# How severely can I "mess up" a Rubik's cube?June 19, 2009 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Once someone knows how to solve a Rubik's cube is it possible to stump them?

My coworker prides himself on his ability to solve his Rubik's cube no matter how much I mess it up. I would like directions on how to mess it up so badly that it, at least temporarily, stumps him. Is this possible?

I've never messed with them much so don't know how people are solving these things so easily.
posted by letahl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Nope, unless you take the cube apart and mix up the squares so that it's impossible to solve.

Otherwise, the algorithm used to solve the cube will always work.
posted by muddgirl at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2009

Research how people solve Rubik's cubes. It isn't actually so much a series of steps, as recognizing common patterns, and knowing the moves to "solve" those patterns.

There are about 8 multi-step tools you can use to solve any pattern. Anyone who memorizes these patterns and their solution can solve a Rubix cube.

So no -- its impossible to stump someone on a 9x9 Rubix cube.
posted by SirStan at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2009

Here are instructions on how to disassemble the cube. Here are instructions with pictures. When you re-assemble it, put back together correctly (ie, solved) until the last layer, then swap one of the pieces. It should be unsolvable after that.
posted by muddgirl at 9:54 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should seriously switch the stickers though, his surprise when he gets stumped will be well worth the effort.
posted by nomad at 9:55 AM on June 19, 2009

If they know how to solve one, then no matter how hard you mix it up or turn it, they'll be able to figure it out. I'm speaking as a person who also knows how to solve the cube.

If you really want to mess with them, you can physically move some of the pieces to other faces. Or you can take a corner piece and turn it 90 degrees or something. But anybody who knows how to finish the cube would likely notice your trick.

On a quick side note, according to these people, it is theoretically possible to solve an arbitrary configuration in 23 moves. Meaning, no matter how much you turn the cube, 23 moves will get you back to the solved cube.
posted by Geppp at 9:55 AM on June 19, 2009

Swap two of of the coloured stickers.
posted by i_cola at 9:56 AM on June 19, 2009

Let me say that if you mess up the cube or take stickers off and put them back on, the cube will never be the same. The honorable thing to do after pulling this trick is to buy him a new cube.
posted by muddgirl at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

They solve them by learning a series of transformations of the cube to achieve a specific effect--meaning, I want that blue side over there (twist, twist, twist... awesome). Solving a cube isn't like solving a crossword puzzle where intuition or insight play a role. Solving a cube is a mechanical process--that's why they focus on speed of solution rather than ability to solve at all. All cubes can be solved no matter how messed up.

The big thing about the transformations they learn are that they have a very limited scope--they move side A to location X without disturbing sides B, C and D. One of the frustrations of people who don't know how to solve cubes is that they can get one or two sides complete, but beyond that they're continually disturbing what they've already got placed. Books on solving cubes offer a set of moves that don't do that.
posted by fatbird at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2009

You should seriously switch the stickers though, his surprise when he gets stumped will be well worth the effort.

If the person is a serious cube-freak, I think they'd recognize that the stickers were switched after a little while. One of those cognitive leaps I made (sadly, only recently) about solving the cube was that the color pairs (and trios) are in set patterns, adjacent locations and so forth. The trick is moving them around from place to place.

(on preview, what Geppp says)
posted by jquinby at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2009

If you are not hurting for cash, break out a stop watch and hand him this.
posted by syntheticfaith at 10:00 AM on June 19, 2009

If the person is a serious cube-freak, I think they'd recognize that the stickers were switched after a little while.

Yeah, as a former cube-freak, I can speak from experience. Someone did the corner-swapping to me one time.

The reaction you'll get is not this person struggling for hours to wonder why they cant solve it. The reaction, after they've done their algorithmic moves, will be "Hey! Someone has messed with this cube!"
posted by vacapinta at 10:06 AM on June 19, 2009

I have one of those 7x7x7 V-Cubes and it is a wondeful thing. I highly recommend it. Apparently they will have an 11x11x11 model eventually. I can't wait.

Shipping from Greece costs almost as much as the cube itself, so if you have multiple cube-freaks in your life, buy several to save on shipping.
posted by kindall at 10:18 AM on June 19, 2009

I'd still pop and reverse two corners and then leave it just sitting somewhere without prompting. As long as there's no "Here, you'll NEVER get this one" setup you will probably get away with it for awhile.

(Don't move stickers, that is obvious. Pop off two pieces by half-rotating one side and twisting one corner piece out, then the opposite, and pop them back in in opposite places.)
posted by rokusan at 10:19 AM on June 19, 2009

So many suggestions which make it impossible...I don't think the submitter wanted it to be unsolvable, just difficult. How about moving the stickers, but leaving it solvable? Make each side a combination of colors -- blue/yellow, red/green, etc., in a recognizeable pattern, such as the Purina logo. I know this can be done with the regular cube, but stickers could me moved in a way which can only be reached on a non-standard cube. Give the solver either a "solved" one, or pictures of a solved one and the messed-up one, so they know what it's supposed to look like when they get it all correct. Since their mental "solution" revolves around solving solid sides, the combo-color sides will be a significant challenge. It will still be solvable with the standard algorithm, but getting their brain to understand it will be harder.

Or, use sticker-printer-paper and print your own squares: make each side a recognizeable photo, but using colors or shapes common to the other sides, so they are trying to solve a form, not match colors. Again, still the same solution algorithm, but confusing to their senses enough to throw off their game.

Or — or — how about printing stickers of just X's and O's, and make each side a "draw" end to a tic-tac-toe game; it might even result in multiple solutions, but shakes the solver's "trick" for solving the rubik's cube.
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:42 AM on June 19, 2009

If the pieces of a Rubik's cube are pried apart with a screwdriver and reassembled in random positions, can the puzzle be solved? It turns out that the answer is no: the proportion of random arrangements of the puzzle pieces that can reach the "solved" position via legal moves is 1/12.
posted by metastability at 2:27 PM on June 19, 2009

Just to counter the 'rearrange the pattern' brigade, it would take very little time to spot and, at least if it were me, would just end in me giving it back to you and telling you to fix it.

I don't know the guy you want to do this to, it could be well deserved, I just want to throw it in that for most people I know that can solve a cube it's far more a stress relieving thing than a pride thing.
posted by muteh at 3:01 PM on June 19, 2009

Mess up the cube. Take photos. Print them out. When he solves it, say "Well done! But we already knew you could reset a cube, but can you make patterns with it. Here - make it look like this".

I don't know anything about it, but I would assume that
(a) he can do this using the skills he has
(b) he'll have to think harder, and take more time to do it, because it's not what he's used to using his skills for.
(c) he might appreciate the novelty of being challenged to do it backwards, targeting a pattern other than "solved". And the right to brag about it afterwards.

Or... for all I know, reverse-solving is an old and tired activity.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:21 PM on June 19, 2009

If you feel like going the more devious route...

First, replace his cube with your own.

Choose one of these options:

1. superglue
2. submerge it in something horrible
3. smash it with a hammer repeatedly, scoop up the pieces and hand it to him
4. rub it on your bare ass
5. throw it up on the roof

Say "Solve it NOW!"

Right before he starts crying, give him back his unmolested cube.
posted by orme at 4:28 PM on June 19, 2009

Replace the stickers with white labels, numbered 1-9 on each face, then mess it up and present him with this new invention - the "Sudoku" cube.

To solve it will require the development of new solving algorithms - he can't just learn it off the internet like regular cube, instead, he has to make a contribution to the knowledge of mankind. (Perhaps use nine colours instead of numbers, since numbers are orientation specific for reading and colours aren't).
That is, unless this is also not a new idea and "Sudoku cubes" are soooo last month. I wouldn't know.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:29 PM on June 19, 2009

Well what do you know, Sudoku cube.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:34 PM on June 19, 2009

I bought and started learning the Rubik's cube a few months ago. My cube was used and came from eBay. The seller gave it to me in a condition that wasn't solvable and it only took me a couple hours to figure out that this was the case. I had no experience or knowledge of solving Rubik's cubes at that point, so I'm inclined to believe someone who knows what he's doing would recognize a misconfigured cube really quickly.
posted by valadil at 8:46 PM on June 19, 2009

Get him a tactile Rubik's cube. The principle is still the same, but without the colours guiding him, it should be a fair bit tougher than a standard one.
posted by drzoon at 6:51 AM on June 22, 2009

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