Learning to Solve the Cube

I keep a Rubik’s Cube on my desk at the office. It’s something I can fiddle with when I’m thinking. Sometimes I’ll even take it into meetings. A couple of turns here, a couple of turns there, and if I mess it up, there’s an online solution — You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube — that I can turn to.

Solving the Rubik’s Cube was a trick I could never master. I think I was in fourth or fifth grade (so, 1982-ish) when Rubik’s Cubes were huge, and the thing I wanted most in the world one Christmas was a solution book for the cube.

Santa Claus, sadly, was not forthcoming.

Once I read You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube last year, I understood where I’d gone wrong years before. Solving one face of the cube? Easy. Where to go from there? Not a clue.

I have vague memories that I thought the next step, after solving one face, was to solve an adjacent face. I have literally no idea why I thought this. At the age of 9 or 10, that probably made intuitive sense.

The solution guide went in a different direction — solve it in layers. Solve one face and its adjacent layer, then solve the middle layer, then solve the final layer. And if I could memorize the turning patterns used to solve the middle layer and the final layer, then I would be able to solve a Rubik’s Cube without consulting You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube. But some of these patterns were complicated, and I despaired of ever learning them.

Friday afternoon, idly thinking at my desk, I scrambled my cube and began solving the white face. Done, I wondered if I could solve the middle layer without consulting the guide. With some trial and error, I discovered I could. Then I realized that if I sat down and practiced the patterns, not worrying about solving the cube, just practicing the patterns, I could learn these.

So I printed off the instructions from You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube as well as a slightly different solution. The two methods are basically the same until you get to the final layer, whereupon they different in their approaches. YCDtRC has you solve the face then position the edges and corners correctly, while the other solution has you solve the center edge pieces then position the corners and orient them.

Saturday morning, then, a mug of coffee in hand, I sat in my Adirondack chair outside and set to work memorizing patterns. I’d write the turn notation down on an index card and run through it about twenty-five times before going on to the next. Then I’d scramble the cube and start putting the steps together.

Frankly, I went with the other solution, as there was less to memorize.

I’d screw up. I’d forget a turn or get a turn backwards and mess the whole thing up. Then I’d redo the white face, solve the middle layer, and tackle the yellow face again. By lunchtime I was solving it consistently, ie., two out of three times.

After the Harrisburg Senators game I picked up my Rubik’s Cube and worked at practicing the routines and solving the cube until about 12:30. In the morning, armed with more coffee, I picked it up again.

I’ll set no speed records, and the method I’ve learned I know is not efficient, but I can do it. I can solve the cube. Five minutes and it’s done.

I’ll work at those other routines from the You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube site, and I’ll even start learning the routines for the Rubik’s Revenge, the 4x4x4 cube. (I picked one of those up in Raleigh in April.) It’s only taken over thirty-five years to solve a Rubik’s Cube with nothing in front of me but the cube.

I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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