What Can YOU Solve In Under a Second?

Oh yes, it’s Rubik’s Cube time once again.

Every time I think I’ve seen everything someone can do with a Rubik’s Cube, a month or two later, another amazing video appears on the Internet, proving me wrong.

We’ve covered Rubik’s Cubes a lot on this blog. We’ve seen them solved underwater, while being juggled, during a skydive, and yes, we’ve seen them solved in increasing faster times.

As of last year, the record for a robot solving a Rubik’s Cube was .637 seconds. That robot, Sub1, has been the Guinness World Record holder ever since.

Until now, it seems.

That’s a right, a pair of engineers — Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo — have nearly halved that world record with what they call their “Rubik’s Contraption.” This cube-solving bot posts a solving speed of .38 seconds.

Their machine is so fast that they had to program it to only allow one motor to move at a time. You see, in previous runs, more than one motor would try to move, and the cube would be RIPPED APART.

This lightning-fast robot is still waiting review by the team from Guinness, so, for now, Sub1’s record stands.

But for how long?


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The Robots Are Here and They Can Spell

[Image courtesy of World of Weird Things.]

I warned you, fellow puzzlers. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

The robots are coming, and they want our puzzles and games.

Let’s look at the hit list:

  • Deep Blue defeated Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov under standard chess tournament time constraints
  • IBM’s supercomputer Watson bested previous Jeopardy! champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings to nab a million-dollar prize
  • An AI program called DeepMind taught itself to play several Atari games with superhuman proficiency
  • There are several robots constructed out of LEGOs that solve Rubik’s Cubes in seconds flat
  • Dr. Fill, the crossword-solving computer program, competes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and in a matter of five years, it has jumped from 141st place in the 2012 tournament to 11th place in the 2017 tournament
  • Just last year, an AI developed by Google, AlphaGo (a product of DeepMind), twice defeated Ke Jie, the 19-year-old Go tournament champion ranked number one in the world

And Scrabble fans, you’re the next ones in the crosshairs of the machines.

During last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Industrial Technology Research Institute out of Taiwan debuted the IVS Robot — aka The Intelligent Vision System for Companion Robots — a machine capable of defeating human competitors at Scrabble.

[Image courtesy of ABC News.]

Instead of tiles and a standard Scrabble board, the IVS reads letter cubes (similar to a child’s alphabet blocks) played on a slightly larger gameboard. But time limits for play and standard rules still apply.

From an article on Engadget:

It’s hard not to be impressed by all the moving parts here. For one, the robot has to learn and understand the rules of the game and the best strategies for winning. It also needs to be able to see and recognize the game pieces and the spots on the board. That means it can read the letters on the cubes and identify the double-letter and triple-word score spots.

And, last but not least, it needs the dexterity to place the pieces on the board and not disturb the existing letters — which is especially difficult when you’re laying down two words next to each other to rack up those two-letter combos.

A quick Google search confirms that the robot bested practically every reporter, tech-savvy or otherwise, that crossed its path.

In the video below, North American Scrabble champion Will Anderson teams up with reporter Lexy Savvides to battle the robot, but a technical error prevents the game from getting very far:

Still, you can see the potential here. I’m sure it won’t be long before the IVS Robot is making appearances at Scrabble tournaments, attempting to establish machine dominance over another puzzly activity.

Stay strong, fellow puzzlers.


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PuzzleNation Blog Looks Back on 2017!

2017 is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m incredibly proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored board games and card games, strategy games and trivia games, dice games and tile games, do-it-yourself puzzlers and pen-and-paper classics. We met game designers, constructors, artists, and creative types of all kinds.

We unraveled math puzzles and tackled the Crossword from Hell. We accepted the challenge of diabolical brain teasers, optical illusions, Internet memes, and more, even pondering our place in the world of puzzles as electronic solvers like Dr. Fill and AlphaGo rise in capability.

We delved into puzzle history with posts about the legacy of female codebreakers in World War II, game dice from centuries ago, theories about Shakespeare’s secret codes, and the long history of cryptography and the NSA. We brought to light valuable examples of puzzles in art, popular culture, famous quotations, and even the natural world as we pondered whether bees are verifiable problem-solvers like crows and octopuses.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching as the puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and solve. We shared worthy causes like Puzzles for Progress, as well as amazing projects like new escape rooms, dazzling corn mazes, and the ongoing Kubrick’s Game interactive experience.

We cheered the 75th anniversary of the New York Times Crossword, and chronicled the many celebrations that marked the occasion, from guest crossword constructors like Bill Clinton and Lisa Loeb to a puzzle-centric cruise across the Atlantic!

We also mourned as friends and fellow puzzlers passed on. We said goodbye to David Lindsey and Raymond Smullyan, two underappreciated giants of the field. The pun-fueled show @midnight this year, which inspired our monthly hashtag game, also closed up shop, sadly.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, made puzzly bouquets in honor of International Puzzle Day, marveled at the records broken at the Rubik’s Cube World Championship, attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and New York Toy Fair, and dove deep into an ever-expanding litany of puzzle events like the Indie 500, BosWords, Lollapuzzoola 10, and Crosswords LA.

We found puzzly ways to celebrate everything from Pi Day, the Super Bowl, and Star Wars Day to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you. We even discovered Puzzle Mountain!

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. We marked five years of PuzzleNation Blog this year, I recently penned my 800th blog post, and I’m more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And honestly, that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune, hard work, and accomplishments in 2017 went well beyond that.

Every month, we delivered quality content for the Penny Dell Crosswords App. From monthly deluxe sets and bonus boxes to Dell Collection sets and holiday bundles, dozens upon dozens of topnotch puzzles wended their way to our loyal and enthusiastic solvers.

And just last month, we launched our newest puzzly endeavor — Daily POP Crosswords — bringing you fresh, up-to-date cluing and relatable themes in world-class puzzles created by some of the industry’s best constructors! (Many of whom you’ve gotten to know in our recent interview series, Meet the Daily POP Crosswords Constructors!)

But whether we’re talking about the Penny Dell Crosswords App or Daily POP Crosswords, I’m proud to say that every single puzzle represents our high standards of quality puzzle content crafted for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

And your response has been fantastic! Daily POP Crosswords is thriving, the blog has over 2200 followers, and with our audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms continuing to grow, the enthusiasm of the PuzzleNation readership is both humbling and very encouraging.

2017 was our most ambitious, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and the coming year promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your support, your interest, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. The new year looms large, and we look forward to seeing you in 2018!


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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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PuzzleNation Product Review: Color Cube Sudoku

[Note: I received a free copy of this product in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Sudoku is one of the most popular pen-and-paper puzzles in the world. It’s found in numerous daily newspapers, puzzle books, and smartphone apps.

After years of tackling regular Sudoku, Extreme Sudoku, Word Sudoku, Mega Sudoku, Samurai Sudoku, Geometric Sudoku, Sum-Doku, and numerous other variations, you’d think the puzzle community at large would’ve exhausted every possible version of Sudoku.

Enter the crafty folks at ThinkFun, who have put a unique spin on another Sudoku variant: Color Sudoku. In Color Sudoku, you have nine colors to arrange instead of numbers.

ThinkFun has upped the ante with Color Cube Sudoku, their latest puzzle-game, by combining the twisty-turny cube possibilities of a Rubik’s Cube with Sudoku-style deductive solving.

It seems like a simple enough set-up. You’ve got a tray and nine multi-colored cubes. Each cube has four of the six possible colors: green, red, blue, yellow, orange, and white. And it’s up to you to arrange the nine cubes in the grid in a 3×3 pattern so that each color only appears once in each row and column.

But that arrangement already introduces complications. Unlike a pen-and-paper puzzle, where you can place any number (or in this case, any color) in any square you choose, the preset color arrangements on each cube limit your choices.

If you need a blue square in the first row, sixth column, given the cubes available to you, you might end up with a second yellow square in your row. Which means, instead of needing a new cube, you need to change one of the cubes you’ve already placed and try again.

What once seemed simple now offers a greater challenge.

But, like many ThinkFun puzzle-games, the more you play around with the possibilities, the more you begin developing new strategies and get into the psychology of the puzzle itself.

Once you’ve placed a few of the cubes, next-level deductive reasoning kicks in, and you can eliminate certain possibilities and begin working more than one step ahead at a time.

For instance, if you’ve placed two cubes in a column, you’ll know you need to change one of the cubes if the third cube will need a green spot in both columns. Since that’s impossible, even without placing the third cube, you know you need to change one of the two you’ve already placed. Which means you’re preventing wasted moves and pushing closer to an actual solution.

Whether you’re tackling Color Cube Sudoku alone or with partners, whether you’re trying to crack a regular 6×6 pattern or taking a whack at some of the variant challenges they suggest — like knight’s paths and other difficult patterns — this is a deduction puzzle that feels like play instead of work.

When I tested this out with a fellow puzzler, we immediately began playing it in a slightly more competitive way. One of us would place a cube, and then the other would place a cube, and we would keep going until no cube could be placed.

You can end the game there, or you can take it a step further, and introduce rules where moving or shifting previously-placed cubes becomes part of the game in order to extend the puzzly gameplay. Heck, if you go long enough, it eventually becomes a race to see who can actually solve the Color Cube Sudoku layout first!

The designers state that there are 2,641,807,540,224 different ways to arrange the 9 cubes, and with seemingly endless variation in such a simple set-up, this is one puzzle-game you can put down and return to numerous times without burning out or feeling like you’ve conquered it forever.

Color Cube Sudoku is available for $19.99 from ThinkFun and select retailers!


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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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