Revisiting the Rubik's Cube

There is nothing quite like the combination of a nostalgic mother and Christmas to make a Rubik's Cube appear amongst the gifts. There is nothing quite like a nostalgic father to hog such a fun present!

So here we are, a little over a week after los Reyes Magos visited and left their gifts, and my brain has been working overtime trying to remember the solutions I had partially memorised thirty-odd years ago. Try as I might, I have found it impossible to recall the various algorithms so I went online to look for help, only to disappear down a rabbit hole of Rubik's history and theory.

How I wish that all that material had been so readily available back in the pre-Internet days when I had my Cube! I have thoroughly enjoyed not just rediscovering a favourite old toy, but actually learning about it properly for the first time. Of particular interest was my discovery of a completely different way to solve the Cube. Written over twenty years ago by Philip Marshall, it is modestly called The Ultimate Solution to Rubik's Cube.

Now Marshall's solution is by no means the optimal solution, nor is it a solution suitable for speed cubing, yet in discovering this wonderfully logical, beautifully elegant method, I feel like I have found the holy grail of cube solving. Surprisingly, however, The Ultimate Solution to Rubik's Cube does not appear to be widely known or commented on. I suspect that this may be due to the fact that the solution is explained in writing, without the typical step-by-step diagrams or cubing notation to follow. You should certainly be prepared to work to gain your understanding.

I have long felt that memorising vast sequences of algorithms goes against the grain of solving the Rubik's Cube, but I never managed to devise a better way. Philip Marshall did. Brilliantly. His solution uses just two, simple algorithms. Each algorithm, or series [of moves] as Marshall calls them, works on groups of three cubelets, one on edge pieces and the other on corner pieces. You can clearly see what each series does thus you can understand what is happening as you manipulate your cube. And therein lies the beauty of Marshall's solution. It is not based on endless complicated algorithms for every eventuality, nor is it based on building layers, which begins simply but then needs you to break and reassemble existing layers as you move pieces round the last layer. Equally, it requires somewhat more thought than constantly repeating Arnaud van Galen’s all-conquering “sexy move”.

To my mind, applying The Ultimate Solution to Rubik's Cube is analogous to being a human chess player, who analyses the board by looking at groups of pieces and their relative positions, unlike chess computers, which brute-force their search for mate from any given state of play. It is the difference between cramming for an exam only to forget the answers shortly after, and studying diligently to deepen your knowledge and understanding.

If you have any interest at all in Erno Rubik's fantastic toy, you should definitely spend some time getting to grips with The Ultimate Solution to Rubik's Cube. It explains what you need to do but it doesn't give you all the steps laid out one after another — you will still need to apply yourself to solve your Cube. And, of course, you will enjoy the satisfaction which comes from acquiring new skills by improving your knowledge and understanding.