Story Time with Uncle Tyson

Cube stories from around the world

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Origin of the Mystery Puzzle

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Author: Tyson Mao

I remember when we first started doing Mystery Puzzles. With the crowd cheering on the stage of the Exploratorium, it was really quite an experience. At the US National Championships 2006, I believe we had 500+ spectators at one point. But how did it all start?

The Sunday Contest
To learn the origin of the Mystery Puzzle, we have to go back a long time ago, back to 2003. Sadly, we now have competitors born after 2003. And that makes me feel a bit old. So back then, we used to use this timer made by Jess Bonde. Jess, of course, set the 3×3 WR single solve of 16.53 at the 2003 World Championship. He had written an online cube timer that provided 25-move scrambles and would calculate an average of 12. This was already the home standard then.

Before my time, there was a Sunday contest run by some French guy. (I think… and I’m not actually sure I remember. So if someone remembers who was running the Sunday contest back then, please let me know.) The idea was that people would do an average of 12 with the posted scrambles, and the results would be posted every Sunday and there would be a winner. This competition had died, but in 2004, I learned an interesting skill: I learned how to access web server spaces on astro.caltech.edu/~tmao and its.caltech.edu/~tmao, and I realized that I could make web pages in MS Word by saving files as HTML and uploading this. So I decided to revive and host the Sunday contest. Results were all e-mailed to me, and I manually edited my MS Word document and uploaded it every week. I did this for a bit, and then Jon Morris offered to take over the process. I figured he was more technologically inclined than I was, so I was more than happy to hand it off.

Caltech Cube Club, Dan Lo, and Ball-in-Cup
In the spring of 2005, a prospective student came to visit Caltech. His name was Daniel Lo, and he was interested in the cube. He was visiting Caltech one week early because he had an orchestra trip during the actual admit weekend at Caltech. I saw Daniel Lo and immediately determined, because I was a junior, soon to be senior in college, that he would be my successor and run cubing at Caltech for the next 3 to 4 years. I invited him along to WC 2005 in Orlando, Florida, and sure enough, I did get a good 3 to 4 years out of him before Caltech was handed off to Ambie Valdés. Dan Lo had started running a bunch of competitions for me, and we were sitting around in my dorm room when I started musing that it would be funny to have a Sunday contest that featured some random puzzle every week, instead of the standard 3x3x3 speedsolve. We could do a 3x3x3 blindfolded Sunday contest, a one-handed Sunday contest…and then the ideas started to get more ridiculous. Beating your roommate with a pillow, running a mile and solving a cube–we were throwing out every crazy idea. Dan Lo then made the comment that the Rubik’s Magic was a silly puzzle, and was in fact not a puzzle at all and had the same complexity of putting a ball in a cup. After all, putting a ball in a cup is the same physical motion every time. We liked the idea, so we found a ping pong ball and started practicing, and I think I got my time to around 0.38 second. The technique, of course, was to throw the ball in the air, stop the timer, and hope that it lands in the cup. This method was terrible for averages but good if you were aiming for the best single.

Ball-in-cup has since spread to other North American competitions. Here’s a video from Toronto Summer Open 2009:

The First Mystery Puzzles
The mystery puzzle idea also started up around US Nationals 2006. The Cubefreak documentary was being filmed at that time, and the producers had made trading cards of us. We all had our own trading card, and it was pretty cool. We eventually started trading with each other (I think I needed an Adam Zamora to complete the collection) and the idea of Pokemon was thrown out. That I could play my Adam Zamora against your Chris Hardwick, and that not only could we play this card game in the back at the competition organization tables, but we could make these battles happen in real life on the stage. So after the first day of the championships, I split our organizers into three teams, and they drafted players. And we started coming up with different events for these players to compete in. Sometimes, I would tell the team captains exactly what the event would be. Other times, they only had a vague idea of what the event would be. Chris Dzoan, at that time, was one of the top one-handed solvers, and I remember his combination with Bob blowing away the entire rest of the field. My brother played his Chris Hardwick and Ryan Patricio card, but they argued over how to approach the team solve (two solvers alternating a single move). It turns out the Chris Dzoan’s strategy of “I do everything and Bob, you do what I tell you to do” was especially quick given that Chris was one-handed solving the cube.

Here are some other memorable mystery puzzles that have been captured on tape.

Caltech Winter 2007 (Exploratorium, SF) Lightning Reaction Extreme

Caltech Fall 2007 Mystery Puzzle

Name that Dzoan
I’ll end with some Dzoan stories. Name That Dzoan was probably one of the dumber Mystery Puzzles that I came up with. Though I would implore the public to give me a break. I’m allowed to come up with one dumb idea every now and then, right?

How I first met Dan Dzoan is a pretty funny story in itself. It must have been Caltech Winter 2006. This new crew of cubers from Berkeley had come, but I hadn’t really met any of them. Winning Moves USA had sent me a crate full of puzzles, so when it came time for awards, I started giving out random prizes. I proceeded to announce the prize for the fastest person who did not make the finals. In other words, you’re the number one loser. Well, you could argue that the number one loser is second place, but okay, roll with me. And coming in 17th place…Dan Dzoan! And out of the audience I heard someone shout, “I KNEW IT!” Dan jumped up, came up on stage, accepted his Rubik’s Snake, and that’s the first time I ever met Dan Dzoan. From there, Dan expressed interest in getting UC Berkeley involved with the WCA, and I expressed interest in expanding the WCA’s activities to other schools.

This picture here captures the first moment I met Dan Dzoan. It’s a beautiful moment.

How Tyson met Dan Dzoan

But now, onto Name That Dzoan. Dan has two siblings, Chris and Brittany, both also cubers. They lived in Fremont, which wasn’t far from me in San Mateo, so when I was home we would get together and hang out. Since there were three of them, and we decided that everyone should know their Dzoans, the Name That Dzoan Mystery Puzzle was born. It was one of those things that was hilarious in my mind, but in actual practice, quite stupid.


The Dzoan stories live on, and when Shotaro Makisumi finally wins that big math prize, I think the world will get to see more Dzoan. There are obviously stories to be told here, but most of them transcend the Mystery Puzzle realm.

Written by macky

October 8, 2011 at 12:17 am

You Can Thank/Blame Me for…

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Author: Shotaro Makisumi (macky)

I went to a couple of European competitions this spring while studying abroad in France. At one of these competitions, I met a cuber who used my site back in the day to learn PLL. Apparently, he still does the T-perm as FRU’R’URUR2’F’RURU’R’ (the inverse of the current standard) because that’s how I used to do it until Stefan corrected me. Oops. Come to think of it, I also heard this once from someone in the U.S.

I held a bunch of world records in 2004-2005, so a lot of cubers at the time probably at least occasionally visited my site, Cubefreak. Because of this, there are a couple of notable things in cubing today—not contributions or influences, but rather quirks and accidents of history—that I seem to have inadvertently popularized, or that can be traced back to me. Depending on your view, you can thank or blame me for these things.

The JSCC OLL Numbering System

I frequented the JSCC (Japan Speed Cubing Club) forum (now basically dead) when I made my website in 2003. For my OLL/PLL pages, I adopted the numbering system used by all the Japanese cubers, most notably Katsuyuki Konishi (Planet Puzzle), numbering the unsolved OLLs from 1 through 57 and PLLs from n1 through n21. The prefix n- for PLL stands for naitsu, the screen name of the JSCC founder and the first sub-20 Japanese cuber, and serves to distinguish this system from the speedcubing.com system, which used P1 through P21. Although Jessica Fridrich’s lettering system has become the standard for PLL, there seems to be no clear consensus for OLL because of the larger number of cases. The closest thing we have to a standard is the Speedsolving.com wiki’s OLL page, which uses the JSCC numbering. Along with Katsu, whose site was also popular among English speakers, I was responsible for popularizing this system in the western cubing world. Sorry.

Oh, and some of you probably know OLL 22 as the Air Jeff because of me.

The w Notation

JSCC also had their own extension to the standard David Singmaster notation (UDRLFB MES 2′ xyz). They used (f) etc to indicate rotations (Katsu, being the maniac that he described himself to be, even used (f15) etc for tilts) instead of xyz. For wide turns, JSCC had the -w (“double”-u) suffix for double-layer (for 3×3 and up) and -t for triple-layer turns (for 4×4 and up). For my site, I stuck to xyz for rotations but adopted the w notation because it avoided the conflicting use in big cubes of the alternative lowercase notation. Again, Katsu and I were probably largely responsible for first familiarizing this notation to the rest of the world, though it received renewed exposure through the CUTEX team’s website around 2007. Among notable historical cubers with websites, the w notation was used by Gungz (Yu Jeong-Min) and Sébastien Felix. While many American cubers understand but don’t use the w notation for 3×3, it’s been adopted by the WCA as the official wide-turn notation for 4×4 and 5×5. Sorry.

OLL Images

Since I brought up the Speedsolving.com wiki’s OLL page, I’ll talk about these images:

OLL 46

You’ve probably seen this style of OLL images on a couple of different websites. Well, I made these back in 2004 or 2005. That’s right, I took the blank 3×3 image from Katsu’s site, carefully added twelve lines on the sides, then for each OLL, erased and shaded the appropriate lines and facelets…in Microsoft Paint. I made my PLL images around the same time using Paint and PowerPoint, but those didn’t get around nearly as much. You can thank me for this one.

3OP Edge Orientation Definition

My “A 3-Cycle Guide to 3x3x3 Blindfold Cubing,” first written in 2005,  was and probably still is the most widely-read (so non-video) guide for 3OP (3-Cycle Orientation Permutation). The method involves defining a correct orientation for each piece as one that can be brought to the correct position and orientation using moves within a certain subgroup of the Cube Group. While there’s only one obvious choice of subgroup for the corners, there are two for the edges: <U, D, F2, B2, R, L>, meaning no quarter turns on the F/B faces, or <U, D, F, B, R2, L2>, meaning no quarter turns on the R/L faces. For the first two versions of the guide, I used <U, D, F, B, R2, L2>, which was also used in stiff_hands cube page, where I had learned 3OP. In 2006, Leyan Lo and others pointed out some advantages of using <U, D, F2, B2, R, L>, and I updated the guide to use this subgroup. The change turned out to not matter much because the next years brought the BLD revolution, with Stefan Pochmann’s M2/R2 and freestyle popularized by Chris Hardwick and others, but many blindfold cubers who learned 3OP before 2006 still use the other definition because of my guide. It certainly sucks if you want to learn ZZ. I’m actually kind of sorry about this one. My bad.

The cubing community is still small enough that there are many random things that can be traced back to certain individuals. So, what can we blame/thank you for?

Happy Holidays,
macky

Written by macky

December 27, 2010 at 11:22 pm

The Rants of a Bitter Old Man, or: A Brief Interlude on the Evolution of Cubing Technology

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Author: Vincent Sheu

“Type-A? What is that?” Andy, Alexei, and I had recently started a cube club at our high school. Andy, the fast one, had lofty goals of eventually going to tournaments (back then, I thought there was no way I would ever reach the holy grail of sub-15 seconds). Despite my exclamations of doom, the three of us progressed, albeit rather slowly. I always felt that we were limited by hardware. The best cubes any of us had ever touched were the Rubik’s.com DIY’s (not including the original cube that Andy had gotten for 40 bucks on Ebay, and immediately destroyed with WD-40). Studio cubes were viewed as rare artifacts, to be displayed rather than played with.

Due to our limitations, we trained ourselves to turn slowly. “Lookahead above all!” Macky’s adage about most cubers having the most to improve in F2L lookahead was always at the forefront of our thoughts.

One day, Andy brought up the Type-A, B, and C cubes. The B version, apparently, was disgusting. The C was a Chinese knockoff of the Rubik’s.com DIY’s that we had been faithful to. But the Type-A: words could not begin to describe how that cube supposedly was going to transform cubing. Apparently the top cubers had tried it and many were considering switching, we heard (keep in mind that we were a small isolated pocket of cubing; much of what we heard was probably false). We eagerly ordered a few, and awaited magic.

I confess, I was disappointed. The new Type-A cube was hard and heavy. Compared to my Rubik’s.com DIY cube, it seemed unwieldy. I stayed resistant to change. The Type-D and Type-F came out. The A-II. New type-A. Through all this, I stuck with my trusty Rubik’s.com DIY. Little did I know: a revolution was occurring. No longer did cubes lock up every other move. No longer did cubers strain muscles trying basic fingertricks. Cubes could now be described as “creamy” or “crispy”. Screws were no longer a feature in cubes – they were a standard. Cubies were given teeth to prevent them from popping too easily. Others had built-in track guides to achieve a similar effect. Cubes came in light hollow varieties, as well as dense, heavier models. Sticker manufacturers printed stickers in a multitude of colors, giving cubers choices to allow them to optimally distinguish pieces during solves. In short, cubing technology had improved to the point that the new generation of cubers could have an insanely high TPS count and get a sub-15 average with average look-ahead skills.

Today, there are so many different brands of cubes on the market that whole websites have been devoted to exhibit the selection available to the average cuber. Endless debates rage about the “best” cube. From the GuHong to the Ghosthand, to the Edison, to the former Type-A series: a cube seemingly exists for every possible cuber, with every possible combination of strengths and weaknesses. It amazes me how the “little kids” at the tournaments at run can keep track of them all.

I’m happy that the influx of cubing innovation has made it possible for a new wave of cubers to improve their times relatively quickly. At the same time, I feel nostalgic; as well as saddened, that a style of cubing, which once dominated the landscape, now seems to be ebbing in influence. Foresight and look-ahead have fallen prey to blinding fast turning, made possible by new technology. One day, when I have the time, I, too may convert.

Written by macky

December 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm

My Golden Time with Rubik’s Cube

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Author: Dan Knights
Originally written in July, 2010.

On The Cube.
Despite dramatic changes in the cubing community between 1977 and 2010, the relationship between cuber and cube has never changed. Every cuber has a “golden time” with the cube. Erno Rubik himself expressed this sentiment about his own life. This golden time begins when the cuber first begins to solve the cube, and continues for weeks, months, or years as the secrets of the cube unfold. My golden time with the cube began when I first purchased my own cube. I had already developed a Java applet to display and solve a 3D virtual cube, and I had used the book, “Conquer That Cube” by Czes Kosniowsky to program the solution into the applet, but I had never solved a cube myself. While we were coding the applet, my friend Matt Wilder and I came across Jessica Fridrich’s web page describing her method, and I was dumbfounded that she could average 17 seconds. It blew my mind. I couldn’t imagine being able to turn the cube that fast without pausing. It wasn’t until almost a year later that I decided to learn the solution for myself. Matt was solving the cube in about a minute, and I was determined to get faster than him. One day I purchased a cube from the local toy store, took “Conquer That Cube” out from the library again, and started timing myself that very night.

On Friends.
In the spring of 1999, it seemed I was nearly alone in the world as a new speedcuber. The prominent speedcubers online at the time were Jessica Fridrich and Lars Petrus. Fortunately I had some local competition: Matt Wilder and I pushed each other down into the 30-second range using standard layer-by-layer approaches (mine was cross, first-layer corners, middle-layer edges, orient top edges, position top edges, position top corners, orient top corners). Then we decided to learn Fridrich’s F2L from her website. This got us down to mid-20’s. In the summer of 1999, about 3 months into my speedcubing career, I emailed Jessica to thank her for her inspiration and for sharing her algorithms. After a few emails exchanged we determined that on my weekend rock-climbing trips to the Shawangunks I was only a few hours’ drive from her home town, Binghamton, NY, and to my surprise she invited me to visit her and Mirek Goljan. I was so star-struck at the time that I printed and saved all of our email correspondences. In preparation for the visit, I finished learning the 21 last-layer permutations. When I got to her house, she had been out of cubing for so long that at first she couldn’t find a speed-cube. Eventually she tracked one down, and the three of us began racing. Within minutes she was averaging 17 seconds, and Mirek was close behind her. They said they were impressed with my reported 26-second averages, although under pressure I was hardly able to clear 30 seconds during our visit. This visit was pivotal for my progress as a speedcuber because I saw, in person, what became known as “finger-tricks” or “triggers”: Jessica and Mirek were able to flick the layers of the cube with amazing speed and precision. They performed three or four turns in a single fluid movement. They also strongly encouraged me to learn the 57 last-layer orientations. Following their advice, and mimicking their finger-tricks, within another two months my average was down to 18 seconds.

I also learned from Mirek and Jessica the standard protocol for taking home averages: record 12 times, drop the highest and lowest, and average the middle 10. Back then we were timing ourselves using the seconds display of a digital clock. Matt Wilder and I decided that rather than having to guess after each solve whether to round up or round down to the nearest second, we would always round down, and then add 0.5 seconds to the final average.

As impressed as I was by Jessica’s speedcubing prowess, I was equally taken aback by Mirek Goljan’s ability to intuit lengthy and specialized cube algorithms, many of which can be seen on Jessica Fridrich’s web page. For example, Mirek attempted to find, by hand, all algorithms of length 13 and 15 for transposition of two edges and two corners. I am afraid that this merciless sport of “mental cube wrestling” is all but dead in the age of personal computers. Not surprisingly, Mirek was exceptionally skilled at “fewest-moves” solving. He won the 2003 world championship for fewest moves with 29 turns. He remains in the top 15 now, in 2010.

On Blindfold Solving.
In the summer of 1999, before my meeting with Jessica Fridrich and Mirek Goljan, I read on Georges Helm’s web site that John Conway (the mathematician), used to solve the cube behind his back with four or five looks. Somehow I got it into my head that I could solve the cube in one look. In other words, blindfolded. I was naïve, and my first attempt was a brutal standard ad-hoc solve. This meant that I solved the entire cube using my normal solution method, and tracked every last piece through all of the 75 or so turns. It took hours of study and preparation. I had the cube on my desk at my summer job, and I was able to study it without making any noise (and thus without exposing my delinquency), because I didn’t have to turn it. When I was finally ready for the solve, I sat in my car during lunch and closed my eyes. With my heart pounding and racing, I carefully executed the precise and lengthy set of turns that I had determined would solve the cube. When I opened my eyes, I was alone in my car with a perfectly solved cube! This was one of the highest moments in my life. I felt dizzy from the mental exertion and the heat of the car in the summer, exhausted from the tension, and elated by my success. I had successfully climbed a high and technical mountain, and to my knowledge at the time it was the first ascent. I haven’t heard evidence to the contrary, although I find it likely that, given the immense popularity of the cube in the 1980’s, it must have been done before by someone. Soon after my first attempt I realized the benefit of solving the cube using only “minimally destructive” algorithms, and was able to solve blindfolded in 10-20 minutes. I would never have believed that 10 years later people would be averaging under a minute.

On Stiff Cubes.
In 1999 the only cubes for sale in the USA were made by OddzOn, and they were terrible for speedcubing: stiff, rough turning, paper stickers with plastic film that came off within days. As a consequence, I had to use relatively forceful movements to turn the cube. My handling of the cube required lots of turning “with the wrist”. Turning with the wrist means letting go of the cube before and after each turn to reposition the hand. This is considerably slower than the “proper” technique of flicking the sides of the cube with the fingers. Years later, when I went to the 2005 world championship, I was impressed by how smooth and loose the new speedcubes were. I immediately purchased some, and over the next year I painstakingly re-trained myself to use more finger-tricks and fewer wrist-turns. The new techniques paid off, and I was able to get my home average down from 16 seconds to sub-14 seconds. But despite my best efforts, one can still see in my cube handling the remnants of my early training with stiff cubes. In a minor way, I was doubly cursed by these OddzOn cubes: for some strange reason, they used the Japanese color scheme (green opposite yellow), and I’ve been stuck using it ever since. This means that I’m always the odd man out at cube parties, and I’m hindered when solving a stranger’s cube in public.

On Perpetuity.
Over the years, Rubik’s cube has spawned thousands of variations of “twisty” puzzles, but none rivals the original. The cube is the perfect puzzle: it’s hard enough that no one can solve it using only intuition; it’s easy enough that anyone can solve it with enough study or instruction; it fits perfectly in the hand, and its physical manipulation is natural and obvious; it requires no setting up, no cleaning up, and no batteries; it’s small and portable; it’s durable; it’s colorful and attractive; and every time you solve it the solution is unique. For 30 years, the cube has held its ground against electronic gadgets, life-like video games, and 24-hour entertainment. Rubik’s cube is an anchor for the largely unmoored entertainment industry. People loved it in the 1980’s. People love it now. People will love it in 100 years. Erno Rubik’s name will likely live as long as lives humanity.

– Dan Knights

Written by macky

December 7, 2010 at 2:52 pm

My perception of the cubing community over the last 10 years

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Author: Chris Hardwick
Originally posted on this Speedsolving thread on June 24, 2010.

Yahoo! Speedcubing Group’s 10th anniversary

Hi everyone,

Stefan Pochmann brought it to our attention recently that the Yahoo! Speed Solving Rubik’s Cube Group recently turned 10 years old. I created this group on June 19th, 2000 while sitting in my living room over Summer vacation between my sophomore and junior years of high school. At the time cubers were mostly communicating via e-mail, and I wanted a place where we could all talk about cubing more easily, rather than through e-mails in small groups.

The speedsolving.com forum has certainly become The place to hang out for cubers and cubing discussion, and I myself spend lots of time here nearly every day as well! So many thanks to Patrick for creating this forum, as I think it is an integral part of the level of communication cubers now enjoy today.

At the suggestion of Stefan I wrote up something about my thoughts on the speedcubing community from then to now, and I wanted to post it where others can read it. If you also have something to share about how the speedcubing community has progressed over the last 10 years, then I invite you to please feel free to make your own comments in this thread, or post your own write-up here as well.

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My perception of the cubing community over the last 10 years

Now that it is the 10 year anniversary of the creation of the Yahoo! Speedsolving Rubik’s Cube group, it’s incredible to think about how much cubing has changed from then to now. I consider myself a second generation cuber, seeing as how I started during the dark ages of cubing, after the Rubik’s cube craze died, and before the revival. I can’t imagine the change as experienced by the first generation cubers, who started in the 80’s when the cube first came out. Even from my perspective it is absolutely amazing what people have accomplished in cubing in the last 10 years.

Seeing as how it was 10 years ago, here is a brief history of the starting of the Speedsolving Rubik’s cube group as I remember it:

I began cubing mid-June of 1998, which was the summer between middle school and high school for me. I learned to cube from Mark Jeays’ website, which was the clearest and easiest to understand solution for me at the time. I have since e-mailed Mark thanking him for introducing me to the world of cubing, and speedcubing. I learned both of Mark’s solutions and used them for about one month. At this stage I was simply fascinated by the fact that I could even solve the cube at all. After a month of cubing and idly searching the web for sites related to cubing I found Jessica Fridrich’s site, which showed her method for how to average, yes average 17 seconds when solving the cube. This was so mind numbingly, incomprehensibly fast at the time that I was spellbound and simply had to learn how to solve a cube that quickly.

The first truly big milestone that brought cubers together was the CD game Rubik’s Games. The game was released Jan. 1st 1999, and I got a copy right around this time. It was through Rubik’s Games that I met Ron van Bruchem, Ton Dennenbroek, Jaap Scherphuis, Dan Knights, and Matt Wilder. Later, some other big names to cubing started joining in, and a list of avid Rubik’s Games players would include many recognizable speedcubers.

For about a year and a half, cubers mostly communicated occasionally through e-mail in the states. Dan Knights was a huge inspiration to us all, and was considered the fastest modern speedcuber of the second generation. He was the first well known person of the second generation to average 17 seconds. Ron van Bruchem quickly caught up and surpassed Dan in his at home averages, but Dan was the Rock Star, and the person to beat for quite some time. There were stories of the fast guys from the first generation, with some big names being Marc Waterman, Guiseppe Romeo, Jessica Fridrich, Anthony Snyder. All of these people claimed averages around 17 seconds, or just under in the high 16’s. At the time, these were the fastest averages anyone had ever heard of. Anthony Snyder claimed faster averages, but it was later discovered that he practiced using 13 move scrambles, which would lend him a slight advantage over others using longer scrambles. I don’t say this to invalidate his times, he was still a very fast speedcuber, but even at the time we did not quite consider his times comparable to the others because of that slight advantage from his scrambles. There was not really a set standard at this time, although some people were using 25 turns for the scramble length, and this was definitely catching on as the most popular.

In June of 2000 I started the Yahoo! Speed Solving Rubik’s Cube Club, they were not yet called groups, to try to gather cubers together. Keep in mind that most of the active cubers at that time already knew each other via Rubik’s Games or via e-mail. My intention was only to gather us all together into one place where we could all communicate with each other effectively. Of course, I had already heard of the original Cube Lovers mailing list, and my intention was not really to copy this or revive it, just to gather all of the currently active cubers together.

Cubing pretty much took off year after year after this point. In 2003 there was the second World Championships, which really jump started it all. Every year around Christmas and New Years our community would expand by quite a lot, presumably because people were receiving either the CD of Rubik’s Games, or a Rubik’s cube, or similar Rubik’s puzzles. A lot of the influx cubers would drop off after 6 months or so, but many of them stayed on and became what we would consider today to be big name, or very well known cubers. Eventually the cubing scene started to look like a smaller version of what it is today, with lots of competitions and communication online. The only difference is that the averages were not as fast as they are today and the size and scope of competitions was a good bit smaller than it is today.

Back to the year 2000 and 2001, here is a glimpse of what the cubing world was like through my eyes. Basically there was cubing on the internet, and there was the view of cubing in the real world. Cubing on the internet pretty much is what it sounds. We were the community of speedcubers communicating over the Yahoo Group or via e-mail about our shared hobby. We called ourselves speed cubists at the time (no joke!), and we were discovering what it took to average 17 seconds. We knew that some of the first generation cubers had already done it, but this was still the holy grail of cubing for us. Slowly but surely the averages dropped down to 16 seconds (madness!), then 15 seconds (almost unbelievable!), and they hovered around the low 15’s for quite some time. This was the era of Ron van Bruchem, Dan Knights, and Jess Bonde. These were the big names of the time. At the time we thought that sub-15 averages would be possible, but it seemed almost impossibly fast. We knew Jessica’s theoretical prediction of 10-12 second averages, but this was viewed almost as a dream that would only come true if a person’s career was to live, breath, eat, drink, and sleep cubing. Of course, today we know that these averages, and faster, are possible with just determination and practice, but at the time we thought it was just impossibly fast.

The perception of cubists and cubing at the time, in popular culture from my experience, was that it was an extremely nerdy hobby. We were considered people who just never let the craze go. In fact, during the years 1998-2000 not a single one of my friends knew I was a speedcuber. Not only that, but in those three years I only mentioned to them once, in passing, that I could even solve a cube at all. Keep in mind that I was in high school, and at the time it would have definitely had a negative effect on my social life to even hint at the fact that not only could I solve a Rubik’s Cube, but that I did it over and over every day. I can’t vouch for the European reaction, or the European community, but this is how I experienced my first years of cubing in the states. I don’t want to make it out to sound all bad. The community of speed cubers was extremely friendly, and there was a sort of solidarity of us sticking it out with each other. I think that the public’s reaction toward us, and the way we sort of stuck it out with each other, is partly a reason why us second generation cubers have such a friendly and tight knit community with each other.

Again, I don’t want to make the cubing scene out to sound so horrible, in fact it was amazingly fun and, for me, a life changing experience. Speedcubing is part of my identity, and it really has changed my life so much so for the better. The community of speedcubers was, and is, full of so many great people that it makes it such a wonderful group of people to be a part of. Again, I don’t want my portrayal of the public’s reaction to cubing to sound like we walked uphill in the snow both ways everyday, blah blah blah, but that is how I experienced it, and how I remember it, in those early years.

Ok, now onto the light hearted stuff. Here are some little things that more modern cubers might find funny or interesting about us cubists in the years 2000-2002.

– We did not use the Stackmat at the time, and for the most part we didn’t even know of the existence of Sport Stacking. I started out timing myself with a stopwatch, up until Ron wrote his timing program on speedcubing.com.

– Dan Knights and Matt Wilder pioneered the use of the average 10 of 12 times method. Jessica Fridrich had done something similar during her years, and Dan pioneered us making it the standard method for calculating our average times.

– We only timed our solves, and did our averages, out to the hundredth of a second about half the time. The other half the time we only timed our solves accurate to the second. To calculate the average solve time accurately we averaged those times using the usual 10 of 12 method, and then added 0.5 to the average time to account for the fact that we did not time to the tenths or hundredths of a second.

– We actually had a debate about where to solve the cross and F2L. At the time, some of us, myself included, actually did F2L on top. Dan Knights started the trend of solving cross on bottom, and many of us had to actively relearn F2L on bottom to do this. Lars Vandenbergh and others pioneered cross on left.

– The Unofficial world records page was the premier competition scene for us. The holder of the fastest average time on the UWR page was the premier Rock Star status cuber of the time, just like the WR holders are today.

– Blindfold cubing was not so much a timed event during this period, moreso an achievement event. The people doing 3x3x3 blindfolded were working on their times, but they were in the 2 or 3 minute range at this point. Really, at this time people were going for larger cubes, or large relays mixes of various cubes. Stefan Pochmann, Richard Carr, and Dror Vomberg were the blindfold cubing giants at this time.

– The Eastsheen 5x5x5 cubes came out shortly before the 2003 World Championship, and for the time, they were so smooth turning and fast that they were almost banned simply for that reason. There was also a big debate about their legality, but in the end they were allowed during the competition. This was our first issue related to the knock-off cube debate we had experienced at the time.

– Sub-20 averages were considered elite for the time, and sub-17 was super-elite. It was comparable to sub-13 and sub-10 today, respectively.

This was the early cubing world as I experienced it. If I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything. The cubing community is filled with so many amazing people, and I can’t imagine not having the speedcuber friends that I do, because of this hobby of mine. I really don’t see myself getting tired of cubing. My hope is that I will still be cubing in another ten years, and still attending competitions and meeting new people.

Happy cubing everyone!
Chris Hardwick

WCA’s scrambling orientation

with one comment

Author: Tyson Mao
Originally posted on this Speedsolving.com thread

I would be lying if I said the WCA regulations were completely written by me with no reference to anything else. The truth is, when I sat down to write the regulations for the US National Championships in 2004, I had already borrowed from many things in the past. Even though nothing was written until June of 2004, Caltech had held two tournaments by that time already, and we had already started to do things with certain procedures.

Things like the StackMat and the +2 penalty were simply borrowed from the 2003 World Championships. I started cubing in July of 2003, and so I was very disappointed to find out about the 2003 Toronto tournament in the San Francisco Chronicle, but clearly having been introduced to cubing only a few weeks before the actual event, there was no way for me to immerse myself deeply enough in the culture of speed cubing to have known about this competition. One procedure that I had borrowed when utilizing Caltech competition was which orientation to scramble the cube when preparing for a solve. I had heard in 2003 that competitors would say which color they used to solve the cross, and one would scramble with that color on top. This made sense for the a few reasons. At least for cross solvers, they would all be given the same initial state of forming their cross. It also seemed to make sense to allow people to see the cube relatively to their method, as opposed to an absolute random state.

After some conversations with some cubers, we started to debate whether or not this was a good idea. Giving the competitor of a choice was simply another thing that could be manipulated. Furthermore, it was discussed that since you really cannot predict how someone will view a cube, even though several people may use the same method, if everyone receives the same scramble without prior knowledge, no one can really complain about anything unfair. After all, the scrambling team has no idea what method a cuber uses, and cubers can simply solve different crosses, or use Petrus. I then had some conversations with people who attended WC 2003 and gained some insight as to why the Toronto championships asked for the solver’s cross color. Ian Winokur informed me that he heard the scrambles purposefully made the cross hard. The organizer didn’t want people to get ‘easy cross’ cases. This, of course, is completely asinine. It assumes that competitors solve with crosses, which is true unless you’re Lars Petrus. Mostly though, once this information got out, competitors would simply say that they solved with the lavender cross, or some other color in hopes of getting a random distribution of starting pieces, as opposed to one that is deemed not easy by the organizer. This was, of course, reinforced when I first spoke with the Toronto organizer, and he provided me with “certified” scrambles. None of this makes sense, because of the reasons I mentioned above. And really, many top cubers have expanded to utilize opposite color cross and color neutral cross methods. And we also have Lars Petrus, who is by definition, awesome.

So, it came time to decide how the WCA should scramble its cubes. White seemed like a logical choice for the top. White, after all, is not a color. And pretty much every cube has white, though some cubes substitute white for black. But almost every cube has white, and it’s a very neutral color, since it’s not a color. As is black, both white and black aren’t really colors. So it made sense to put something neutral on top. What color, then would we put in front? Blue was out of the question, because Japanese color scheme cubes have blue opposite to white. So we were left with red, orange, or green. Of those three colors, my own personal favorite color is green. I prefer green to red or orange, and hence, I made my blindfold color scheme to utilize white on top and green in front. Conveniently, being in the position that I was, this became the official WCA color scheme. Since the color in front was pretty much arbitrary, no one really complained. Only a few people, perhaps only one other person out there, really knew the story to this, and I remember him making the comment, “Tyson’s own personal color scheme.” It’s true… the WCA color scheme is my own personal color scheme. It’s how I solve my cubes blindfolded, and it’s how I displayed my cubes on my desk and on my bookshelf in college. And now, it’s how the world scrambles its cubes.

Written by macky

November 15, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Posted in WCA

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