I really enjoy cubing in public. I don't just enjoy it for the occasional bonus, like a free hour of diagnostic time at the mechanic's shop, or the rare employee discount or free meal. Those are fun when I get them, but it's not really the reason. The reason I really like it is when I can give someone that moment where the light goes on in their head, and they get a glimpse of real understanding. That is not the universal reaction, however. A lot of the time it's just amazement or disbelief.
Let's compare a few scenarios. Last weekend at the fair I went to all of the usual vendors, and a few new ones. #1 son always likes to find one particular Ty (Beanie Baby) vendor at the fair because she's always got some that he didn't find elsewhere and he has a serious jones for stuffed animals. (They're so cute!) We have come by her booth at least the last four or five years. She remebers who we are because of the cube, even though she does dozens of fairs and shows a year. This year, she shows me off to the guys selling baseball memorabilia across from her. It's the standard bit where I hand them the solved cube, encourge them to mix it up, and I knock it down in about 40 seconds or so. They shake their heads in disbeleif and go back to their business. Later, I go look for one of the other booths by myself, and run across a local solar power vendor. I am interested and look over the booth, and I get the usual question.
"Have you ever gotten that thing?"
The guy in the next booth over starts watching and comments that he had solved the cube a couple of times, but didn't really know what he was doing. I explain a few more in-depth things that I don't normally bother with, like explaining the difference between an edge piece and a corner piece. These are guys that probably could solve it if they really wanted to, and perhaps I managed to turn some lights on in their heads. I tried to relate the edge and corner pieces of the cube to the perimeter pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Now the difference is that in a jigsaw puzzle, you can move all of the pieces independently, but at least they got the idea.
Thursday night out at a fundraiser, for the elementary school that #1 son goes to, I had the cube with me and managed to catch the eye of a couple of kids two tables over. Their older sister was unimpressed - as it turns out she could actually solve the cube, given a few minutes. I came over and sat at the end of the table for a few minutes and gave them a more though demonstration. I showed them the usual corners-first method that I do, and showed them what two-in-ones are (where you turn two adjacent faces in succession with a single hand motion). It felt like I was doing table magic, but without the intense pressure that comes with working closeup. I had nothing to conceal, and it was amazing all on its own. The youngest was a little older than #1 son, and #1 son came over to talk after a while, as the topic had turned away from the cube and over to school. After a little more chatting, and #2 son barrelling into the conversation, it turned out that the youngest kid had seen my wife and the kids walking to school a lot. So, we ended up turning the light on in a different way, by networking.
This past weekend at McDonalds, I sat between two groups of teenagers and #2 son took great delight in playing peekaboo with one of them. I'm not sure if #2 son was that hungry, though. After I finished eating, I went back to cubing, and got noticed. Oddly enough, the two guys behind us were semi-hanging out with a group of girls over on the other side. Once I had the guy's attention, they called the girls over. As usual, I hand off the solved cube to one of the girls to have them scramble it, so they don't think I've rigged it somehow. What is the greatest danger to solving a cube in McDonalds? French fry grease is. I still managed to solve it fast enough to be somewhat impressive, but I'm sure I could have done better. I lost control of the cube twice, but managed to reverse my mistakes quickly. Stage fright? Grease? All of the above? Maybe I'll have to film it sometime. Until then, I won't really know. Big thanks to Alex and Emily and their friends for indulging my crazy cubing skills.