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Simple skill: completing the Rubik's Cube in only a few minutes

Anyone can easily and permanently conquer the famous puzzle cube in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Like a basic onion soup recipe that opens with fifteen unwarranted, meaningless paragraphs about the history and meaning of chopped garlic and how it gracefully dances in the elegant natural light ushered in by a patio door on Sunday morning, I too will begin this post by wasting your time talking about the nature of the Rubik's Cube.

You've probably read that the standard Rubik's Cube has 43 quintillion possible combinations - a big, scary number that puts people off right away. Thankfully it's completely irrelevant when it comes to solving.

Once you've acquired the basic principles all you'll need to be concerned about when faced with a scrambled cube is methodically working through each individual step one by one in a specific order until it's done.

Simplifying The Cube

You may think that you are just not the type of person that can manage a puzzle like this. It's true that without any knowledge of how it works, seeing one of these cubes solved looks perplexing and completely inaccessible, but it's actually fairly straightforward when broken down. It will click with you very fast, even if you think you can't do it. The journey of demystifying the process is also a pleasure within itself.

It doesn't matter what the cube looks like initially, it's pretty much the same "difficulty" every time, give or take a few unlucky scenarios that may crop up. So don't get spooked at the site of a freshly scrambled cube and the thought of those 43 quintillion combinations. Each solve is essentially the same thing repeated, albeit with different variants being thrown at you during each phase. The main time constraint is simply how long it takes for you to recognise those variants and apply the right movements to them.

Solving the popular 3x3x3 cube in any sort of acceptable time (let's say 10 minutes or less) is extremely simple and something anyone can learn with about a week of daily practice. In fact I'd say you could probably take your solve time all the way down to 2 minutes within a few weeks and retain that skill for the rest of your life without any future practice.

When you get into the region of solving in less than 20 seconds (up to the world record of 4.2 seconds) you're moving into much trickier territory that involves quite a bit of constant memorisation and locking in dozens of situational sequences.

Now full disclosure, I can only solve the Rubik's Cube in about 60-90 seconds, without anything more advanced than the techniques within this post. That's super slow if you're talking to professional cubers, but personally I've found there's a line crossed between enjoyment and dull mental grind if you start to work on the most optimal speed solving techniques, knowing you've got to internalise yet another dozen algorithms just to shave off 2 seconds here and 0.5 seconds there.

That's just how it is with the endgame of any sport or skill, and the professional <10 second cube solvers are to be admired for that dedication.

There are however "halfway" speed solving methods that combine some of the basic and some of the advanced techniques, with a view to take your times down to around 30 seconds, but if like me you're content with seeing a random cube, picking it up, and casually completing it within a couple of minutes, read on.

The Beginner's Method

If you've got no cube, consider one of these. Anything associated with tournaments and the World Cube Association is far superior to the traditional Rubik's Cube you see in toy shops. They're much smoother and have excellent magic voodoo spring science so you can "flick" the sides rather than slowly twist them one by one. If all you've got is a standard mainstream Rubik's Cube, it'll work fine, but consider upgrading if you get a taste for solving.

There's hundreds of cube solving tutorials in written and video form on the internet and a whole bunch of them aren't very useful at all, deliberately mystifying various parts of the process in order to sound smarter.

When learning myself I spent a long time trawling through an embarrassingly large number of websites and videos until I found TheSergsB, who is without doubt the absolute champion of creating accessible cube tutorials.

It would be a complete waste of everyone's time for me to lay out sequences and patterns here when this guy has already done it better than I ever could, so I'm just going to embed his glorious content.

This is the main video I worked with when first learning. He lays out an overview of solving all three layers of the cube here, and has links to two more useful videos in the description covering nuances of layer 1&2, then the trickier final layer. These, and perhaps the algorithms on his website, are honestly everything you'll need, don't clog up the mental tubes with other random content.

From my experience, I can also add some key personal tips to speed things along:

1. Think of the cube as three separate goals, one for each layer. Fully learn Layer 1 and ignore Layer 2 entirely. Shuffle the cube and repeatedly solve Layer 1 until it's seamless and committed to memory. You don't want to run into any trouble with these opening steps when you're further down the path. At no point in the future should you be concerned you've forgotten the opening variants. You'll be busy enough working on harder positions and the last thing you want is doubt surrounding a previous step. Sleep on it too - if you can come back to the cube after 12 hours and complete Layer 1 from memory, you're doing great.

2. Begin learning Layer 2, expect trial and error, but feel confident knowing you can "reset" certain positions using your strong knowledge of Layer 1. Without that opening layer dedication, you'll end up resetting the entire cube out of frustration and repeatedly struggle to even reach the starting point required for the end phases of Layer 2. This will then snowball into a greater frustration when moving onto Layer 3. I can't emphasise this enough: don't rush.

3. Once you're confident with Layer 2, reset the cube entirely and do 1&2 repeatedly, ignoring Layer 3. Do this enough times that you can confidently reach the end of Layer 2 even if you make the rare mistake halfway through and need to adjust. This will occasionally happen and it's highly suboptimal to restart the entire process over one mistake, so become familiar with rolling back a couple of steps. Usually it's just a case of fixing up the Layer 1 corner pieces with one algorithm, which is ironically a good thing because it gives you more practice with that particular move.

4. Only begin Layer 3 when you're 100% confident in your ability to solve 1&2 with no real mental exertion. They must feel procedural and straightforward. If you get impatient and try to rush through to get to the completed solve without fully understanding how you got there, you're going to mess up your internal structure and end up forgetting things from earlier stages. Accept to begin with that you're only going to be able to complete 2/3rds of the cube at first, and only begin the final layer once you're confident up to that point.

5. Layer 3 is the most sequence-heavy phase where most intuition goes out the window and you're generally relying on specific algorithms. This may seem a little daunting at first but thankfully the longest set of moves (the final one for permuting the last two/three/four pieces) is simply a previous sequence repeated twice. I recommend practicing these moves on a fully scrambled cube. Obviously that won't result in a solve, but you'll be able to get them into your head without the hassle of completing Layer 1 & 2 and half of Layer 3 just to try them once. At this point it's just muscle memory.

6. After all this you will probably be able to solve the entire cube quite slowly and perhaps you'll have a few algorithms written down on a notepad. The final goal is to forget the specific technical details of those algorithms and be able to execute them without thinking. To do that, just keep solving the cube and try not to rely on diagrams and written sequences. Remove them slowly until you've internalised everything, then just solve and solve until you reach the 2 or 3 minute mark. If you've learned everything so far, it's only a matter of time for your brain/fingers to reach that goal.

Congratulations, you can now instinctively solve a Rubik's Cube for the rest of your life, even if you only do it once every 6 months.


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