Tuesday, December 4, 2018

By Claude Shannon -- a Poem for Rubik's Cube

     Below I present the opening lines of an 80-line (plus footnotes) poetic creation by Claude Shannon (1916-2001).  A mathematician, engineer and cryptographer, Shannon is often called "the father of information theory."  My own acquaintance with Shannon's work came through the topic of error-correction codes.  Shannon's poem on the Rubik Cube was first published here in a Scientific American blog posting by John Horgan.

     A Rubric on Rubik Cubics (1)     by Claude Shannon
     Strange imports come from Hungary:
     Count Dracula, and ZsaZsa G.,
     Now Erno Rubik's Magic Cube
     For PhD or country rube.
     This fiendish clever engineer
     Entrapped the music of the sphere.   
     It's sphere on sphere in all 3D—
     A kinematic symphony!
     Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Ay!
     One thousand bucks a day.
     That's Rubik's cubic pay.
     He drives a Chevrolet. (2)
     Forty-three quintillion plus (3)
     Problems Rubik posed for us.
     Numbers of this awesome kind
     Boggle even Sagan's mind. (4)
     . . .                                                             Does poetic form interest you?  
                                                                Consider the first 8 lines -- what are their syllable counts?  
                                                                    Their rhyming patterns?  What about the next 4 lines? . . .                                     
(1) When T. S. Eliot published "The Waste Land" in 1922 with a wealth of footnotes, there was considerable commotion among the critics—should a work of art stand on its own feet or refer to such weighty tomes as The Golden Bough? We are with Eliot and will freely use footnotes to clarify and amplify our meaning. First off, this may be either read as a poem or sung to "Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Yay!" with an eight-bar chorus).      (2) A little poetic license here—the Wall Street Journal, Sept. 23, 1981, reports Rubik as receiving $30,000 a month from cubic royalties, but driving a "run-down rattling Polski Fiat." This would neither scan nor rhyme as well as Chevrolet.     (3) There are 8! 12!⁄2 × 3^8/3 × 2^12/2 = 43252 00327 44898 56000 possible arrangements of the cube.     (4) If when Carl Sagan says "billions" he means about three billion, it would takes billions and billions of "billions and billions" for forty-three quintillion plus.

Go here for the rest of this fascinating poem . . .
Claude Shannon also is celebrated in this 2016 blog posting.

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