Rubik’s cube: Why almost anyone can solve it

Not as difficult as it looks. (By cbuckley, Wikimedia Commons).

Everytime I’ve shown off my Rubik’s cube skills, I’ve managed to elicit some pretty astonished responses. I can solve it — without fail — in less than two minutes.

For anybody who’s taken the time to learn a little about Rubik’s cubes, you’ll know that this feat is far from remarkable. For many of the other people, the cube seems like some sort of magical enigma reserved only for the exceptionally gifted and the mathematical geniuses.

This post is directed at you guys. I want to dispell some of the cube’s mystery and maybe encourage you to pick one up yourselves.

Firstly, I’m absolutely not any sort of mathematical genius. I’m quick with my timetables and can calculate everyday sums like grocery shopping pretty well, but that’s all. A strong background in mathematics is not necessary for solving the cube.

Here are the attributes that I think are important. All you need are 1, 2, and 3, and either 4 or 5, and I’m certain you could solve it.

  1. A decent memory and ability to recognise patterns.
  2. Finger dexterity beyond that of a toddler.
  3. A day or so when you seriously have nothing better to do than sit down with a Rubik’s cube and watch Youtube video tutorials.
  4. An interest in puzzles and challenging your brain.
  5. An unusually strong desire/insecurity to showcase your hidden intelligence to friends and family.

Here’s the thing most people don’t realise: there are very methodical, logical, and memorable ways to solve a Rubik’s cube. Only few truly gifted people have the ability to simply look at a scrambled cube and immediately understand everything they need to do to set it right (and some of these people can solve it in under 10 seconds).

Most beginners, including myself, use a particular method that tackles the cube layer-by-layer. Don’t worry, I’m not about to explain the whole process — just a general gist. The method is broken down into logical steps — each step involving, say, four turns of the cube. (With a ‘turn’ being something like: ‘turn the left side of the cube clockwise’).

So from starting out with a completely scrambled cube — colours all higgledy piggledy — each layer starts to gradually come together. And all of a sudden you’re one or two turns away from that ever-so-satisfying perfectly organised cube.

It’s not as complicated as you would think, but do expect to spend at least a few hours memorising all the steps (in the simplest method, you need to learn eight different steps, or algorithms). And the best way to do it? Youtube. There are excellent tutorials available for free that take you through the entire process.

This isn’t a post to explain how to solve the Rubik’s cube, just to let you know that it really doesn’t take a genius. Have a go for yourself!

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12 Responses to Rubik’s cube: Why almost anyone can solve it

  1. I think that this would be a worthy project. I’m a piano teacher surrounded by physicists and computer programmers, and solving a Rubik’s cube in front of them would be REALLY satisfying.

  2. Tori Nelson says:

    I got really excited to learn this new party trick (the family says my breakdancing is getting old). I’ve attempted to conquer The Cube before, but within a few seconds my brain stops focusing and I tend to take a snack break. Is “concentration beyond that of an over-active spider monkey” a necessary tool for mastering the trick?

    • Beau Gamble says:

      Haha yeah, I suppose that should’ve made it onto the list…

      Then again, even with a spider-monkey’s concentration you could start off with a 2x2x2 cube instead of the 3x3x3 in the pic. Not quite as time-consuming 🙂

  3. bex says:

    hope you don’t mind the comment – this post was a lot of fun! and is the perfect companion to MJ’s “Billy-Jean” that is playing on the radio!

  4. lesleehare says:

    can’t wait to try it out!

  5. huffygirl says:

    I like word puzzles and crosswords, but the logic of rubik’s cube escapes me. I’m pretty sure I can’t solve it.

  6. Sawyer says:

    Just a passer-by here, thought I’d comment because this struck a chord with me.

    I actually figured out how to solve the Rubik’s Cube a few years ago, I just haven’t done it yet. It’s the final step: I don’t know if the other methods are the same, but I imagine that with any you reach a point where you have to mess everything up – in a methodical way – to get the end result. With my approach I just have four corners left. I can visualise the exact steps needed to solve the cube completely, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. The logical part of my mind that the Rubik’s Cube appeals to is the same part that won’t let me “undo” my hard work, even though I know it’s necessary.

    So I’d still be one of those impressed by your Rubik’s Cube skills, not because of any mystery in solving it, but because of your bravery at the final steps!

    • Beau Gamble says:

      It sounds like I use the same method as you do. You’re absolutely right – just before the final result the cube becomes deceptively jumbled… You really just have to trust that the next few turns are going to work, and then suddenly it just all comes together…

      Thanks very much for the comment!

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