# The Human Limit of Speed-Puzzling?

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.

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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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# Games you can play in a snap!

What’s a puzzler to do when you’re in the mood to play a game, but you don’t have oodles of time available?

You simply don’t have an opening in your schedule wide enough to accommodate a multi-hour bout of Monopoly or a world-endangering round of Pandemic, but you still want a satisfying bit of gaming. Or perhaps you’re traveling and you don’t have room for all the bits and bobs that come with Escape: The Curse of the Temple or the set-up of Burgle Bros.

Well, reach for a quick-play game instead.

I define a quick-play game as any game you can set up and play in 20 minutes or less. Quick-play games can be large or small, travel-friendly or less-than-travel-friendly, but they’re all wrapped up in a pretty tight time limit.

And so, today, I’ll run through some terrific quick-play games. Some are favorites of mine, and others are suggestions from members of the PuzzleNation readership.

Let’s get cracking!

If you’re looking for a quick, relaxing game, Tsuro might be right up your alley. A tile-placement game where up to 8 players take control of flying dragons whose paths intersect, the goal is to stay on the board the longest.

Now, you do need a bit of space to play Tsuro, so it’s not really travel-friendly, but it’s easy to learn and a very satisfying way to pass 10 or 15 minutes.

For a more travel-amenable game that still requires a bit of space to play, you’ve got Bananagrams. The popular variation of Scrabble is perfect for airplane tray tables or intimate tables at the bar if you’re looking for a few speedy rounds of anagramming.

Loonacy and Just Desserts are two Looney Labs offerings that can easily slip into a backpack pocket and satisfy up to five players looking to kill 10 minutes or so.

Just Desserts is all about keeping hungry customers happy by matching symbols in your hand to treats they’d enjoy. It’s all about making the best use of the ingredients in your hand to serve treats to as many customers as possible. You’ll probably end up with a sugar craving after five or ten minutes of play.

Loonacy is a fast-reaction pattern-matching game that’s sure to get your adrenaline pumping, as you race to empty your hand of cards before your opponent can. Definitely a solid choice for spicing up a boring wait.

For five minutes of guaranteed puzzly chaos, there’s Spaceteam.

It’s up to you and your fellow players to work together to fix numerous malfunctions on your spaceship, and you have to share your tools to do so. But with everyone talking at once and all sorts of obstacles in your way, things get hectic very quickly. Of course, that only adds to the ridiculous fun of it all.

For a bit more of a thinker, give the Timeline series a shot. Combining short play times with serious replayability, Timeline is all about emptying your hand of cards by properly placing them in a timeline you and your fellow players build. Did the invention of the toothbrush come before or after the invention of the telegraph? You probably don’t know the exact dates, but having a general idea will get you pretty far.

The small metal tins make them easy to transport and stash away where needed. (I have one in my desk as I write this.)

In terms of portability, you can’t get much smaller than Love Letter or one of its many variants. A card game all about deduction and luck, you’re trying to get your love letter into the princess’s hands before one of your rivals can. And with only 16 cards in the entire deck, every action is crucial.

For sheer speed, it’s hard to top Falling.

The entire game only takes about 90 seconds to play, and the idea is simple: every player is plummeting from the sky, and the last player to hit the ground wins. So as the dealer keeps going round and round, adding cards to your pile and coming ever close to dropping those final few GROUND cards, it’s up to you to delay the inevitable as long as possible.

Morbid? A bit. But fun? Oh yes. And the deck is only slightly thicker than your average deck of cards.

Of course, for variety of gameplay, it’s hard to beat that average deck of cards. Games like Speed, Slapjack, and other fast-reaction games can be whipped up in a snap for those who don’t have the patience or the time for Hearts, War, or Go Fish.

But as you can see, there are plenty of other options out there for some quick, puzzly fun.

Are there any favorite quick-play games of yours that I missed? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!

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