Brechner, a composer who has scored the music for video games like the recently released Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, says that game music is definitely written with this in mind.

"Basically, successful video game music straddles the balance between being engaging and exciting, but also not wanting to make you tear your ears off after the 10th or 100th listen," Brechner says. Game music often has a lot of repetition, along with variation on musical themes, to keep the player engaged but still focused on what they're playing, "and that translates well to doing other work that requires focus and concentration."

If you're a particularly high-strung worker, you might want to tune into some relaxing classical music or turn on a song specifically designed to calm you. But if you want to finish those expense reports on a Monday morning, you're better off choosing a fast-tempo ditty designed for seemingly pointless activities like making your Sims eat and go to the toilet regularly. (It can help you with more exciting work responsibilities, too: Other research has found that moderate background noise can increase performance on creative tasks.)

These types of songs work so well that there are entire playlists online devoted just to songs from video game soundtracks that work well for studying. One, for instance, includes songs written for The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Super Smash Bros., and other popular games.

The effect of certain theme songs on your productivity may, however, depend on your particular preferences. A 2010 study of elementary school students found that while calming music could improve performance on math and memory tests, music perceived as aggressive or unpleasant distracted them. I was distracted by the deep-voiced chanting of the "Dragonborn Theme" from Skyrim, but felt charged up by the theme from Street Fighter II. There's plenty of variety in video game scores—after all, a battle scene doesn't call for the same type of music as a puzzle game. Not all of them are going to work for you, but by their nature, you probably don't need a lot of variation in your work music if you're using video game soundtracks. If you can play a game for days on end, you can surely listen to the same game soundtrack over and over again.

[h/t Popular Science]

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