Rubik’s Cube


The Rubik’s Cube is a 3D combination puzzle. It is the brainchild of the Hungarian professor of architecture Ernő Rubik, who invented in it 1974. Since then, over 300 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold worldwide. If they were stacked on top of each other, they would reach the top of Mount Everest, twice.

It is estimated that in the mid-eighties about a fifth of the world’s population had, at some point, handled a Rubik’s Cube. And because of its simple design, people continue to be astounded by its devilish complexity. The percentage of people that has ever solved the Cube, is more somewhat more difficult to ascertain.

Obviously, there is only one solution in which all six sides of the Cube have the same colour; as for all the different unsolved states, the original 3x3x3 Cube has 43252003274489856000 (that is to say, over 43 quintillion) possible Cubes. If there was a Cube for every permutation, they would cover the Earth with 273 layers – a sea of Cubes 15,5 meters (50 foot) deep. If there was a cube scrambled for every permutation and they were laid end to end then they would stretch approximately 261 light years – from Earth to Alpha Columbae.

Because of the vast amount different Cubes, algorithms (a sequence of moves that has a desired effect) are used to solve the Cube. Without algorithms to solve the Cube, it could take ages: if you made a single turn of one of the Cube’s faces every second, it would take you 1371,51 billion years to go through all the possible configurations. The universe is only 13,82 billion years old. If you had started this project during the Big Bang, you still would not be done yet.

Amazingly, the best speed cubers (people who take part in speed cubing – a sport where competitors try and solve the cube as quickly as possible) can solve the cube in under six seconds. At the time of writing, the world record is 4,90 seconds; the record for blindfolded solving (including memorization beforehand) is 21,05 seconds.

Mike: Look I don’t know, ok; it’s like a fucking Rubik’s Cube! I mean, it’s impossible at this point.
Selina: What? Mike, a Rubik’s cube is not impossible to solve.
Gary: Yeah, I saw an Asian kid do it in like ten seconds.
Selina: Ten seconds Mike.
– Veep (2012) Season 1, Episode 3; “Catherine” [No. 3]

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Teams In Red Win More


Wearing red increases the chance of victory in sports, several studies say. Across a range of sports, we find that wearing red is consistently associated with a higher probability of winning.

The Montreal Canadiens (jersey shown here) have won a record 24 Stanley Cups. Of the 97 NHL Stanley Cups that have been awarded since 1915, 52 were won by teams in red jerseys.

A clue for the origin of this phenomenon is perhaps found in the animal kingdom; red colouration is often associated with male dominance. For instance, zebra finches fitted with red leg bands tend to become dominant, while those given blue bands are more submissive. There might be a similar effect in humans. And if so, it could be apparent in sporting contests.

Results of the 2004 Summer Olympics found that contestants in tae kwan do, boxing and wrestling were issued red or blue protective gear at random. Next, evidence of a beneficial effect emerged, with combatants wearing red winning 6 out of 10 bouts in especially close matches.

It was also found that in the Euro 2004 international football tournament, the five teams that wore predominantly red shirts did better. In fact, those who wear red tops, jackets or clothing score 10 per cent more in any competition than if they were in another colour. In national competitions the same results can be found: the winningest football teams in England, Germany, and The Netherlands all have predominately red shirts.

It is likely that the same is true for a high-level sporting competition near you.

Of course, these results do not mean that a bad team can reverse its fortunes by wearing red, The results apply only to closely matched high-level competitors; they may remain open to some criticism, but are interesting nonetheless.

Dabbawalas


A dabbawala, also spelled as dabbawalla or dabbawallah; literally meaning box person, is a person in India, most commonly found in the city of Mumbai, who is employed in a unique service industry whose primary business is collecting the freshly cooked food in lunch boxes from the residences of the office workers, mostly in the suburbs, delivering it to their respective workplaces and returning the empty boxes back to the customer’s residence by using various modes of transport.

A collecting Dabbawala on a bicycle

A collecting dabbawala on a bicycle

Instead of going home for lunch or paying for a meal in a café, many office workers have a cooked meal sent either from their home, or sometimes from a caterer who essentially cooks and delivers the meal in lunch boxes and then have the empty lunch boxes collected and re-sent the same day. This is usually done for a monthly fee. The meal is cooked in the morning and sent in lunch boxes carried by dabbawalas, who have a complex association and hierarchy across the city of Mumbai.

In the morning, a collecting dabbawala, usually on bicycle, collects dabbas either from a worker’s home or from the dabba makers. The dabbas have some sort of distinguishing mark on them, such as a colour or symbol.

The dabbawala then takes them to a designated sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort and bundle the lunch boxes into groups. The grouped boxes are put in the coaches of trains, with markings to identify the destination of the box. The markings include the rail station to unload the boxes and the building address where the box has to be delivered.

At each station, boxes are handed over to a local dabbawala, who delivers them. The empty boxes, after lunch, are again collected and sent back to the respective houses.

The barely literate and barefoot delivery men form links in the extensive delivery chain, there is no system of documentation at all. A simple colour coding system doubles as an identification system for the destination and recipient. There are no multiple elaborate layers of management either — just three layers.

Each dabbawala is also required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of two bicycles, a wooden crate for the dabbas, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and the white trademark Gandhi cap called a topi. The return on capital is ensured by monthly division of the earnings of each unit. Each dabbawala, regardless of role, gets paid about two to four thousand rupees per month. That equates to around £25–50 or US$40–80.

English: metallic lunch box Català: carmanyola...

A typical home-cooked lunch delivered by a dabbawala

In 2002, Forbes Magazine found its reliability to be that of a six sigma standard — a standard method which seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects or errors and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It is a standard that is only given to an industry which makes less than one mistake every 3,4 million tasks.

More than 175,000 to 200,000 lunch boxes get moved every day by an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas, all with an extremely small nominal fee and with utmost punctuality.

According to a recent survey, the dabbawalas make less than one mistake in every 6 million deliveries, despite most of the delivery staff being illiterate. That works out to an accuracy level of 99,9996%.

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2/viii mmxii


Scrabble was invented by an unemployed architect called Alfred Butts.

Toys for Christmas

Put three grains of sand inside a cathedral, and the cathedral will be more closely packed with sand than space is with stars.

According to the Pigeonhole Principle there have to be at least two people in the city of Amsterdam, London or New York who have the same number of hairs on their scalp. There can be two or more people who have the identical number of hairs for instance in the smaller Dutch towns of Steenbergen, Stiphout, or Oss, but contrary to the previously cities this is not necessarily true.

The number of people killed by sharks since records began is equal to just five per cent of the number of toilet-related injuries in the USA in 1996.

Both tigers and weasels make a “Fuff” sound when they attack.

Infinite Monkey Theorem


The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In this context, “almost surely” is a mathematical term with a precise meaning, and the “monkey” is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for an abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters ad infinitum.

Old-Fashioned Typing

The theorem illustrates the perils of reasoning about infinity by imagining a vast but finite number, and vice versa.

The probability of a monkey exactly typing a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time of the order of the age of the universe is minuscule, but not zero.

“We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.” – Robert Wilensky