Posted by: Jack | October 7, 2007

Rubik’s Cube Craziness

You may or may not already know that I am quite capable of solving a Rubik’s Cube. When most people see me do it for the first time they are pretty blown away. This is mostly due to a major misconception regarding the complexity, or lack thereof, of a 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube…yes there are larger sizes like 4x4x4, 5x5x5 and so on. I’ve seen 20x20x20 but only presented digitally rather than as a physical object. Another intense cube challenge is the four dimensional cube. For obvious reason this one is also only available as a computer program. Anyways, I can generally solve the cube in under three minutes and often in less than two. Now and again I’ll even solve it in less than one minute but when that happens it’s not due to any higher performance by me but rather due to a conveniently scrambled cube.

When I’m solving my hands do move pretty fast and this adds to the perception of skill/talent but in actuality it’s just a demonstration of muscle memory. What adds even further excitement is that in the final stages of the method I use, the cube continually appears more and more solved until just before the end when it looks, to the inexperienced viewer, as if the cube is very scrambled. And then suddenly with just a couple of moves, it’s done.

Now I was pretty happy with myself when I obtained the ability to solve the cube on every try and with a good pace. But what I’ve learned since is that my abilities still lie in the category of “beginner cubist”. The solve method I use is limited in potential speed because it almost literally solves the cube one piece at a time and requires, on average, about 100 moves. To see any significant increase in speed I would have to adopt one of the many techniques that fall into the category of “speed solving”.

It may or may not surprise you to hear that there is no short supply of mathematical analysis performed on the basis of the cube. As a simplistic geometric object with a finite number of possible arrangements and a relatively small set of permutations which can be performed on those arrangements, the cube does lend itself well to study.

Such study has produced methods which place an upper bound on the number of moves required to solve a cube from any state. That upper bound has been proven to go as low as 26. It is methods like these that allow for truly fast solving of the cube. But considering that there are technically 21 pieces to the cube, and placing any one piece generally requires more than one move, it is implied that these advanced methods involve placing a number of pieces simultaneously. And the complexity of doing so not only involves memorization/deep-understanding of an unfathomably long list of algorithms, but also requires an ability to quickly evaluate the state of the cube in order to determine the proper algorithm to choose. And for a fast time, all of this needs to happen while the cube is in flux.

So by now I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m a huge nerd. I won’t bother arguing. But, I do know that my nerdiness does not even encroach on that of the real speed-cubists out there. Numerous records to emphasize my point:

  • Fastest solve in competition (yes, competition): 9.86 seconds
  • Fastest blindfolded solve time: 54.83 seconds — You may be wondering how someone can solve the cube without seeing it. Well, they can’t. But the way this works is the cubist can look at the cube all they want without moving the pieces but then must actually solve it blind. The above time includes the time spent memorizing. Consider the memory and spacial intelligence required.
  • Fastest one-handed solve: 16.36 seconds – An impressive time regardless of number of hands but with one hand this is an amazing performance of dexterity and coordination as well.
  • Fastest solve using only feet: 51.13 seconds
  • And the most horrifying record of all — Most cubes solved in a 24 hour period: 3,390. Some guy apparently sat around for 24 hours straight solving cube after cube at an average pace of more than two per minute. I can’t comprehend how this would be physically or mentally feasible.

As requested, I’ve added a video clip of myself solving the cube. It was a pretty average speed (about two minutes) but I’ve sped up the clip for the impatient viewer. One warning: the music gets fairly obnoxious at higher speeds.



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