Saturday 11 February 2012

Twisty Puzzle Madness - It's Tommy's Fault!

Yes Tommy! You know who you are! If she divorces me, it will all be your fault! Actually, maybe I can blame Mrs S instead! For a joke, at the beginning of my puzzling obsession, for Christmas 2010 she gave me a Rubik's pair of cubes - 3x3 and 4x4. I spent the next few days trying to solve them, much to her disgust. As a teenager, in 1981, when Erno Rubik first brought them to the UK, I had both cubes. At that time I actually managed to solve the 3x3 myself and did part of the 4x4 too! The rest I had to gain from one of the many books that were produced.

So during that Christmas period I worked and worked and worked on these blasted cubes and only got about 2/3 of the way through without finally having to resort to the internet and to find the algorithms I needed to finish them off.

Shortly after I managed the 2 she bought for me - I decided to buy some higher order cubes and went to Verdes international to buy the V-cubes from them (they were supposed to have a fantastic mechanism - they certainly do!) So up until a few days ago I had a collection which looked like this:

My small but perfectly formed collection. Up till recently!
Now, the internet is a wonderful place! But it is also a place of madness! I found a huge treasure trove of cubers out there with dozens of different approaches to solving cubes! One approach needed only 2 basic algorithms and a whole lot of thought! This appealed to me but I just couldn't get my head around what the author was trying to make me do - I tried for days to understand his method but I just couldn't make it work for me at all, so I abandoned it! Other approaches encourage you to learn dozens of algorithms - one for every possible orientation of the cubelets. The advantage of these techniques seem to be that they allow speed-cubing. I remember being able to solve a cube in about 45-60 seconds as a teenager but never the speeds that the guys seem to manage now (sub 10 seconds). I am an old man now (45!!!) and can barely remember who or where I am (I find myself halfway up the stairs, not only have I forgotten what I was going for but also whether I was going up or down!!) so there is not a chance that I could learn the huge number of different algorithms that was required for that!

I wanted a fairly easy technique which required very few algorithms and more in the way of thought but did not require a degree in pure maths to understand. I bought a book on the History of the Cube by Jerry Slocum & David Singmaster - it included an approach to the basic cubes which I really liked. It still had far too many algorithms for my liking and so I adapted it. My approach is to solve one face, then the opposite face and then get the edges of the middle layer in place and oriented correctly. I can do this with only 5 algorithms plus a bit of thought to move bits as required. My approach to the higher order cubes is to reduce them to a sort of funny shaped but very large 3x3! This only really requires an extra 2 algorithms plus another 2 for parity problems. So now I can do a standard cube in under 2 minutes and manage a 7x7 monster in about 30-40 minutes! I would love to buy a 9x9 or even 11x11 but they are really expensive!!

I was really pleased with myself at this - not bad for an old fellow! Still, I had decided that I wasn't particularly good at these twisty puzzles; I certainly didn't know how to work out my own solutions and had no plan to try any of the variants. During my short puzzling career, I have met many interesting people with many talents including the lovely Roxanne Wong - who is the "Queen of twisty puzzles". She has a gigantic collection, most of which she can solve and I've even met Graham (Afkan) in person who showed me the mirror cube, an amazing shape-changer which is still a standard 3x3 cube (shudder!!!). But even reading Rox's blog and lurking in the Twisty puzzles forum did not convince me to go any further with this genre.

So what has happened? A young man called Tommy sent me a message via my contact page and we have corresponded a bit. He was very enthusiastic about many puzzle types and advised me to explore further the world of the twisty puzzle!! I tried to ignore his words but soon I could hear them in my sleep and I started to investigate further. I have to say that YouTube has a lot to answer for - I have found myself spending hours and hours on un-boxing and review videos as well as watching tutorials on various difficult puzzles. And then my mouse finger got itchy!!! Oh No!!!

If you live in the UK or Europe, I can recommend - they have a huge, huge selection and provide fabulous service ("stuff" has arrived within 48 hours of ordering). Tony & Jas are really helpful. NO I am not an affiliate - I doubt they even know about my blog let alone this post! I have also discovered the world of Mefferts puzzles - Uwe has designed many new twisty puzzles and works with the amazing talent in the community to help bring their dreams and designs into general production.

This is what I have bought so far:

Gear Cube
Having solved the 4 that have arrived so far, I have branched out and ordered more from and yet more from eBay (HK Nowstore).
By the time they all arrive my collection will be:

Shape Axis
Features Layers Name
Cubes Face

2x2 - 7x7 V-cubes &Rubik's


2 Skewb


3 Curvy copter

Geared 3 Gear cube

Geared 2 Gear shift

Bandaged 3 Square-1

Bandaged 3 Super square-1

Cuboids Face

3x3x1 Floppy cube


3x3x2 Domino cube


2x2x4 Rubik's tower

Tetrahedra Face

2 Pyraminx


2 Jing's Pyraminx


3 Mastermorphix

Dodecahedra Face

2 Flowerminx


3 Megaminx

The great thing about these puzzles is that they are really pretty cheap - you can buy many many hours of entertainment for very little money. So if you are after a new challenge on an old theme then remember these puzzles - the variety is staggering.

For video reviews and help I can highly recommend the following YouTube channels:
Jon ? is SuperAntonioVivaldi
Dan Fast is CrazyBadCuber
Kenneth Brandon is RedKB
These guys are awesome!!!

If you can hear some screaming from the Midlands followed by some gurgling noises, then she has murdered me. Or, if there is some hysterical cackling coming from this way then she is divorcing me and taking me to the cleaners!

And, Tommy, it will have been all your fault!


  1. Yeah Tommy! Enjoy Kevin! Great fun all. And toss that pyraminx towards Mrs. S. It's such a walk in the park, she may not strangle you at all, but rather become a puzzler...then you can toss the bags etc and have loads more room for toys (see, I am dreaming for you!)

    1. I dare not mention tossing out bags etc. She is rather attached to all of those and if I (re)move any of them then no-one will even find my body!!

      I gave her the pyraminx and she liked the look - but unfortunately had no urge to solve it.

      It is easy though, I do agree!

  2. Kevin, I must admit I share your passion for these twisty marvels ...but then again, I'm a little younger than you (I'm 41), although, I too, should know better.
    I started with the regular cubes, and my passion was the 6x6 V-cube - until a friend of mine introduced me to the Skewb, and another gave me a Megaminx. I was irreversibly hooked. I can't stop fiddling with these beauties!
    Which are your favorite twisty puzzles?

    1. Ah Ricardo! That is not an easy question to answer. I have been asked this quite a lot recently and so have decided to write a blog post about it. Keep a watch out for it hopefully later this week.