A robot built out of Lego can solve a Rubik’s Cube in about 3.2 seconds, but some 40 years after I first picked up the iconic puzzle, I’ve yet to solve it on my own. I assumed that successfully unscrambling a cube would forever remain on my bucket list, but a smart Rubik’s Cube is finally teaching me the strategies to solve one.
If you’ve ever watched a Speedcubing competition where puzzle masters race to solve a Rubik’s Cube in record time, you may have wondered how these geniuses can look at a scrambled cube and know the exact steps needed to match up all the colored tiles on all six sides. The competitors might look like they’re randomly spinning their cubes in a furious attempt to luck out and randomly match up a side, but in reality there’s a well-established strategy they’re following for solving the puzzle.
You can read through the step-by-step solving strategy on the official Rubik’s Cube website, which involves working through a series of smaller goals like first making a yellow-centered daisy, then a white cross, and then solving all the corners, etc. It’s a very specific process that, when followed correctly, guarantees an unscrambled cube, but learning how to do it properly is a challenge in and of itself. It’s one I’m finding much easier with the Rubik’s Connected Cube.
The Rubik’s Connected Cube is the official Rubik’s branded version of the GoCube, an upgraded smart version of the puzzle that started life through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Aside from rounded corners that facilitate Speedcubing, the Rubik’s Connected Cube looks and feels exactly like the original puzzle does, right down to the multi-colored stickers covering all of its individual tiles. But unlike the original that can be easily solved (relatively speaking) by peeling and re-applying all those stickers, the Rubik’s Connected Cube connects to a mobile app over Bluetooth that knows every move made with the cube in real-time and its exact scrambled state, even if you continue to play with the cube after the app is closed.
I have a few minor complaints with the Rubik’s Connected Cube. It uses a proprietary charging cable you’ll never want to lose, and for $60 I would prefer more durable plastic tiles like some versions of the puzzle now use instead of multi-colored stickers that can peel off over time. It has a premium price tag without a premium finish. But I’m happy to overlook those concerns, because in just a week’s time, I’m almost at the point where I can solve a Rubik’s Cube on my own.
If you have dreams of becoming a competitive Speedcuber one day, the Rubik’s Connected app includes features like timers, which only start when the cube starts moving and stop as soon as it’s solved, skill challenges, and even the ability to qualify for official competitions. But for beginners like myself, it’s the interactive training tools that justify the existence of this popular puzzle’s upgrades.
Through a series of interactive lessons, you learn the process and strategies for solving a cube (pro tip: never spin the middle sections) presented through text instructions, 3D animations, and videos where handling techniques are demonstrated. Solving a Rubik’s Cube even has its own shorthand language for what side you’re supposed to spin next. For example, F means turn the front face clockwise, F’ means spin it counter-clockwise, and F2 or F’2 means do either twice.
You can work through the solving steps using the guide on the Rubik’s website, but the Rubik’s Connected Cube and app keeps track of your progress along the way, warns you when you’ve accidentally made a wrong move, and even provides immediate instructions on how to undo any mistakes you’ve made. It’s like having a Rubik’s Cube master looking over your shoulder the entire time to make sure you’re doing things right, and, for me at least, it means a mistake doesn’t leave me confused and frustrated with the process.
It takes about an hour to work through all of the training in the app, and you’ll probably have to go through it a few more times to memorize the process. After about a week of diligent practice I’m not there yet, but I can also see specific muscle memories setting in, and Speedcubing no longer seems like such a superhuman feat. I don’t think I’m ever going to shatter world records, but I have zero doubt I’ll be able to solve a Rubik’s Cube on my own if I keep practicing.
If you do find yourself completely frustrated with the lessons and ready to give up, the app has one other incredibly useful feature: an automatic cube solver that presents you with easy-to-follow steps to get the Rubik’s Connected Cube unscrambled and back to looking like it’s fresh out of the box.
There’s no sugar-coating it: Paying $60 for a smart version of a toy that can be had for $10 without app connectivity is a little ridiculous. I’m sure there are plenty of aspirational Speedcubers who will do just fine reading through a free tutorial online. I am not one of them, and I will probably never go back to a regular Rubik’s Cube ever again.