The enduring quality of the cube

Our family owned a Rubik’s cube in the 80s when I was a kid. I liked to play with it, but only got as far as completing one coloured face and one layer of correct colours. As far as solving it, we didn’t have the book that explained the process, and the web wasn’t around in those days, so I’m not sure if any of my siblings ever solved it. If I ever found it in a solved state, it was probably as a result of some dismantling and reassembly (followed by vehement denials), or perhaps after the teen youth group had convened at our house - which is also how our Rubik’s snake got broken. My dad fixed it, albeit with one piece missing.

The cube has remained a cult icon in nerdy circles and online communities, but in recent years has been more widely represented in mainstream popular culture. At the same time, the popularity of speed-solving championships has grown, with the current world record standing at under 4 seconds.

Cubes

Rubik’s cube and a magnetic Moyu RS3M

My wife bought me a Rubik’s cube a few years ago as a nerdy stocking-filler type novelty present. It sat on my desk at work alongside a load of other geeky paraphernalia. I never got round to learning to solve it until, during the mass home-working event of 2020, I went to retrieve a few personal items from the office, and slipped it into my bag with the intention of learning it as a good lockdown activity.

Cubes

Publically committing to the effort

From various YouTube videos and websites, I determined that the Beginners Method was the approach I needed. I got to work, concerned that my brain capacity might not be quite what it once was. I needed to make plenty of notes, and a cheat-sheet to make headway with this.

Cubes

Copious note-taking

After a couple of weeks of practising a little each day, I had gone from zero to a point where I could now complete the cube in just under 5 minutes, without notes (most of the time). After a while, my youngest child expressed an interest, and using my cheat sheet, and a little tuition, picked it up very quickly - learning directly from someone else is definitely a faster route. This was followed shortly afterwards by their sibling. We finally completed the set when my wife said she wanted to learn too.

A bit of competition spiced things up a bit and now I’m clocking in at under 1min30s and considering where I can make efficiencies without having to learn a new method - I’m not sure I am ready to commit to that workload right now. I picked up a speed cube which was much more forgiving, since it had magnetically assisting turning. We now have a “slow cube” and a “fast cube”, which adds a significant handicap in head-to-head races.

It’s quite a feat to have made a puzzle that has such longevity, which rewards effort so well. Long may it continue.