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Back to Rubik's Cube

By Blarney in Culture
Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 01:13:05 PM EST
Tags: culture, Rubiks Cube, no ogg, no frog, all out of cookies too (all tags)

Like many of us, I learned how to solve Rubik's Cube back in the 80s, using an easy solution guide, and got to the point of being able to do it in 3-4 minutes. With effort, I was able to struggle through the 4x4 Revenge, though giving up and restarting frequently due to flipped edges that I didn't know how to correct. A few years ago, I bought a 5x5 during a work trip and got through the published solution a few times before the stickers fell off. Picked up the old 3x3 again, and now I'm averaging 75 seconds and dreaming of under 60. Amazing how things change and how things stay the same, and what gets missed the first time around.

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By all accounts, the Rubiks Cube is cool again. I found this out accidentally from my students. Having a Cube on my desk (an accessory to my "mad scientist" persona) is an actual magnet for them. And although I'm not technically supposed to, I will let the occasional attention-deficient type of kid Cube rather than tear around the room and start a riot, or play with annoying and prohibited personal electronics. I'll even let a Cube walk out the door now and then, it doesn't matter, they generally come back eventually. And the kids seem unaware that the Cube was a 1980s thing. They think it's new and cool. A few have scoffed at my contention that I learned it when I was younger than they are, how could I have learned it when it wasn't invented yet? Poor kids of today, surfing endlessly recycled waves of culture. It isn't just here - I hear from a reliable source that Rubik's Cube is huge in India right now, of all places - Indian yuppies sending their kids to Rubik's classes, the mind simply reels.

Given all this unexpected, intense interest in Cubes and having Winter Break ahead of me, I felt ashamed to be Cubing at a 3 or 4 minute timescale, so I ventured in search of newer and better solution methods. The days of Nourse's "The Simple Solution to Rubik's Cube" being long gone, I started with the instructions in the box. Remember when the Cube did NOT come with instructions? Life was cheap back then, wasn't it? So your Dad played with it for a day or two, got really mad, drove back to the store, and bought a copy of Nourse.

Good old Nourse. Do the top edges ("the cross" in modern lingo), do the top corners, do the middle edges, get the bottom corners in the correct positions, twist the bottom corners into correct orientation, get the bottom edges in correct position, orient the bottom edges. A solution which even to a casual eye starts off okay and just gets slower and slower as you go. Orienting the bottom edges could easily take as long as doing the whole rest of the puzzle combined, using Nourse's method. And woe is me, I have committed his ungainly sequences to indelible muscle memory and they sing to me in a voiceless voice "Elminus arplus efplus elplus arminus beeminus. Elminus arplus efminus..." Yet I will never do a 60 second Cube his way and neither will you.

There was another well-circulated guide back in the day, now out of print - Minh Thai's corner-first solution . It was hyped as much faster, and probably was, provided that you memorized about 50 or 100 or god knows how many sequences. I still remember a few of his - they help a little with the dog-slow Nourse method, but mostly were handy for making patterns and such. But was Thai the guide to a 60 second Cube? Not for me, I think. If it was meant to be, I'd have gotten it 25 years ago.

Now I'm a middle-aged married man in my mid-30s and like generations before me I groan that the kids these days sure have it soft. We have become a mature, risk-averse culture and one of the consequences is that people can't handle failure. So now, the Cube comes with a nice easy solution guide right in the package. How good is this solution? Instead of just tossing the pamphlet at my students, I actually read it. Then I checked the Rubik's website and found a less-simplified, far more efficient version of this Cube solution method.

It starts exactly like Nourse. Do the "cross". Do the top corners. Do the mid-edges. This really isn't so bad, though. Nourse's solution started off quite well, it was the ending that sucked you into endless quicksands of time. The ending of the solution, though, is a revelation. Back in the day it was a cliche - novice Cubists were mocked for putting random cubelets with one common color on a common face together and thinking they'd made real progress - even Homer Simpson once boasted, "I got a SIDE". It's not a joke anymore. That's actually how you do the last face - you flip all the last-layer corner and edge cubelets so that the correct color is up, even though they're out of position. Then you permute first the corners and then the edges, with some very clever sequences, and before you know it you've solved the Cube. The new sequences are much shorter than Nourse's. And yet, they do not reorient the last-layer cubelets at all. Start with orange up, they finish with orange up, every time. This is amazingly fast and elegant compared to Nourse's long, long stretches of "elminus arplus".

The Internet tells me that the new technique is called "OLL/PLL" as opposed to the old method of "PLL/OLL". Orient last layer, permute last layer. I love it.

There has also been a change of point-of-view. While I will probably always think of the first of the 3 layers to solve as the 'top', it's no longer considered the top. Pretty much everyone now calls it the 'bottom'. No longer are we to start solving the Cube from the top and proceed to work 'down', because there's no point in looking at the solved portion of the Cube! Your eyes should be on the scrambled, unsolved portion. So you don't push cubelets up, you shove them down. As once written in another 1980s comeback, due back again at a theater near you this summer, "the enemy's gate is DOWN". Not only is this bottom-up approach better for inspecting the Cube, but it leaves the important faces free for fast manipulations known as finger tricks. Someday, perhaps, I'll learn how to do those. A good solution lets you solve the Cube in less moves - but making the moves faster also is important to a competitive time.

Pretty soon I was chugging through the cube in 2 minutes or less. A little of the wife's sewing machine oil had my Cube spinning like a racing bike. But I wasn't there yet. A bit of Internet research revealed that the all-time popular algorithm among speedCubers was called "CFOP", or "Fridrich's Method". The only real difference between CFOP and the one on Rubik's site is that the top corners and mid-edges are combined into a single stage termed "F2L", for "First Two Layers". This brought back memories of Nourse, who hinted that combining these stages was key to competitive solving. Nourse knew! Fridrich's method dates back to the 80s itself. But Fridrich used OLL/PLL to finish the Cube. When using the Nourse method, there was no incentive to optimize F2L because PLL/OLL was so slow at the end. Almost as if Nourse deliberately refused to publish the high-end methods. I suppose there used to be an ethic about magicians not revealing tricks, perhaps the same ideology was active during the early days of the Cube. Anyway, there are about 75 Fridrich cases where one corner cube and one edge cube, in a particular position with a particular orientation, can be simultaneously placed. I'm not about to memorize 75 sequences.

But just knowing that it's possible is enough to help me develop an intuition about how to assemble and place top corner-midedge pairs, transcending memorized algorithms and just putting the cubelets efficiently where they belong. And doing this, I've gotten myself into the 75 second average range. Still not regularly below 60, but I feel like I've accomplished something these past couple of days. A good F2L now makes me feel like a Zen master. To take what the Cube gives me and put it together on the fly, it's a great feeling. Run through the OLL/PLL on autopilot, it's easy, those rare sub-minute solves let me feel that even if I never got to be a famous scientist or a rock star or something, I could still show young Me a trick or two.

There are other methods out there - perhaps I'll learn Petrus or even Heise - but this is good for now.

I believe my old 4x4 "Rubiks Revenge" is packed in a box somewhere a thousand miles away from here, so I might as well just order another off of Amazon. And my 5x5 Professor's Cube, peeling, long-ignored - its stickers are generally known to be defective as manufactured. Laughably, they consist of plain white stickers with squares of colored vinyl clinging to them by static electricity alone. Of course they didn't last. New ones are on order from Cubesmith, and I'm looking forward to refurbishing it and Cubing large once again.

As for my students - a couple of them can pretty reliably do and undo Checkerboard and Six Boxes, and that's pretty much all they can do - solve it? No way! I'd teach them more, but they really need to learn actual science in my room. That's why we're actually there, after all. If they can't figure out how to Cube on their own time, no sympathy. It's easier than ever to learn. Kids these days.


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What's your Cube-IQ?
o I can solve it if I work long enough. What's the hurry? 30%
o I can do it in 60-100 seconds or so. 0%
o I can solve the Rubiks Cube in under a minute 0%
o I can solve up a stack of Cubes and do a Revenge and a Professor Cube before the pizza is ready 0%
o What kind of a fag are you? Rubiks Cube sucked in the 80s, and it sucks now. You suck too. 10%
o Isn't this article really about how it's easier than ever to research specialized topics, thanks to the Internet? 0%
o Or maybe it's about how youth is wasted on the young, thanks DG. 10%
o Remember Q-Bert? Now that was a game, wasn't it? It sure was! Boy, I wonder what that furry little elephant guy was really saying! SYS 64738 makes the magic happen! 50%

Votes: 10
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Nourse's "The Simple Solution to Rubik's Cube"
o Minh Thai's corner-first solution
o Cube solution method
o "the enemy's gate is DOWN"
o finger tricks
o "Fridrich' s Method"
o magicians not revealing tricks
o Petrus
o Heise
o "Rubiks Revenge"
o 5x5 Professor's Cube
o Cubesmith
o Checkerboa rd
o Six Boxes
o Also by Blarney

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Back to Rubik's Cube | 23 comments (18 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
i can't consistently do 75 seconds (2.66 / 3) (#1)
by horseskin spacesuit on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 02:40:56 AM EST

but I can get under 2 mins consistently.4x4 wasn't hard to solve but it took me about an hour of frigging around figuring out how to do the centres then just reverting back to the layer method. someone bought me a 5x5 but the biggest annoyance is how stiff and awkward it is to move it's hard to keep all the layers aligned so I haven't done it yet

anyway it's a good summary of the state of play, although you haven't really made even a passing mention to the actual techniques of speed cubing itself, even where it warrants mentioning. for example you mention it makes sense to have the solved layer in your palm because, hey, why look at already-solved  portion of the cube. more importantly though having the first-solved face tucked into your palm better exposes the unsolved portions to your index fingers

This is quite literally the only computer I'm capable of not being offended by. ~ balsamic vinigga

I didn't discuss 'finger tricks' etc (none / 0) (#3)
by Blarney on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 11:36:07 AM EST

Because I haven't even started looking into them yet.

But if you think they're worth a mention, I'll see what I can do here.

[ Parent ]

FINALLY!! (2.50 / 2) (#4)
by Corwin06 on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 02:48:10 PM EST


I'm going to vote this up. First article I'm not soothing down ASAP in maybe a year.  It was about TIME we got "Technology and culture, from the trenches" again.

"and you sir, in an argument in a thread with a troll in a story no one is reading in a backwater website, you're a fucking genius
by LilDebbie on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 08:50:04 PM EST

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

[ Parent ]
a toy puzzle with solution from book (none / 0) (#20)
by iggymanz on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 10:03:01 PM EST

So do these efforts at puzzle "solvings" in shortest possible time period using  a cheat book  count as "technology" or "culture"?   It of course is neither, it does not even qualify as mental masturbation as the figurative mind-pud is not being pulled.  

[ Parent ]
lighten up francis (none / 0) (#21)
by Blarney on Sat Aug 03, 2013 at 12:45:17 AM EST

It's totally culture.

[ Parent ]
I've a question about you being a teacher. (2.00 / 2) (#5)
by greengrass on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 05:04:41 PM EST

Is it true if they tell anyone, nobody will believe them?

Sorry is this a Bill Murray reference? $ (none / 1) (#6)
by Blarney on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 06:01:21 PM EST

[ Parent ]
You're thinking of channel's pederasty. $ (none / 1) (#7)
by Nimey on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:35:44 PM EST

Never mind, it was just the dog cumming -- jandev
You Sir, are an Ignorant Motherfucker. -- Crawford
I am arguably too manic to do that. -- Crawford
I already fuck my mother -- trane
Nimey is right -- Blastard
i am in complete agreement with Nimey -- i am a pretty big deal

[ Parent ]
+1FP, supremely geeky (none / 1) (#9)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 09:48:01 PM EST

It would take me eons to solve a cube, but it's good to see it get attention again.

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
You can teach "actual science" ... (2.50 / 2) (#13)
by Wise Cracker on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 12:29:51 AM EST

... with the Cube. Robots have taken over again. There are multiple cube solvers built out of Lego Mindstorms kits. I don't know what lab you teach, exactly, but there is a lot of actual science behind electronics, mechanical actuators, and machine vision.
Caesars come, and Caesars go, but Newton lives forever
3 for the sig alone; the comment you can keep ~ (none / 1) (#18)
by tweet on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 08:33:35 PM EST


Not everything in black and white makes sense.
[ Parent ]

Rubik's Cubes are Extremely Easy (2.88 / 9) (#14)
by procrasti on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 01:04:48 AM EST

Lots of people take the stickers off, but actually if you turn one faces 45 degrees you can pop that corner piece out easily, then the rest will come out quite easily too and you will be left with a bunch of cubelets and the central mechanism.

Solving the cube is just a matter of reassembling it with the cubelets in the right places.

It's so simple that it always made me wonder what all the fuss was about.

Once it's solved you can learn to make pretty patterns like stripes, checkers and donuts.

If you want to fuck up someone else's cube, take two corner stickers off and swap them, it'll be unsolvable forever.

if i ever see the nickname procrasti again on this site or anywhere in my life, i want it to be in an OBITUARY -- CTS
doing my best at licking arseholes - may 2015 -- mirko
Winner of Kuro5hin: April 2015

stay away from my 5x5 $ (none / 1) (#15)
by Blarney on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 01:15:38 AM EST

[ Parent ]
MUHAHAHAHA (none / 1) (#17)
by seaoneil on Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 11:36:36 AM EST

Fun to do to a showoff.

[ Parent ]
Funny Story (2.66 / 3) (#19)
by Brogdel on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 10:16:18 PM EST

Back in 1984, I had the standard Rubik's cube and had solved it many times. My Dad, who didn't pay a lot of attention anyway found mine day and thought it was the hardest thing ever. He told me if I could solve it he'd buy me a go-cart. The first time I did it I brought it to him and he didn't believe me, made me solve it again in front of him. It's cool to be thirteen with a brand new go-cart.

Cubing forums and Chinese cubes (none / 0) (#22)
by ToastyKen on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 06:14:29 AM EST

There are forums dedicated to cubing, as you might imagine. The cubing community is sort of divided into two groups:

SpeedSolving  is for the speedcubers

Twisty Puzzles is for people who care more about solving different kinds of puzzles than speed

Another interesting thing is that the official Rubik's Cubes have horribly stiff mechanisms. Chinese companies filled the gap with tons of re-designed mechanisms more suitable for speed cubing. Top cubers use cubes with names like "Dayan Zhanchi" and "MoYu WeiLong". You can't buy them in brick-and-mortar stores, but there are plenty of online shops that sell them.

(Rubik's finally released a "Speed Cube" recently that's less stiff, but it's still not nearly as good as the Chinese ones.)

Video of US National Rubik's Cube Competition 2012 (none / 0) (#23)
by ToastyKen on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 06:17:42 AM EST

Btw, speedcubing competitions draw hundreds of competitors these days (though it is admittedly not the greatest spectator sport).

I shot a video of the US Nationals in 2012 here:


Back to Rubik's Cube | 23 comments (18 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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