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What is a Cube?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Images By: Oona Räisänen, n/a, Karandaev, Jesse Kunerth
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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The cube is important as a geometric shape used in mathematical proofs, architecture, and other mathematically linked areas; as well as in the kitchen and beyond. Here are some of the important meanings of this shape.

As a Geometric Solid. A regular hexahedron, the cube is a six-sided geometric solid, also called a block. It is one of the ideal solids, which include the only five solids with congruent, polyhedral angles and faces that are congruent, regular polygons. The others are the regular tetrahedron, regular octahedron, regular dodecahedron, and regular icosahedron, having 4, 8, 12, and 20 sides respectively. The cube is the only one of these five to have four edges per face: the tetrahedron, octahedron, and icosahedron — formed with equilateral triangle faces — have three; and the dodecahedron — formed with regular pentagon faces — has five.

Since the volume of a cube is found by multiplying length by width by height, and since those measurements are all the same, V = s3 when s is the length of any side. As a result, the product of three equal terms is called the cube of the term. The factor of a number that, when cubed, equals the number is called the cube root, and the action of creating the number from the factor is denoted by the verb to cube.

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The Culinary Arts. The word is associated with the culinary arts in three ways. First, it is used as a shortened way to refer to the ice cube, a small block of ice in approximately this shape. One of the chief ways of judging ice makers is the statistic cubes/x minutes, for which this abbreviation is often used.

Second, the verb to cube in the kitchen is equivalent of to dice, meaning “to cut food into small cubes.” This culinary technique is used for cutting vegetables and fruits to a certain size. To put it in perspective: chop is used to indicate that one should obtain large irregular pieces; mince yields very small, but irregular pieces; while cube or dice results in medium-sized, regular bits of food. Diced food is often 0.25 inch to 0.75 inch (~6 mm to ~19mm) on each side.

Third, the verb to cube names a technique used to tenderize meat, often beef. To do this, one uses a meat tenderizer, one version of which is a metal cube covered with a square pattern on a mallet-like handle. By repeatedly striking the meat with the tenderizing implement, the fibers are broken, and a pattern of squares emerges on the surface.

Other Meanings. This word is also used to refer to several diverse things. It's short for cubicle, a module in an open-plan office or study area in a library, where dividers, rather than walls, separate work spaces. Cube, or — as it was originally rendered in Spanish — cubé, is a plant, the roots of which are both used as a fish poison and developed commercially with other ingredients as the pesticide rotenone. It was also the name of an 8-inch (~20cm) G4 computer sold by Apple Computers.

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