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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Turn Your Smartphone Into a Rubik-Solving Sidekick?

I just can’t resist a bit of Rubik’s Cube news.

We’ve covered Rubik’s Cubes a lot on this blog. We’ve seen them solved underwater, while being juggled, during a skydive, and one move at a time by strangers on a world tour. And yes, we’ve seen them solved in increasing faster times, both by humans and machines.

The human record hovers around the five-second mark, while the machine record stands at .38 seconds, which is brain-meltingly fast.

Now there’s a new tool on the market to up your Rubik-solving game like never before. It’s called GoCube, and it’s on Kickstarter right now.

GoCube is a Rubik’s-inspired twisty puzzle that is Bluetooth-enabled in order to interact with a phone or tablet. It offers real-time updates on your solving progress — which corresponds to areas of the physical cube that light up — as well as carrying a whole host of other features.

You can use it as a training tool to teach you the tricks of the solving trade, whether you’re just learning how to solve a twisty puzzle or you have aspirations of being a speed-solver.

GoCube’s connectivity even allows you to compete in head-to-head solves with other users. Plus you can use the cube as a controller for mini-games, in dexterity challenges, and more.

This seems like an impressive step forward for twisty puzzles. Although the price tag is pretty hefty — the basic Kickstarter package starts at $69 (although the creators claim it will retail for $119) — the campaign has already blown past its initial goal of $25,000. It currently sits at over $400,000 in Kickstarter-backed funds with over a month to go.

Puzzles continue to grow and adapt to the modern technological revolution in unexpected and fascinating ways. I can’t wait to see what tech-savvy puzzlers cook up next.


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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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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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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Hall of Fame edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

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 Dungeons & Dragons!

I’ve written about Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games in the past, because I think they are a wonderful, underappreciated part of the world of puzzles and games. Some of the best and most satisfying riddles and puzzles I’ve ever solved were an integral part of a game of D&D.

So I’m excited to announce that Dungeons & Dragons has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame!

Housed at The Strong National Museum of Play, the National Toy Hall of Fame recognizes those products and improvised toys that have played a crucial role in the development of children and teens.

Whether they assist in hand-eye coordination, storytelling, deduction, athletics, or creativity, they are all classic examples of toys tied to fond memories of childhood. Previous inductees include the Rubik’s Cube (2014), Hot Wheels (2011), the Radio Flyer Wagon (1999), Jacks (2000), and Play-Doh (1998).

And I for one think Dungeons & Dragons is a very worthy addition to this club.

From the induction notice:

Dungeons & Dragons and its imitators actually changed the nature of play.

In Dungeons & Dragons players assume the roles of characters who inhabit a world moderated and narrated by a Dungeon Master, a player who explains the action to others and solicits their reactions to the unfolding story. The Dungeon Master’s storytelling skills and the players’ abilities to imagine add enjoyment to the game. Some aspects of the play are familiar, such as dice. But the special dice for Dungeons & Dragons hold up to 20 sides. Rolling them determines each character’s individual strengths, plots their complex interactions, and decides the outcome of their encounters.

More than any other game, Dungeons & Dragons paved the way for older children and adults to experience imaginative play. It was groundbreaking. And it opened the door for other kinds of table games that borrow many of its unique mechanics.

For over forty years, Dungeons & Dragons has been synonymous with roleplaying, collaborative storytelling, and good old-fashioned sword-swinging derring-do. And I think it’s fantastic that it’s getting some long-overdue recognition for the positive role it has played in so many people’s lives.

Congratulations to you, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. Thank you for hours and hours of brilliant, engaging fun.


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