Friday, 17 February 2012

Blip: Rubik's cubes: An unhealthy obsession

As you may have seen, we are cubers. I think that's the correct collective term, it's at least a widely used one. If you haven't ever solved a Rubik's cube then it's hard to acccurately describe why it's so fun but I want to try.

First off I want to dispel a few basic myths about cubing:

-Removing the stickers
Removing the stickers and replacing them is not a valid method of solving a cube, nor is it a fast method. Most importantly however, it also isn't funny. Every cuber I've come into contact with has, at some point, told someone they cube and been told "LOL I tried but couldn't do it, I just took all the stickers off!" believe me, it gets old fast. Besides the fact that removing a sticker will impair if not destory its stickiness, that's just common sense.

-One side
Here's another common quote of the unenlightened: "Well I can solve one side." I've studied a few varied methods and I'm yet to find one that starts with solving just one side with no other considerations. The method I use is called full Fridrich (named after Jessica Fridrich, the creator) and it works by solving the cube in a layer based system bottom to top but when solving the first side you have to check all the corresponding edges/corners line up. Sorry but one side is no closer to solving the cube.

One more: "I knew a guy once, he studied maths at Oxford, he'd be able to solve it." This comes from a strange connection that people have formed between the Rubik's cube and mathematics. In truth, there isn't much to solving a cube at all, it's mostly pattern recognition. This is a basic process:

    - Check out the cube in its current state.
    -Decide what next move to make
    -Learn to recognise what it will do to the cube
    -As this is done, slowly gain comfortability with the whole process
    -Learn more and more complicated shortcuts to improve your time.

None of this is maths, just conditioning.

This is a rare one: "My friend bob told me that technically it's impossible" which by the way is shorthand for "I can't solve it therefore nobody else can." This one is infact just plain silly, when you buy a new cube it starts solved. It has 6 sides each with a full block of colour and it's ready to use. You madly turn it in expectation, otherwise known as scrambling the cube, and then try to solve it, get stuck, and decide it's impossible. Think about it logically a second, if you get a brand new, solved cube and make one single small turn, is it impossible to fix? of course not, you just turn the one side back. Well the same applies no matter how scrambled it is, theoretically if you reverse every move ever enacted on the cube, it would end up solved. Learning to solve it is just learning to manipulate the pattern.

-15 Seconds
Before attempting a solve, competition rules state that you are allowed 15 seconds to look around the cube and plan how you intend to begin.

-A few small ones here: Watching you scramble the cube doesn't help me solve it, scrambling it for a very lengthy amount of time doesn't increase its difficulty and if I scramble it myself that doesn't mean I'm cheating, it all ends up as difficult as always.

Now that that's out of the way I'll try to touch on my love for the cube.

Rubik's cubes are wonderful works of art. The sraight lines, the bold primary colours, the equal sized cubes and the soft rotation connecting them all together. There are endless metaphors you could create regarding the random yet predictable nature of the cubes orientation and configuration mirroring life in its many forms. I don't intend to go that far however, I simply intend to point out that a Rubik's cube simplicity means it can apply itself all manner of ways.

When an unhealthy person can run a mile in 2 hours and they are able, through practice, to reduce that time by 10 minutes, that's a good achievement. By the time they become a world class athlete and are doing miles in minutes, every second counts and shaving 10 seconds off their times is a great thing. Rubik's cubes are much the same. When I first started I could solve a cube in 30 minutes and I practiced, every time I lessened it by just one minute I was ecstatic. Now I solve with an average of 34 seconds and I'm happy with any solve under 35, every second I am able to remove from my time feels like finishing a sonnet, wrapping up a foreign language conversation or swallowing the last mouthful of a ham sandwich. Rewarding.

I feel closely and personally connected to my main cube, it has stuck with me all the time I've owned it. I've taken it to work when feeling low, I've used it to busy myself when lonely, I celebrate with it when feeling happy. This is partially due to the amount of customisation the cube can handle, every piece can be re-shaped or replaced, the stickers can be swapped or removed entirely (custom-made or ordered) even the mechanism can be adjusted. This coupled with all the types of cubes and colour of stickers available means that everybodys cubes are unique and personal to an impressive degree. As you use it more it will naturally take wear and tear and thus invariably adapt itself to you and your solving style. There's a certain feeling of comfort that comes with having something feel so tailor-made.

If you're still not convinced then think but this and all is mended: We may aswell be ten minutes back in time, for all the chance you'll change your mind.

Okay, yes that was an impromptu Tim Minchin quote, but in all seriousness, Rubik's cubes are cheap and accessible to just about everyone so I recommend you learn how to solve and give it a go.

In fact, here is a link to a beginner guide. It doesn't use the alogirthmic notation like most cubers do (including us) but it's a good start.

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