No, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Erno Rubik. I’m just being slightly poetic here in that picking up my first Rubik’s Cube was like meeting a new best friend.
Some of what I’ll say here will sound like bragging, but keep reading, there is always someone better to put my humble accomplishments to shame.
I had heard about the Rubik’s Cube in early 1980 (I think from a Martin Gardner article but not the big cover story in March of 1981). I knew I wanted one, but the only way to get one was to send out of the country for one. Sometime in the spring of 1981, I picked up my first Rubik’s Cube. I picked it up at about 8 PM. I had to work at 4AM for UPS, loading trucks. I got home around 9-ish and started working on it. I worked on it until around 3 AM and then went to work. I returned from work at about 9AM and tried to go to sleep but the unsolved cube sat on my desk in it’s scrambled state, mocking me. I got back up, and solved it with another 4 hours or so of working on it. It would have gone quicker if I knew I could just pop-it apart and do “experiments” from a pristine state, but I didn’t know that at the time. For a while, I was very impressed with my 10-hour first solution especially when I read that most people never solve it on their own, and that those who do take between 2 days and 2 weeks to solve it. I thought I was pretty sharp, until I read about a Mathematician in England that has solved it in just 5 hours…without actually having a physical Rubik’s Cube on hand. He worked out the solution with just pencil and paper.
To be fair, I also solved it a 2nd time in just about 30 minutes…but then…I realized there was one thing I hadn’t really learned yet…(two-edge-flip)…and it would take me 10 more hours to find that operator. Once I did, I was down to solving it within 5 minutes always.
Within two weeks, I was down to a minute or so…and then I went to a contest at SUNY Albany. I was one of the fastest there, but my cube “blew apart on the curve” and it wasn’t a real contest (everyone used their own cubes). I met a kid there (about 6 years younger than me) and we hit it off. He was also about a minute or so…and when I showed him my method, he switched to it, and got down to 45 seconds easily. I figured, if he could learn my method…then I could learn to move my fingers more quickly. In about a week, I was down to 45 seconds, and then I started carrying the cube everywhere.
I finally settled on about a 33 second average (with no look ahead time). I could have been on That’s Incredible but I got talked out of traveling 4 hours for a contest in Buffalo N. Y. I later learned that my 33 would have easily won that regional contest (barring any slip ups on my part) and that would have landed me a spot on the 6 finalist on That’s Incredible. I would have come in last there…but…I would have been the oldest contestant too.
I was happy with the 33 and I used to think I was in the top 100-200 people in the U.S. in speed. But times change, and now the new method has most speed cubers under 20 seconds. In fact, I lived in Binghamton NY from 1997-2010 and wouldn’t you know it…the lady who created the method that all the really fast cubers use…lives in Binghamton. Her name is Jessica Fridrich and she does the cube in about 16-17 seconds on average. So I’m twice as slow as a person in the place I lived for 13 years.
As I look up from writing this, I see 15 variations of the Rubik’s cube that I own. In addition to the 7×7, 6×6, 3 5x5s and a couple of 4x4s variations; I own a Mirror Cube (one color – depth of a piece replaces the color…it’s awesome, and I can do it blindfolded), Homer Simpson (2×2), The Skewb, Square One, The Bandage Cube (one of my favorites), The Crazy Cube and a super Square One (not sure what that one’s really called)…and an awesome thing called The Latch Cube (for people who didn’t think the Rubik’s Cube was hard enough).
I’m sure I have another 30 or so cubes lying around in other areas.
I’m out of practice and can only do it in about 40 seconds (under pressure)…but I can also do it in 6-8 looks behind my back (but that’s not impressive anymore since other people can do it with just one look).
I’ve used the Rubik’s Cube to win bar bets. I’ve used it doing stand-up comedy. (If you ask, I’ll tell you two very specific, and very funny Rubik Cube based jokes). I met a gorgeous blond in a bar once…and she ended up being a Physics major who loved listening to me ramble on about the cube (especially a think called “Quarking the cube”).
And just this last year, I discoverd PuzzleMasters.ca which sells many, many, many Rubik Cube variations (it’s where I got the Bandaged, Latch, and Crazy ones mentioned above) and I’m sure I’ll find some more that I don’t have, that seem interesting.
This is really the tip of the iceberg…In some ways, the Cube is the ultimate puzzle. It’s the puzzle that never ends. There is always more to say about it. I’ll explain why that’s true, next time. I’ll try to write about the Cube at least once a week for a while.