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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Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Want to Live as Long as an Olympian? Become a Chess Grandmaster
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images

It’s well known that physical fitness can help prolong your life, so it’s not surprising that elite athletes, like Olympians, tend to have longer lifespans than your average couch potato. But it seems that “mind sports” can help keep you alive longer, too. According to BPS Research Digest, a recent study suggests that international chess grandmasters have lifespans comparable to Olympic athletes.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, examined the survival rates of 1208 mostly male chess grandmasters and 15,157 Olympic medalists from 28 countries, and analyzed their life expectancy at 30 years and 60 years after they attained their grandmaster titles. They found that both grandmasters and Olympic medalists exhibited significant lifespan advantages over the general population. In fact, there was no statistical difference between the relative survival rates of chess champions and athletic champions.

There are several variables that the study couldn’t take into account that may be linked to chess players’ long lifespans, though. Grandmasters often employ nutritionists and physical trainers to keep them at their best, according to the researchers, and exercise regularly. Economic and social status can also influence lifespans, and becoming a world-champion chess player likely results in a boost in both areas.

Some research has shown that keeping your mind sharp can help you in old age. Certain kinds of brain training might lower the risk of developing dementia, and one study found that board game players in particular have slightly lower rates of dementia.

If keeping the mind sharp with chess really does extend lifespans, the same effect might apply as well to elite players of other “mind sports,” like Go, poker, or competitive video games. We’ll need more research to find out.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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David Franzen, Library of Congress
You Can Thank 1950s Suburban Architecture for ‘The Floor Is Lava’
David Franzen, Library of Congress
David Franzen, Library of Congress

No one knows who, exactly, was the first kid to play "The Floor Is Lava," the simple childhood game that has only one rule: You can’t touch the floor. But as Quartz reports, a new paper contends that the game wouldn't have come about if it weren’t for the rise of American suburbs.

Published in the Social Science Research Network, the analysis by Tim Hwang of the MIT Media Laboratory argues that architecture was a vital factor in the spread of the folk game.

In the new suburban housing developments of postwar America, builders began to market the relatively new idea of the family room, an informal room designed for the social needs of the whole family. This room was separate from the formal living room and dining room, both of which were more likely to contain the inhabitants’ good furniture and fancy china. In building plans popular in the 1950s and 1960s, they were also set apart from the kitchen. One 1965 poll found that seven of 10 new houses built that year contained a family room.

And these factors, Hwang argues, are integral to playing The Floor is Lava. Family rooms provide big couches, coffee tables, and other furniture that kids can move around, climb on, and use as props for the game. Bedrooms would be too small, and formal living and dining rooms too full of potentially fragile items that Mom and Dad would be livid to find disturbed. And kitchens were seen as a mother’s domain, meaning that she would likely be there to put a stop to any shenanigans.

"What is unique about the family room space is both the quantity of space and permission that it affords to the play of The Floor is Lava,” Hwang writes.

However, this is just a hypothesis, and no one can really identify who started playing the game first. Kids in urban apartments can also theoretically jump all over their parents’ living room furniture, if allowed. During my childhood, the game typically took place on a playground rather than inside, requiring players to avoid the ground rather than the family room floor. There are games that originated elsewhere in the world that also revolve around avoiding the floor—Hwang notes examples from Kenya and the UK. But given how the spread of suburbs in the U.S. during the postwar period affected home design, it makes sense that a game might arise from the new spaces children lived in. We may never truly know how The Floor Is Lava was invented, but architecture seems like a good clue.

[h/t Quartz]

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