MIT Robot Breaks Rubik’s Cube World Record, Solving It in 0.38 Seconds

A robot created by MIT students Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo managed to solve a Rubik’s Cube in a record-breaking, lightning-fast 0.38 seconds. The video above shows it happening in real time, then in progressively slower times. By comparison, Yusheng Du, a Chinese speedcuber, holds the [human] record for solving a 3x3x3 cube in 3.47 seconds.

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via BoingBoing

Experience the Majesty of Notre Dame by Getting a Free Download of the Video Game Assassin’s Creed Unity (Free for a Limited Time)

FYI: In the wake of the great Notre Dame fire, the French video game company Ubisoft has decided to make its popular video game Assassin's Creed Unity free through April 25th, allowing gamers to "experience the majesty and beauty of the cathedral." The gothic cathedral figures centrally in the game. Start your download (available only for PC users) here. Once you download the game, you’ll own it forever in your Uplay games library.

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via Laughing Squid

Watch a Playthrough of the Oldest Board Game in the World, the Sumerian Royal Game of Ur, Circa 2500 BC

They may not surprise the average market analyst, but the gaming industry’s figures tell a pretty compelling story. Newzoo estimates that “2.3 billion gamers across the globe will spend $137. 9 billion on games in 2018.” VentureBeat reports that mobile games account for over 50 percent of the total. Currently, “about 91 percent of the global market is digital, meaning that $125.3 billion worth of games flows through digitally connected channels as opposed to physical retail.”

That’s a lot of virtual dough floating around in virtual worlds. But this vast and rapid growth in digital gaming does not mean physical games are going away anytime soon—and that includes cards, board games, and other tabletop games, a market that has “surged as players have grown jaded with the digital screens they toil over during the work day,” wrote Joon Ian Wong in 2016.

Venture capital is flowing into board game development. Tabletop bars and cafes are popping up all over the world, encouraging people to mingle over Scrabble and Cards Against Humanity. It seems the time is just right to revive the oldest playable board game in the world. If someone hasn’t already launched a Kickstarter to bankroll a new Royal Game of Ur, I suspect we’ll see one any day now. At least four-and-a-half-thousand years old, according to British Museum Curator Irving Finkel, the Royal Game of Ur was probably invented by the Sumerians. And it seems like it might still be a blast, and a considerable challenge, to play.

“You might think it’s so old that it’s irretrievable to us, that we’ve got no idea what it was like playing, what the rules were like,” Finkel says in the video at the top, “but all sorts of evidence has come to light so that we know how this game was played.” He promises, in no uncertain terms, to wipe the floor with YouTuber Tom Scott in a Royal Game of Ur showdown, and Scott, who has never played the game before, seems at a decided disadvantage. But watch their contest to see how the game is played and whether Finkel makes good on his threat. Along the way, he liberally shares his knowledge.

For a shorter course on the Royal Game of Ur, see Finkel’s video above. It takes him a couple minutes to get around to introducing his subject, the discovery and deciphering of the “world’s oldest rule book.” A consummate ancient history detective, Finkel describes how he decoded an ancient tablet that explained a game, but which game, no one knew. So, the dedicated curator tried the rules on every mysterious ancient game he could find, till he landed on the “game of twenty squares” from Mesopotamia. “It fitted perfectly,” he says with relish. See the original board, pieces, and dice from about 2500 BC, and learn how Finkel had been searching for its rules of play since he was 9 years old.

For more of Finkel’s passionate public scholarship, see him demonstrate how to write in cuneiform and read about how his work on cuneiform tablets led to him discovering the oldest reference to the Noah’s Ark myth.

Related Content:

How to Write in Cuneiform, the Oldest Writing System in the World: A Short, Charming Introduction

Hear the “Seikilos Epitaph,” the Oldest Complete Song in the World: An Inspiring Tune from 100 BC

The British Museum Is Now Open To Everyone: Take a Virtual Tour and See 4,737 Artifacts, Including the Rosetta Stone

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

A Beautiful Short Documentary Takes You Inside New York City’s Last Great Chess Store

Chess Forum in Greenwich Village is, like Gramercy Typewriter and the Upper East Side’s Tender Buttons, the sort of shop New Yorkers feel protective of, even if they’ve never actually crossed the threshold.

“How can it still exist?” is a question left unanswered by "King of the Night," Lonely Leap’s lovely short profile of Chess Forum’s owner, Imad Khachan, above, but no matter. We're just glad it does.

The store, located a block and a half south of Washington Square, looks older than it is. Khachan, hung out his shingle in 1995, after five years as an employee of the now-defunct Village Chess Shop, a rift that riled the New York chess community.

Now, things are much more placid, though the film incorrectly suggests that Chess Forum is the only refuge where chess loving New Yorkers can avail themselves of an impromptu game, take lessons, and buy sets. (There are also shops in Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Upper East Side.) That said, Chess Forum might not be wrong to call itself "New York's last great chess store." It may well be the best of the last.

The narrow shop’s interior triggers nostalgia without seeming calculation, an organic reminder of the Village’s Bohemian past, when beret-clad folkies, artists, and students wiled away hours at battered wooden tables in its many cheap cafes and bars. (Two blocks away, sole survivor Caffé Reggio’s ambience is intact, but the prices have kept pace with the neighborhood, and the majority of its clientele are clutching guidebooks or the digital equivalent thereof.)

Khachan, born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugees, gives a warm welcome to tourists and locals alike, especially those who might make for an uneasy fit at tonier neighborhood establishments.

In an interview with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, he recalled a “well-dressed and highly educated doctor who would come in wearing his Harvard logo sweater, and lose repeatedly to a homeless man who was a regular at Chess Forum and a chess master.”

The game also provides common ground for strangers who share no common tongue. In Jonathan Lord’s rougher New York City chess-themed doc, Passport Play, Khachan points out how diagrams in chess books speak volumes to experienced players, regardless of the language in which the book is written.

The store’s mottos also bear witness to the value its owner places on face-to-face human interaction:

Cool in the summer, warm in the winter and fuzzy all year long.

Chess Forum: An experience not a transaction

Smart people not smart phones.  (You can play a game of chess on your phone, Khachan admits, but don't fool yourself into thinking that it's giving you a full chess experience.)

An hour of play costs about the same as a small latte in a coffeehouse chain (whose prevalence Khachan refers to as the Bostonization of NYC.) Senior citizens and children, both revered groups at Chess Forum, get an even better deal—from $1/hour to free.

Although the store’s official closing time is midnight, Khachan, single and childless, is always willing to oblige players who would stay later. His solitary musings on the neighborhood’s wee hours transformation supply the film’s title and meditative vibe, while reminding us that this gentle New York character was originally drawn to the city by the specter of a PhD in literature at nearby NYU.

Readers who would like to contribute to the health of this independently owned New York City establishment from afar can do so by purchasing a chess or backgammon set online.

Related Content:

When John Cage & Marcel Duchamp Played Chess on a Chessboard That Turned Chess Moves Into Electronic Music (1968)

Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov Relives His Four Most Memorable Games

Man Ray Designs a Supremely Elegant, Geometric Chess Set in 1920–and It Now Gets Re-Issued

A Human Chess Match Gets Played in Leningrad, 1924

A Free 700-Page Chess Manual Explains 1,000 Chess Tactics in Plain English

Claymation Film Recreates Historic Chess Match Immortalized in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Play Chess Against the Ghost of Marcel Duchamp: A Free Online Chess Game

Chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley Plays Unsuspecting Trash Talker in Washington Square Park

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City through December 20th in the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

When Pinball Was Deemed Immoral & Outlawed in Major American Cities

I remember the early days of the video arcade, where my friends and I went to have fun and spent our parents’ cash on Galaga, Robotron 2084, or--if you were a really big spender--Dragon’s Lair. Then, when we’d get home, and we would see scare pieces on the national news about the evils of the very arcades we had just visited, dens of drugs and depravity! Where were *those* arcades, we wondered.

Nothing has changed, it seems. Let’s go back nearly 80 years to another moral panic: pinball.
As these two mini docs show, in the 1930s and ‘40s pinball was banned in cities like New York (by mayor and future airport Fiorello LaGuardia) and Chicago because of its association with organized crime, but also the appeal it had to the children of the working class.

They kind of had a point: early pinball machine were purely games of chance, which put it very close to gambling. (A modern pachinko machine is closer to these early versions.) Like a carny game, you paid your money, and you watched as the ball careened down the table, out of your control.

But with the invention of user-controlled flippers that sent the ball back in play, these games of chance became games of skill. But that didn’t stop some moral crusaders.

And, as several pinball fans have found out--like the gentleman in the VICE doc below who wanted to open a pinball museum--antiquated laws remained on the books from those early years and had never been changed for modern times.

Roger Sharpe, known as “The Man Who Saved Pinball,” even went to a Chicago court in 1976 to prove that pinball was a game of skill. In a scene that sounds perfect for a final act in a movie, Sharpe, with his barbershop quartet mustache and groovy outfit, played pinball in front of legislators. Calling shots like a pool player might, he soon convinced the court that skill was everything. Sharpe would go on to become a star witness in similar hearings in Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas over their pinball laws.

Ironically, while video games replaced pinball in most arcades, home systems and computers replaced the need for arcades. It’s now a perfect time for these purely analog and tactile machines to make a comeback. Hell, a rock band might even make a musical about it one day.

Related Content:

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Sad 7-Foot Tall Clown Sings “Pinball Wizard” in the Style of Johnny Cash, and Other Hits by Roy Orbison, Cheap Trick & More

Play a Collection of Classic Handheld Video Games at the Internet Archive: Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tron and MC Hammer

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov Relives His Four Most Memorable Games

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

Many consider Garry Kasparov one of the greatest chess players of all time. And for good reason. In 1985, at the age of 22, Kasparov defeated the reigning champion Anatoly Karpov. From that moment, until his retirement in 2005, he dominated. For the next 225 out of 228 months, he was the #1 ranked player in the game. Above, in a video created by The New Yorker, Kasparov "replays some of his most unforgettable games," and "relives the happiest and the most painful moments of his career," including:

  • Garry Kasparov vs. Anatoly Karpov: World Championship Match 1985
  • Garry Kasparov vs. Anatoly Karpov: World Championship Match 1987
  • Garry Kasparov vs. Viswanathan Anand: PCA-GP Credit Suisse Rapid Final Blitz Playoff 1996
  • Garry Kasparov vs. Deep Blue: I.B.M. Man vs. Machine 1997

In recent months, Kasparov has also created an online course for Masterclass, Garry Kasparov Teaches Chess, which--in 29 video lessons--offers a deeper exploration of his chess theory, tactics, and strategy.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Related Content:

A Free 700-Page Chess Manual Explains 1,000 Chess Tactics in Plain English

Claymation Film Recreates Historic Chess Match Immortalized in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

A Human Chess Match Gets Played in Leningrad, 1924

Man Ray Designs a Supremely Elegant, Geometric Chess Set in 1920 (and It’s Now Re-Issued for the Rest of Us)

Play Chess Against the Ghost of Marcel Duchamp: A Free Online Chess Game

Watch Bill Gates Lose a Chess Match in 79 Seconds to the New World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen

Professional Scrabble Players Replay Their Greatest Moves: Their Most Improbable, Patient & Strategic Moves of All Time

If ever the creators of the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are casting about for sequel-worthy source material, we suggest they look no further than The New Yorker’s video above, in which professional Scrabble players replay their greatest moves.

The bingo—a move in which a player uses all seven tiles on their rack, earning a bonus 50 points—figures prominently.

It seems that top ranked players not only eye their racks for potential bingos, they’re constantly calculating the odds of drawing a next-turn bingo by getting rid of existing tiles on a three or four letter word.

And what words!

The desire to win at all costs leads top seated players to throw down such ignoble words as “barf” and “mayo” in an arena where rarified vocabulary is the norm.

How many of us can define “stopbanks," 2017 North American champion Will Anderson’s winning word?

For the record, they're continuous mounds of earth built near rivers to stop water from the river flooding nearby land….

The pros’ game boards yield a vocabulary lesson that is perhaps more useful in Scrabble (or Banangrams) than in life. Look ‘em up!

aerugo

capeskin

celom

enginous

gox

horal

jupon

kex

mura

oxeye

pya

uredele

varve

zincate

Don’t neglect the two-letter words. They can make a one-point difference between a major win and total and unmitigated defeat.

ag

al

da

ef

mo

od

oe

qi

xi

yo

Careful, though—“ir” is  not a word, as Top 40 player Jesse Day discovered when attempting to rack up multiple horizontal and vertical points.

Bear in mind that challenging a word can also bite you in the butt. Busting an opponent’s fake word play costs them a turn. If the word in question turns out to be valid, you sacrifice a turn, as top 100 player, Princeton University’s Director of Health Professions Advising, Kate Fukawa-Connelly, found out in a match against David Gibson, a previous North American champ. Had she let it go, she would’ve bested him by one point.

Appear even more in the know by boning up on a glossary of Scrabble terms, though you’ll have to look far and wide for such deep cuts as youngest North American champion and food truck manager, Conrad Bassett-Bouchard’s “forking the board,” i.e. opening two separate quadrants, thus preventing the opposing player from blocking.

Reader Content:

With Or Without U: Promoting a Scrabble Book to the Tune of U2

A Free 700-Page Chess Manual Explains 1,000 Chess Tactics in Plain English

Garry Kasparov Now Teaching an Online Course on Chess

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on March 20 for the second installment of Necromancers of the Public Domain at The Tank. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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