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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 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.


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

– 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