Thursday, 18 June 2015

Rubik's Cube

I recently had a few weeks off work, and in that time there were some things I wanted to do as well as just the usual admin stuff that builds up when you don't have the chance to tackle it. One of the things I wanted to do was learn to solve the Rubik's Cube..

Now when I say "solve", I don't mean I worked out a method of solving it myself; I'm no maths genius, I was quite happy following someone else's solution. I mainly wanted to do it "just because"...geek kudos maybe? But it turns out to have been more beneficial than I first gave it credit for. One of the things about me (and possibly other people with Asperger's Syndrome) is that I seem to get a certain comfort from repetitive tasks, or procedural tasks. I also quite like keeping my hands busy, so when the two combine I'm like a pig in muck. For example if there are cards to hand I'll just sit and shuffle them repeatedly, put them back into order, then shuffle again and so on. Before looking to solve "the cube" I actually had no idea what was involved, but it turns out it is just a number of sets of moves, and the puzzle can be solved by simply learning these moves, then executing them in sequence. No real knowledge of what you are doing is actually required.

So...sets of repetitive moves done in sequence using a device you manipulate with your hands? Why didn't I think of this sooner? So now my cube stays with me and in an evening I'll shuffle it, solve it, shuffle it, solve it, and it plays to a lot of things I quite enjoy doing. And girls love it, there is nothing a woman finds sexier than a man who can solve a cube.

If you're like me and enjoy these kinds of things then I'd definitely recommend you give this a go. It's not super easy to learn, but it's not that hard either, you just need to put in the time. I looked at a few on-line guides and I actually found the one on the official Rubik's Cube site to be the easiest to follow, and there are some videos there as well. There are seven stages needed to complete the thing from start to finish, so what I set out to do was learn one stage a day. Knowing how the brain works, and how we learn things, I thought this was the best way of doing it. By doing the same stage over and over and over it is easier to get that task committed to memory, and to fully master that stage. The next day I would learn the next task, so was doing the previous tasks again (once more, lots of repetition) as well as learning that day's stage on top. I stuck to this plan and on the seventh day I was doing an ok job at solving it (all God did on the seventh day was rest). I would still have to refer to the solution from time to time to refresh my memory of the moves, but with practice it gets easier and easier, and I can now solve it every time without any need to refer to the guide.

The stages themselves start off fairly easy but they get exponentially harder, and for the latter stages there are often two different algorithms you need to know depending on how the cube is currently configured. Given there are about 7 steps to the latter algorithms and a stage can require two to solve, that's 14 things that need committed to memory which is way beyond the short-term mental abilities of humans, so the only way to fully learn is simply by rote....just keep doing it and doing it and eventually it stops being a series of steps and instead becomes muscle memory.

By the way...I lied about women finding it sexy. Sorry.