The Human Limit of Speed-Puzzling?

stopwatch

When you think about achieving the impossible, what comes to mind? For runners, there’s beating the 4-minute mile. For the 100-meter sprint, it’s topping 10 seconds.

What do you suppose the puzzle equivalent would be? Solving puzzle #1 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in under 2 minutes? We’ve seen Dan Feyer do that, and it was seriously impressive.

For Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts — especially the competitors known as speed-solvers or speed-cubers — that benchmark is a sub-3 second solve.

The current verified world record for speed-solving a Rubik’s Cube stands at 3.4 seconds, which shattered the previous record by almost a second.

(That record is for a single solve. Many Rubik’s Cube competitions involve an average time across five solved cubes, and the speed record for that hovers somewhere around 5 seconds.)

A lot goes into achieving a 3.4 second solve. There are specially designed cubes that allow for easier, quicker, smoother twisting and turning, so you can solve faster. I’m sure anyone who has solved a classic Rubik’s Cube found it at least a little bit clunky.

There’s also technique. Top solvers not only memorize solving patterns known as algorithms, but they have preferred combinations of moves.

It has been mathematically proven that no matter how complicated a scramble gets, you’re never more than 20 moves away from the solve. Now, of course a computer can analyze a cube and figure out those 20 moves. The human mind doesn’t work that way, so even top speed-solvers would require many more moves to solve the cube, even if they’re still lightning fast.

Which brings us to the next aspect of speed-solving: efficiency. Sometimes the fewest number of moves isn’t the fastest solve. For instance, if you have to rotate the cube in order to execute a turn, you’re wasting time you could otherwise spend twisting and turning toward the solution. So some solvers will avoid a slower rotational move by doing two turns instead, which ends up being faster overall. The trade-off of speed vs. efficiency is another way speed-solvers are whittling down time and approaching that 3-second threshold.

Top solvers can execute ten turns or moves per second. Based on the idea that no Rubik’s Cube is more than 20 moves away from being solved, that mathematically implies that a 2-second solve should be possible, if not probable.

In fairness, we’ve seen a solve take less than a second, but that involved a computer program and a robot solver.

So where do we currently stand? Well, there’s the 3.4 second official record, but former champion Feliks Zemdegs claims that, in training, he has achieved a 3.01 second solve.

Another speed-solver, Patrick Ponce, claims that he has solved a 3×3 cube in 2.99 seconds, but again, this is an unofficial time.

That being said, it certainly seems like the 3-second threshold, like the 4-minute mile before it, will eventually fall.

How fast is the human limit? Only time will tell.

[Sources: Rubik’s WCA World Championship, World Cube Association, Wired.]


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A New Twist on a Classic Twisty Puzzle?

The Rubik’s Cube is an instantly recognizable icon of the puzzle industry. That simple pattern of colors on a 3×3 grid, the twisty turny puzzly challenge… it’s unmistakable.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Rubik’s Cube devotees and puzzle designers from experimenting with new variations on this iconic idea. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen everything from a solvable Google Doodle to a smartphone-enabled solving tool, from self-solving cubes to 3D-printed designs from superfans. Heck, we’ve seen cubes the size of buildings! (We’ve even seen them animated!)

But we’ve never seen a Rubik’s Cube quite like this.

[Image courtesy of Gearbrain.]

Say hello to the Rubik Tilt, a $25 handheld Rubik-style twisty puzzle that mixes button pressing with rotating, turning, and tilting the device itself in order to manipulate a virtual Rubik’s Cube on its game screen.

The buttons on the back of the controller allow you to select which row or column of the Cube is being shifted by your real world maneuvering.

Now, you may very well be saying, “So what? What does the Rubik Tilt do that you can’t get from playing with an actual Rubik’s Cube?” And that is a very fair question.

And the designers at Super Impulse did think of that; yes, the Rubik Tilt does have one trick up its sleeve that the original Cube does not.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

It’ll offer you hints if you get stuck.

Yes, when the game detects a lapse in solving — such as when you’re stumped about how to proceed next — it offers hints on which rows and columns of the puzzle to focus on. Although the puzzle won’t go as far as walking you through solving a Cube, it does provide a little pushing and prodding to keep you going.

When you factor in that the game also keeps track of your solving time, you have a Rubik’s-solving experience that not only encourages you, but actually teaches you to be better at solving this classic, diabolical brain teaser.

And, like the best puzzles, it rewards determination, rather than doubling down on frustration.

It’s certainly a different take on the Cube we all know, but it remains a worthwhile experiment, a proud new entry in the grand tradition of puzzles that teach us to be better solvers.


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This Rubik’s Cube Feat Is a Real Toss-Up!

You know, every time I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to Rubik’s Cubes, some enterprising solver proves me wrong yet again.

Over the years, I’ve seen a LOT of cool things done with Rubik’s Cubes.

I’ve seen the world’s most complex Rubik’s-style cube being solved, a building turned into a solvable Rubik’s Cube, and a Rubik’s Cube solved one move at a time by strangers across the globe.

I’ve even seen a Rubik’s Cube solved during a skydive.

So when I saw the video below, I originally thought it would fit right in with the cavalcade of impressive solves we’ve shared in the past.

I mean, solving three Rubik’s Cubes in 20 seconds… while juggling them? That’s incredible!

Check it out:

Wait, what’s that?

If you watch very closely, there’s something strange going on in this one.

Yes, it turns out it’s been faked. This is not a real solve.

But the reveal of how they pulled it off is almost more impressive than actually solving them so quickly:

That’s a lot of effort to make it look real.

But has anyone actually done a juggling solve of multiple Rubik’s Cubes?

Yes. A little more searching turns up the following six-minute doozy:

Here, as far as I can tell, is a genuine video of someone solving three Rubik’s Cubes while juggling them. It takes him six minutes, and he solves them one at a time (one twist at a time, every third throw, as you can see if you slow it down).

The camera isn’t steady; it’s constantly moving around. And the daunting length of the video adds to the credibility. You saw all the work that went into digitally animating 20 seconds. Doing so for six straight minutes with far greater variation in light and framing? That would be a Herculean effort in editing.

The only thing that’s weird about this one is how nonchalant everyone around this guy acts while he’s performing an amazing feat of concentration and dexterity.

It might not be a rapid-fire speed-solve, but it is a worthwhile watch nonetheless.

Now, to close out today’s post, here’s the opposite of speed-solving, as two Rubik’s pros take 18 minutes (sped up in the video) to solve the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube:

I like how the sheer size of the cube seems to flummox them a bit. After all, it’s not as easy to look at all sides of the cube and assess it as you would a normal Rubik’s Cube.

Still, it’s a very cool feat to document.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, trying to crack a regular old cube. Good thing I’ve got extra time off for the holiday. I’ll need it.


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The Rubik’s Cube World Championship!

This past week, Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts from around the world convened in Paris, France, for the Rubik’s Cube World Championship.

The event spanned three days, welcoming over 1,000 competitors from dozens of different countries to test their speed-solving abilities against fellow solvers.

Think about that. Dozens of countries. The Rubik’s Cube is truly ubiquitous these days. (Rubikquitous, perhaps?)

Although the bulk of the competitions were centered around speed, the list of events was pretty impressive, including solving a cube in the fewest moves, solving blindfolded, solving one-handed, and even solving with your feet! Plus there were events where competitors solved variations on the classic cube!

[From left to right, a Skewb, a Megaminx, and a Pyraminx. All three cube variants were used in speed-solving competitions.]

You can check out all of the results from the Championship by clicking here. But I do want to make a point of highlighting just how quick these competitors are.

The speeds we are talking about here? Mind-blowing. The 3×3 cube champion averaged 6.85 seconds across 5 solves. His fastest solve was 5.87 seconds. That’s madness.

And that level of speed was not an outlier. You had to ratchet things up in both size and complexity, all the way to a 6×6 cube, before a championship-winning time exceeded one minute.

But individual achievement was not the only game in town here. For the first time, three-member teams from various countries competed in the Rubik’s Nations Cup.

The competition was modeled around a relay race. The first team member would solve a cube, then the second, then the third, and their aggregate time (as well as individual times) recorded.

72 teams competed in the Nations Cup, but the victory went to one of the German teams! Although it wasn’t a sanctioned event, it was a real crowd pleaser, and something that would definitely offer some puzzly bragging rights on the speed-solving circuit.

And although this was a competition, the spirit of camaraderie and community that infused the event was wonderful. You could really sense that this was an opportunity to make friends, to show off your skills, and to remember that puzzling is a universal language, whether you’re talking crosswords or cubes.

You can check out some of the event highlights, as well as a message from Erno Rubik himself, in this video:

All in all, it looks like an absolute blast was had. Now that’s some quality puzzling.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Rubik Rap edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of Rubik’s Cubes!

I’ve written about Rubik’s Cubes plenty of times before, but today, I want to focus on learning how to conquer the cube.

There are numerous videos and how-to guides online that offer tips to improve your Rubik’s solving, but one video jumped out at me, because it taught you how to solve a Rubik’s Cube in song form.

Oh yes, there’s a Rubik’s Cube rap, courtesy of YouTube icon DeStorm:

Did his lyrical instructions help you finally unravel the mysteries of the Rubik’s Cube? Let me know in the comments!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Rubik’s Under Pressure edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of twisty puzzles and the Rubik’s Cube!

You know, every time I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to Rubik’s Cube, some enterprising solver proves me wrong yet again. I mean, in writing three blog posts a week here for years, I’ve seen a LOT of cool things done with Rubik’s Cubes.

I’ve seen the world’s largest Rubik’s-style cube being solved, a building turned into a solvable Rubik’s Cube, a new speed-solving world record of 5.25 seconds, and a Rubik’s Cube solved one move at a time by strangers across the globe.

But I didn’t expect this one. Please join me in awe as this breath-defying solver tackles 2×2-style, 3×3-style, AND 4×4-style Rubik’s cubes in a little over a minute:

I’ll give $20 to the first person to solve a crossword in the same fashion.

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