I’m a big fan of people who are really skilled at something – especially if that skill has no real-world applications. Cup stacking, flatland BMX, remembering digits of Pi, etc. It takes a certain kind of person to dedicate so much time to mastering something which serves no real purpose. Recently, I’ve seen numerous videos on Youtube of people solving Rubik’s Cubes in really quite spectacularly short lengths of time, sometimes even blindfolded!

Despite growing up in the 1980s, the whole Rubik’s Cube thing passed me by. It was impossible to not be aware of the Cube – a friend of mine had written pages and pages of notes on how to solve one – but I never actually owned one myself.

But that all changed a few weeks ago. A friend of mine had a bag of promotional cubes which he’d picked up at some conference or event somewhere, and agreed to let me have one.

After titting about with it for a while, I started wondering how easy it was to learn how to solve it. I knew that in the 1980s whole books had been written about the subject but I guessed that with the free flow of information facilitated by the internet, the cubists* had probably reached some sort of consensus on the easiest method of cube solving.

…AND I WAS RIGHT!!!

**(Cube solvers are actually called “cubers”, which demonstrates that their punning abilities are not as highly developed as their manipulating-small-cubes-of-plastic abilities.)*

Now, it occurred to me that the ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube is a skill which would nicely complement my already quite extensive portfolio of useless “talents”, so I thought that if I could learn in a couple of weeks or so, then that would be splendid. It turns out that learning to solve the cube is actually much easier than you might think.

In fact, going from being a complete novice to never having to look at the instructions again took about two days!

I used the instructions here, although I didn’t memorise stages 1 or 2, because they’re pretty easy to complete by trial and error, and I didn’t want to confuse myself with memorising the later stages.

A couple of interesting things happen when you learn to solve the cube. The main one being that all the mystery disappears. Where before the cube was a complex impenetrable puzzle, it now becomes merely a procedure – a list of manipulations to work your way through. Another thing is that you start to see Rubik’s Cubes everywhere! No word of a lie, a couple of days later I went to the supermarket and found Rubik’s Cube chocolate bars!

Also, I never realised just how many different twisty puzzles there are!

This is a rabbit hole which would be very easy to fall down. The next obvious step is to learn how to solve the cube really fast, or blindfolded. Apparently the methods which let you do this are not that much more advanced.

I think I’m happy to stay at beginner level in the whole cube-solving spectrum. I currently average about 2 minutes to solve a cube – an achievement which pretty much brings negligible benefits to my life. I’m happy to leave the blindfold speed-solving to other people!

Even at the height of the Rubik’s cube craze I certainly couldn’t manage two minutes. However, I could assemble a puzzle ring in about five seconds. I could also do it (more slowly) with one hand. Not an obviously useful skill!

I never did it in that order. I use(d):

1) do one surface

2) bring all corners into the right position (can be done by repeated use of 2 short series of twists and a bit of experience)

3) put the “side bits” right (repeated use of a very easy series of twists).

Cos’ I found the way to do the “side bits” technique early on. Just needed to add something for manipulating the remaining four corners without touching the one correct side.

The longest series of twists I came up with is (I think) eight turns. And some are probably quite close to the steps in the method in the link.