Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fads: Rubik's Cube

When you think about it, national fads are fascinating in the abstract as social phenomena. Remember that sudden collective epiphany in December 1996 by seemingly every "loving" parent in America that they had to buy their child a "Tickle Me Elmo" for Christmas (leading to near riots at dawn at stores across the country)? Or when millions of Americans, young and old, found themselves compelled to wear t-shirts in the summer of 1980 proudly emblazoned with the phrase, "I shot JR"? There's something very intriguing about the unlikely combination of the mass hysteria created out of nowhere, and the utter triviality of the underlying cause. Perhaps counterintuitively, it seems to me that fads like these seem to sweep the country much less frequently today (in the internet age) than they did before.

But I'm not as interested in the sociology of fads as I am in just remembering the moments themselves. In that spirit embedded below is a 6 minute segment from an early 1980s episode of "That's Incredible!" The first 3 minutes feature a nationwide "Cube-A-Thon" tournament to find the person (well let's be honest: the teenaged boy) in America who could solve a Rubik's Cube the fastest. The haircuts and fashions in this clip are great. But could you imagine today thousands of people of all ages patiently lining up for hours in public for a chance to play with a little plastic cube whose solution is fundamentally mathematical? Those were the days...

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