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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Learn How to Solve a Rubik’s Cube

When I was ten years old I solved my first Rubik’s Cube. That’s right, I took all the stickers off and put them back on the right way. Last weekend I decided that it was time for me to learn how to solve it the right way.

To solve it yourself, you’re going to have to run out and buy one for yourself (if you don’t have one already). I’d recommend the nearest toy store, but you can also buy it over on Amazon if you want.


First Step: Mess It Up!

That’s right, you’ll want to do a really good job of twisting and turning it until it’s completely messed up. If you don’t do this, you can’t claim that you really solved it. Even better: get somebody else to help mess it up for you. When you are done it should look something like this, although it might not glow quite the same.


Next Step: Learn the Algorithms

For whatever reason, nobody reads instruction manuals. If you buy a new Rubik’s Cube, there’s usually a set of instructions that come with it, explaining the algorithms that you need to use to solve the cube.

An algorithm is a set of moves you have to follow that will put all the pieces back into the right place—except usually for the one that you want to move to a different edge. For instance, if you are holding the cube as indicated in the picture above, you could turn the right face counter-clockwise, the bottom clockwise, the right face clockwise, and the bottom clockwise. If you repeated this step a number of times the bottom front square would then move to the top, and if you repeated even more times the cube would return to exactly the way it was.

The instruction manual explains each step, just make sure to read very carefully.

Solving the Rubik’s Cube by Example

Here’s where it gets a lot more fun, and a lot more easy to understand. A programmer named Cedric Beust created an entire guide with animated illustrations of every step. You can click the Play button to watch the animation, or even rotate the cube around with your mouse to get a better view.

He walks through solving each layer… starting with making a cross on the first layer (similar to the official instructions). He illustrates the moves—for instance in the left cube you will move the front face clockwise, then the down face clockwise, then move the front face counter-clockwise. Remember that you can hit the play button to see it in action.


Then he’ll explain how to solve the next layers, and so forth.


Don’t be intimidated by the number of steps—just perform them really slowly and you’ll eventually be able to solve it.

Visit Cedric Beust’s Guide to Solving the Rubik’s Cube

Memorizing the Algorithms

This is where it gets more tricky, memorizing the actual moves. I recommend memorizing each set of moves one at a time—after you have solved the cube using the guide. So the next time you try to solve the cube, you’ll do two of the sets of moves by memory, then finish the rest with the guide. Once you’ve got that figured out really well, start memorizing the next step.

You’ll find that as you start performing the moves from memory, your hands will learn the movements and your brain won’t have to think about each move—you’ll just do it.

Solved from Memory? You are awesome!

So far, the best I’ve been able to manage is around 3 minutes per solve. Most serious Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts can do much better, solving  the cube in less than a minute—which is nothing compared to the world champions, who solve in 20 seconds or less. Amazing!

My inspiration for learning to solve the Cube came after watching this video of actor Will Smith solving it in 55 seconds. (If you are reading in an RSS or email reader, you’ll need to click through to the article to watch it)

So how fast can you solve the Cube?

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