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New twists on Rubik’s Cube

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Now approaching its fifth decade of availability, Erno Rubik's venerable Cube is one of the world's best-selling toys: over 350 million have confounded eager puzzle fans.

So it's hardly surprising it's given birth to a whole genre of spin-offs, remixes, and other novelties that in one way or another owe their inspiration to Rubik's original masterpiece. Some are easier, some are harder -- some are much, much harder -- but all of them will get your brain in gear.

Flex your fingers and check out these crazy cubes.


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Rubik's TouchCube

Mechanical puzzles are so 1970s. This high-tech spin on the Cube pairs touch-screen tech with light-up, electronic faces, accelerometers, and sound effects.

Sound impossible? Hardly. If you get stuck, the TouchCube will take over, showing you step-by-step how to go about unraveling whatever pickle you've gotten yourself into. There's even an 'undo' feature.

The only drawback? All that good advice -- and all that up-to-the-minute tech -- is gonna cost you. The MSRP for the TouchCube is a puzzling $149.99.


Over The Top

Yes. Yes, it is.

"Over The Top" is the world's largest Rubik's Cube, a 17 x 17 x 17 beast measuring about six inches across. The work of Dutch puzzle designer Oskar van Deventer, who completed it in 2011, it's built from 1,539 individual pieces and took more than 60 hours to assemble.

We're guessing it'll take rather longer than that to solve; as far as we know, nobody has ever solved a cube of that complexity. If you think you're up to the challenge -- and have $1,500 you won't miss -- you can build your own with a kit from 3D printers Shapeways.


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V-Cube 7 Dazzler

Three-by-three cubes are for babies.

Check out the V-Cube 7 'Dazzler', a classy, limited-edition piece of hardware made from solid colored plastic rather than relying on cheap stickers, and with a modern bulging-at-the-seams look. Easy on the eyes, then, but hard on the brain: solving it in under seven or eight minutes is a world-class performance.

Match that up with the standard Rubik's Cube -- the world record currently stands at a blink-and-you'll-miss-it 5.66.seconds -- and you'll see just what a difference those extra tiles make.


Void Cube

Take a standard Rubik's Cube, remove all the center tiles, and you get a Void Cube -- a curious-looking variation with a hole through every face. It's also only marginally harder than the standard cube, but it's the engineering behind its construction that makes it interesting.

Regular cubes, as you'll know if you've ever pulled one apart, rely on the central tile to hold the shafts and pivots that make the whole caboodle turn. With those gone, the Void Cube uses a cunning internal arrangement of sliding components to give it the same range of motion. Clever stuff.


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Gear Cube

Another creation of European cubesmith Oskar van Deventer, the Gear Cube has geared edge pieces that can rotate independently of the cube's slices. An engineer's dream, but a puzzler's nightmare.

In truth, however, the standard version is actually considerably easier to solve than the classic Cube. Pros will want to seek out the Expert version, which has fewer rotating edge pieces but way, way more complexity.

Just don't get your hair caught in it, OK?


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Brain Twist

"Ages 8 and up," says the official web page of the Brain Twist, somewhat optimistically. If an 8 year-old can whiz through this thing, we've yet to meet the little brainiac.

A tetrahedral variant on the Cube, it comes with its own gotcha: once you've solved the outside faces, you turn the shape inside-out and have to solve that side too. Without messing up the work you've already done, of course. It won't so much twist your brain as wring it out.


The Four-Dimensional Hypercube

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Perhaps you've already mastered the cube, in all its multitude of positions. Perhaps, indeed, you're one of those fortunate few who can solve one in less time than it takes to scramble one. If that's you, then perhaps you're up for a stiffer challenge. How about trying a four-dimensional version?

Don't call the Mythbusters just yet. Building a real, physical one is indeed impossible. Solving one -- usually via a computer simulation program -- is only marginally easier than that, and only a few hundred people have ever done it. If even that's not a stiff enough challenge for you, there's software out there that'll simulate versions of the Cube in a brain-baking seven dimensions. Good luck with that.

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