I've had a brand new hobby for over 6 months now, and I haven't written a word about it on here, which is rather remiss of me. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you'll have seen photos and such, so it won't come as a complete surprise, mind you.
It is Cubing. Before I left my previous contract I became aware that one of my colleagues was part of The Silent Cow and I became intrigued. He very kindly gave me a training set (2 cubes and motivational stickers) as a leaving present and pointed me to the training videos, and a new obsession was born.
I carried one cube with me to work at my new contract, and kept one at home on my desk. Whenever I could carve out a spare half-hour, I'd go and watch the videos and drill the sequences over and over until they became second nature. If R' D' R D means anything to you, you know the kind of thing I'm talking about.
That particular course is broken down into 5 levels, the first being "make a cross of one colour that matches the adjacent centres" and the 5th being "able to solve a 3x3 cube from any scrambled position", and when you achieve each level you get to put a sticker on your box.
Being able to put that last sticker on felt like a pretty big achievement, I don't mind telling you.
See, the way my life is at the moment I just don't have time for guitar. My band is on hiatus, and my biggest priority in life is my family, so pretty much all of my spare time is spent on days out with my wife and son, or playing in the garden, or what-have-you. My son is 5, and he's not going to be 5 again, so I don't intend to spend the time I should be spending with him cooped up at my desk trying to get a perfect take on a solo or melody line. My main hobby is not abandoned, just sidelined for now. As one friend put it "your guitars will wait – your son growing up won't".
So I needed another hobby (another friend once said sagely "Once you have kids, you only have time for one hobby"), and ideally a portable one, something I can do on the go, while commuting, even in downtime at work. Enter stage left, my new six-sided friends.
So there I was, chugging away happily, just about able to solve the cube without having to look at my notes 7 times out of 10. "I'm getting on top of this" thought I. Then yet another friend (I truly am blessed) gave me a fun Christmas present... a 4x4 cube. Riiiiiight.
Cue many more spare hours of struggling (it was an original Rubik's – the stiffest cubes to turn out there... my poor wrists...) until I could just about get it done in 15 minutes with occasional glances at my extensive notes and reviewing the great tutorials from the excellent JPerm.
I had realised by this time that I had caught the cubing bug, but the 3x3 cubes were beginning to fall apart and the 4x4 was just soooooooo hard to turn... I turned to the internet and quickly found SpeedCubeShop.com, at which point things really started to escalate.
In early January I ordered these two beauties:
Those are both "Supernova" brand cubes, which is to say that they are other brands, setup (tensioned and lubed etc) and rebadged by SpeedCubeShop.com. The Supernova 3x3 is a souped-up MoYu GTS2M and the Supernova 4x4 is a similarly fettled QiYi WuQue. In both cases, by the way, the M stands for "magnets". There are little magnets in the pieces that help each turn slot nicely into place making for a much smoother experience.
Well, this was where the game changed completely, as did the solutions. As you'll know if you've done any serious cubing, once you get bigger than the 3x3 you run into all sorts of situations that aren't possible on the 3x3. I now had to memorise lengthy algorithms and know when to apply them and do so for quite some time in order to reduce the 4x4 to effectively a scrambled 3x3, then solve that. Lengthy algorithms? Well yes. The "OLL Parity" algorithm goes: r U2 x r U2 r U2 r' U2 l U2 r' U2 r U2 r' U2 r’. Got that? Good.
However, as I no longer had to fight the dreaded Rubik's, I got pretty nippy at the twists and turns and learned to solve my way out of any situation the 4x4 could throw at me, all the while getting better and quicker with the 3x3, and I was honestly happy with the situation as it was. That is until one day I was solving during some downtime at work and a colleague happened to say "So, are you going to get a bigger one then?"
You can probably guess what happened next.
Yep, another size up, and another set of edge cases (literally, haha) to learn. Back to YouTube, back to the notation and the practicing, and a couple of days later I could solve this too. The thing is, once you can do the 3x3, you have the core set of moves under your belt. Once you go up to the 4x4, you add another layer (haha) of complexity. But after that, you've basically got it. The 5x5 OLL parity algorithm is the same as the 4x4 one, except you just need to know when to include the middle slice and when not to depending on which situation you're fixing.
No need to go any bigger than that then, right?
Well, no. No need as such... But damn I love to cube, so I was always going to get the 6 if I'm honest with myself. With the 6 it was just marrying the problems of the 4 (you can get edge parity where a whole edge is flipped) with the difficulties of the 5 (you can get inner edge parity, where you get all the edge pieces together but the middle one is the wrong way round) and enjoying them all in the same place and spending entire minutes just trying to pair up a few edges. But mostly it's literally more of the same – as in, you have the same issues crop up but there are just physically more pieces per edge to get in the right place. Oh for the simplicity of the 3x3!
So – "Speed" cubes? That is the idea, I suppose. I don't time myself on the 5 or 6 yet, as I think I need to learn some new methods rather than plugging away with the beginner method and hoping that will magically yield fast times. On the 4x4 I've got my personal best down to 4:11, though I haven't really drilled it so I hope to get that way down. On the 3x3 though, I broke the minute mark a few weeks ago, and on Friday just gone I got my new PB of 0:54, and have had a handful of 58 and 59 second solves since then.
As for bigger... well, the WCA cubes do go up to 7x7, so we will see.
In the meantime, money where my cube is, here is a 3x3 solve I sped up slightly to fit it into a 1 minute video.
(I did the John-Carpenter-esque music myself in Korg Gadget, by the way.)
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