Rubik’s Cube Challenge: Did I do it?

The finale of the Rubik’s cube challenge was on Sunday, and yielded some interesting results.

To confirm, I did not look at an actual cube or picture of one between the start of the challenge last Wednesday, and the finale on Sunday.  All I did was read the book on the cube solution.  Before I reveal the results let me give you a rundown of what I had to do.

To make it work required memorizing a lot of steps, and learning the notation used by the book.

A simple cube

In the above picture, the top side (T) is yellow, the Front side (F) is Blue, and the Right (R) side is Red.  Opposite the Top is the Bottom (B), opposite the Front is the Posterior (P), and opposite the Right is the Left (L).  A (+) denotes a clockwise rotation, a (-) denotes a counterclockwise rotation, and a ‘2’ denotes a half turn.

So a combination T- R+ T2 moves the top side 1/4 turn counterclockwise, then the right side 1/4 turn clockwise, then the top side 1/2 turn in either direction, since a half turn either way results in the same position.

The solution followed the basic steps:

1. Pick a favourite colour and solve the top edges

2. Solve the top corners

3. Solve the middle edges

4. Solve the Bottom Corners

5. Solve the bottom edges

Each step was then broken down into having the cubes properly positioned first, then properly oriented.  The book detailed ways of doing this with groups of specific moves.  For example, once a top corner cube was properly positioned, it could be oriented without changing other top face cubes with the combination R- B2 R+ F+ B2 F-.

As we get further into the process, the combinations become more complicated, since at this point most of the cubes are in their correct position and orientation, and it takes a lot of work to preserve this.  The final move involved memorizing the combination:

L- R+ F+ L+ R – B- L- R+ F- L+ R- B- L- R+ F2 L+ R-

I did this through forming patterns and remembering them.  For the above move I noticed the first and last 5 moves repeat, except that instead of F+ in the first instance it was F2 in the second.  Many of the combinations throughout the solution repeated and I was able to remember them by breaking them down into smaller bits.

So, did it work?

It took about 30 minutes, and I made several mistakes near the end that required retracing my steps and fixing cubes that were previously positioned correctly, but I did it.

2013-09-29 15.45.05

Completed cube
Completed cube

Here are some of the progress shots:

Top edges done, step 1 completed.
Top edges done, step 1 completed.


Top third of cube done, positioned and oriented correctly
Top third of cube done, positioned and oriented correctly
Top 2 thirds done
Top 2 thirds done


Bottom corners done, only two edges left to fix
Bottom corners done, only two edges left to fix

What to take away from this:

The goal of this little challenge was to see if a skill could be learned and relatively mastered with only theoretical knowledge, and no practice.  It was also to determine if I could push myself to memorize long combinations and an in-depth solution with little time.

In terms of memorization, I have crammed for many an exam in my life, and have become pretty good at memorizing a lot of information in a short time.  In order to make it stick over the long run, revisiting the information every few days is a necessary step.

The fact that I still needed a few tries to get it right means that experience is part of the skill learning process.  The conclusion is one I was already aware of:

To master any given skill in the shortest possible time frame, a combination of theoretical study and real world experience is required.

There is a third step to this as well: Expert advice.  Knowing the tricks and tips from someone who has mastered the skill can undoubtedly make the process go a lot faster, and personalized feedback in real time is invaluable in quickly picking up a skill.  This is why experts who have put in a lot of time in any given field are so highly regarded and in-demand.

Maybe I need to speak to an expert blogger, to speed up the process of getting good at this stuff.

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