The Rubik’s Cube Edition

On puzzles, speed, and the thrill of the solve

Noah here. Back in July, we took a family trip to my in-laws. In one of the piles of toys that is inevitably left with the grandparents, I found a Rubik’s cube. Like everyone, I’ve tried to solve the cube a handful of times in my life and never got far. For whatever reason this time I decided I was going to get it done. I hopped around the web before settling on a tutorial video from Wired. I watched and rewatched the video as I turned the cube, slowing down and replaying to help me get the hang of it. After a little over an hour, with my phone in one hand and the cube in the other, I had solved it. 

All Rubik’s Cubes have the same basic design, and that design is central to understanding how to solve it. They are built around a core, which holds the six center blocks in place. This is important, because you can always orient yourself around these static components. White and yellow are the top and bottom and are ringed by red, green, orange, and blue sides (if you’re moving clockwise, which most things do in the world of cubing). The video recommends starting with the beginner’s method, which takes you through a series of steps to solve the cube from the bottom layer up. The steps (without all the details) work like this:

  1. Put the yellow side up and make a “daisy,” surrounding the yellow center block with 4 white center blocks as its petals.

  2. Align the color on the side of each white center block with the center side color (green side to green center, red side to red center) and then flip the side 180 degrees.

  3. Now you’ve got a white cross on the bottom, with the bottom and middle center blocks matching and you can work through aligning the bottom two layers of the cube. (There’s some simple algorithms—series of moves—to make this work.)

  4. With the bottom two layers done, you move to getting all the yellow pieces facing up.

  5. Finally, you complete the cube by getting the sides of the top layer into their right orientation.

Your goal at the beginning is just to finish. (Once you are ready to go faster, the most common next step seems to be to move to the F2L method for solving the first two layers.) There’s a real satisfaction in being able to rearrange a seemingly random series of colors into the organized state of a completed cube. Over the week away I had memorized most of the moves required to complete the cube—probably ten or so—and could regularly get it done in between two and three minutes. 

Why is this interesting?

Like anything, the world of Rubik’s Cubes has changed a lot since the single toy we all played with as a kid. While the cube I was originally using was Rubik’s branded, as far as I can tell, no one serious about arranging little colored squares is using the name brand. There are a host of companies offering cubes with features such as faster turning, “corner cutting” (the ability to start the next move before you completely turn one side), magnetized corners for snapping into place, and even Bluetooth for tracking speeds and number of turns automatically. The best cubes are also adjustable, with tension screws to ensure your cube fits your preferences, and can be taken apart and lubricated for smoother turning. In my research, the appropriately named SpeedCubeShop is the source for all your cubing needs. 

After that first trip, I dipped my toe in and bought a new cube for around $20. It had corner magnets, so you got a bit of snap on the turns, but otherwise, it mostly looked like a regular cube with black plastic and colored stickers on the sides. As soon as I started turning that one I understood what the fuss was all about and put the Rubik’s brand cube aside. My times started to get better and it was a fun way to change gears between meetings or a project—take a few minutes and solve the cube once or twice.

And then, two weeks ago, I bought a $65 Rubik’s cube. This is not a thing I have admitted to many people for reasons that begin and end with it’s an insane amount of money to spend on a toy. But this thing is very nice. As far as I can tell (and I read A LOT of reviews), this is the best cube on the market. It’s the flagship product of GAN, which seems to make many of the cubes used by the top competitors. In addition to having the corner magnets that are standard on most speedcubes, it’s also got a center magnet that helps hold the whole thing together and makes it possible to have super fast turning sides without completely losing control. (If this sounds crazy reading, rest assured, it also feels crazy writing.) 

This is almost definitely the first hype video you’ve seen for a Rubik’s cube

I also paid a bit extra to have it professionally tuned, which, according to Speedcubeshop’s “why it’s worth it” page includes “Lubrication of the pieces & springs,” and also ensures “Tensions are set to reduce popping and improve stability.” Like a lot of other pandemic hobbies, I’m unsure of whether this one will stick around, but there’s a really nice aspect of having a small physical puzzle laying around to redirect attention away from the screen and to my eyes and body, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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