Question Sheet: Play for Science


Before reading:

  1. Name a game you like to play. What skills do you learn from playing that


  2. Do you think playing games is good for people, bad for people, or neither?

    Explain your reasoning.

During reading:

  1. What is a facelet on the Rubik’s Cube? 
  2. How many possible arrangements are there for the facelets on a Rubik’s Cube? 
  3. How did scientists break down the problem of solving the Rubik’s Cube into

    smaller problems? 

  4. Now that scientists have come up with a solution for the Rubik’s Cube, how

    might they apply what they’ve learned in other fields? 

  5. How many possible arrangements are there for the pieces on a checkerboard? 
  6. How did Schaeffer break down his checkerboard problem into two separate


  7. Why did Schaeffer say, “I’m quite amazed that I had enough patience to stick

    with this”? 

  8. How did both Kunkle and Schaeffer use computers to solve problems?

After reading:

  1. In your own words, explain the differences between trying to win a game of

    checkers and trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube. 

  2. What do the Rubik’s Cube and a game of checkers have in common? 
  3. How would Schaeffer and Kunkle work on the same problems if there was no

    such thing as a computer? Do you think the work would be possible? If so, how

    long would it take? 

  4. Kunkle believes the “absolute minimum” of moves on a Rubik’s Cube is just

    20, not the 26 moves his program worked out. Why might his team still be six

    moves short of the perfect solution, even though they used a powerful computer? 

  5. The researchers who worked on solving checkers and the Rubik’s Cube both

    began by limiting the number of possible arrangements. Why might it be useful to

    break down a big problem into smaller problems? Could there be limitations to

    this type of approach? 

  6. Think of another game or puzzle, besides checkers or the Rubik’s Cube, that

    someone could solve using a computer. How might you break down that problem into

    smaller, more manageable questions? 

  7. Did this article change the way you think about games and puzzles? If so,



  1. Team up with a friend. Imagine that one of you is a journalist for a

    magazine and the other is Schaeffer. The journalist should interview the

    scientist about his work. Now switch. This time, the journalist should interview

    Kunkle about his work. 

  2. What strategies does this article use to keep kids interested in the

    subject? Find two examples where the author tries to make kids care about this



  1. Out of the 43 quintillion possible arrangements of the Rubik’s Cube, Kunkle

    first found a solution for 600,000 special arrangements. What percentage of the

    total were these special arrangements? What fraction of the total were they? 

  2. Likewise, Schaeffer first looked at 39 trillion out of a total of 500

    quintillion possible configurations for a checkerboard. What percentage and

    fraction of the total did this first round of attempts represent?