This article is from the Puzzles FAQ,
by Chris Cole email@example.com and Matthew Daly
firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
What is known about bounds on solving Rubik's cube?
The "official" world record was set by Minh Thai at the 1982 World
Championships in Budapest Hungary, with a time of 22.95 seconds.
Keep in mind mathematicians provided standardized dislocation patterns
for the cubes to be randomized as much as possible.
The fastest cube solvers from 19 different countries had 3 attempts each
to solve the cube as quickly as possible. Minh and several others have
unofficially solved the cube in times between 16 and 19 seconds.
However, Minh averages around 25 to 26 seconds after 10 trials, and my
best average of ten trials is about 27 seconds (although it is usually
Consider that in the World Championships 19 of the world's fastest cube
solvers each solved the cube 3 times and no one solved the cube in less
than 20 seconds...
God's algorithm is the name given to an as yet (as far as I know)
undiscovered method to solve the rubik's cube in the least number of
moves; as opposed to using 'canned' moves.
The known lower bound is 18 moves. This is established by looking at
things backwards: suppose we can solve a position in N moves. Then by
running the solution backwards, we can also go from the solved position
to the position we started with in N moves. Now we count how many
sequences of N moves there are from the starting position, making
certain that we don't turn the same face twice in a row:
N=0: 1 (empty) sequence;
N=1: 18 sequences (6 faces can be turned, each in 3 different ways)
N=2: 18*15 sequences (take any sequence of length 1, then turn any of the
five faces which is not the last face turned, in any of 3
different ways); N=3: 18*15*15 sequences (take any sequence of
length 2, then turn any of the five faces which is not the last
face turned, in any of 3 different ways); : : N=i: 18*15^(i-1)
So there are only 1 + 18 + 18*15 + 18*15^2 + ... + 18*15^(n-1)
sequences of moves of length n or less. This sequence sums to
(18/14)*(15^n - 1) + 1. Trying particular values of n, we find that
there are about 8.4 * 10^18 sequences of length 16 or less, and about
1.3 times 10^20 sequences of length 17 or less.
Since there are 2^10 * 3^7 * 8! * 12!, or about 4.3 * 10^19, possible
positions of the cube, we see that there simply aren't enough sequences
of length 16 or less to reach every position from the starting
position. So not every position can be solved in 16 or less moves -
i.e. some positions require at least 17 moves.
This can be improved to 18 moves by being a bit more careful about
counting sequences which produce the same position. To do this, note
that if you turn one face and then turn the opposite face, you get
exactly the same result as if you'd done the two moves in the opposite
order. When counting the number of essentially different sequences of N
moves, therefore, we can split into two cases:
(a) Last two moves were not of opposite faces. All such sequences can be
obtained by taking a sequence of length N-1, choosing one of the 4 faces
which is neither the face which was last turned nor the face opposite
it, and choosing one of 3 possible ways to turn it. (If N=1, so that the
sequence of length N-1 is empty and doesn't have a last move, we
can choose any of the 6 faces.)
(b) Last two moves were of opposite faces. All such sequences can be
obtained by taking a sequence of length N-2, choosing one of the 2
opposite face pairs that doesn't include the last face turned, and
turning each of the two faces in this pair (3*3 possibilities for how it
was turned). (If N=2, so that the sequence of length N-2 is empty and
doesn't have a last move, we can choose any of the 3 opposite face
This gives us a recurrence relation for the number X_N of sequences of
N=0: X_0 = 1 (the empty sequence)
N=1: X_1 = 18 * X_0 = 18
N=2: X_2 = 12 * X_1 + 27 * X_0 = 243
N=3: X_3 = 12 * X_2 + 18 * X_1 = 3240
N=i: X_i = 12 * X_(i-1) + 18 * X_(i-2)
If you do the calculations, you find that X_0 + X_1 + X_2 + ... + X_17 is
about 2.0 * 10^19. So there are fewer essentially different sequences of
moves of length 17 or less than there are positions of the cube, and so some
positions require at least 18 moves.
The upper bound of 50 moves is I believe due to Morwen Thistlethwaite, who
developed a technique to solve the cube in a maximum of 50 moves. It
involved a descent through a chain of subgroups of the full cube group,
starting with the full cube group and ending with the trivial subgroup
(i.e. the one containing the solved position only). Each stage involves a
careful examination of the cube, essentially to work out which coset of the
target subgroup it is in, followed by a table look-up to find a sequence to put
it into that subgroup. Needless to say, it was not a fast technique!
But it was fascinating to watch, because for the first three quarters or
so of the solution, you couldn't really see anything happening - i.e. the
position continued to appear random! If I remember correctly, one of the
final subgroups in the chain was the subgroup generated by all the double
twists of the faces - so near the end of the solution, you would suddenly
notice that each face only had two colours on it. A few moves more and the
solution was complete. Completely different from most cube solutions, in
which you gradually see order return to chaos: with Morwen's solution, the
order only re-appeared in the last 10-15 moves.
* Mark's Update/Comments ----------------------------------------------
* Despite some accounts of Thistlethwaite's method, it is possible to
* follow the progression of his algorithm. Clearly after Stage 2 is
* completed the L and R faces will have L and R colours on them only.
* After Stage 3 is complete the characteristics of the square's group
* is clearly visible on all 6 sides. It is harder to understand what
* is accomplished in Stage 1.
With God's algorithm, of course, I would expect this effect to be even more
pronounced: someone solving the cube with God's algorithm would probably
look very much like a film of someone scrambling the cube, run in
Finally, something I'd be curious to know in this context: consider the
position in which every cubelet is in the right position, all the corner
cubelets are in the correct orientation, and all the edge cubelets are
"flipped" (i.e. the only change from the solved position is that every edge
is flipped). What is the shortest sequence of moves known to get the cube
into this position, or equivalently to solve it from this position? (I know
of several sequences of 24 moves that do the trick.)
* Mark's Update/Comments ----------------------------------------------
* This is from my file cmoves.txt which includes the best known
* sequences for interesting patterns:
* p3 12 flip R1 L1 D2 B3 L2 F2 R2 U3 D1 R3 D2 F3 B3 D3 F2 D3 (20)
* R2 U3 F2 D3
The reason I'm interested in this particular position: it is the unique
element of the centre of the cube group. As a consequence, I vaguely suspect
(I'd hardly like to call it a conjecture :-) it may lie "opposite" the
solved position in the cube graph - i.e. the graph with a vertex for each
position of the cube and edges connecting positions that can be transformed
into each other with a single move. If this is the case, then it is a good
candidate to require the maximum possible number of moves in God's
-- David Seal email@example.com
To my knowledge, no one has ever demonstrated a specific cube position
that takes 15 moves to solve. Furthermore, the lower bound is known to
be greater than 15, due to a simple proof.
* Mark> Definitely sequences exist in the square's group of length 15
* > e.g. Antipode 2 R2 B2 D2 F2 D2 F2 T2 L2 T2 D2 F2 T2 L2 T2 B2
The way we know the lower bound is by working backwards counting how
many positions we can reach in a small number of moves from the solved
position. If this is less than 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (the total
number of positions of Rubik's cube) then you need more than that
number of moves to reach the other positions of the cube. Therefore,
those positions will require more moves to solve.
The answer depends on what we consider a move. There are three common
definitions. The most restrictive is the QF metric, in which only a
quarter-turn of a face is allowed as a single move. More common is
the HF metric, in which a half-turn of a face is also counted as a
single move. The most generous is the HS metric, in which a quarter-
turn or half-turn of a central slice is also counted as a single move.
These metrics are sometimes called the 12-generator, 18-generator, and
27-generator metrics, respectively, for the number of primitive moves.
The definition does not affect which positions you can get to, or even
how you get there, only how many moves we count for it.
The answer is that even in the HS metric, the lower bound is 16,
because at most 17,508,850,688,971,332,784 positions can be reached
within 15 HS moves. In the HF metric, the lower bound is 18, because
at most 19,973,266,111,335,481,264 positions can be reached within 17
HF moves. And in the QT metric, the lower bound is 21, because at
most 39,812,499,178,877,773,072 positions can be reached within 20 QT
-- firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Lately in this conference I've noted several messages related to Rubik's
Cube and Square 1. I've been an avid cube fanatic since 1981 and I've
been gathering cube information since.
Around Feb. 1990 I started to produce the Domain of the Cube Newsletter,
which focuses on Rubik's Cube and all the cube variants produced to
date. I include notes on unproduced prototype cubes which don't even
exist, patent information, cube history (and prehistory), computer
simulations of puzzles, etc. I'm up to the 4th issue.
Anyways, if you're interested in other puzzles of the scramble by
rotation type you may be interested in DOTC. It's available free to
anyone interested. I am especially interested in contributing articles
for the newsletter, e.g. ideas for new variants, God's Algorithm.
Anyone ever write a Magic Dodecahedron simulation for a computer?
Drop me a SASE (say empire size) if you're interested in DOTC or if you
would like to exchange notes on Rubik's Cube, Square 1 etc.
I'm also interested in exchanging puzzle simulations, e.g. Rubik's Cube,
Twisty Torus, NxNxN Simulations, etc, for Amiga and IBM computers. I've
written several Rubik's Cube solving programs, and I'm trying to make
the definitive puzzle solving engine. I'm also interested in AI programs
for Rubik's Cube and the like.
Ideal Toy put out the Rubik's Cube Newsletter, starting with
issue #1 on May 1982. There were 4 issues in all.
They are: #1, May 1982
#2, Aug 1982
#3, Winter 1983
#4, Aug 1983
There was another sort of magazine, published in several languages
called Rubik's Logic and Fantasy in space. I believe there were 8
issues in all. Unfortunately I don't have any of these! I'm willing
to buy these off anyone interesting in selling. I would like to get the
originals if at all possible...
I'm also interested in buying any books on the cube or related puzzles.
In particular I am _very_ interested in obtaining the following:
Cube Games Don Taylor, Leanne Rylands
Official Solution to Alexander's Star Adam Alexander
The Amazing Pyraminx Dr. Ronald Turner-Smith
The Winning Solution Minh Thai
The Winning Solution to Rubik's Revenge Minh Thai
Simple Solutions to Cubic Puzzles James G. Nourse
I'm also interested in buying puzzles of the mechanical type.
I'm still missing the Pyraminx Star (basically a Pyraminx with more tips
on it), Pyraminx Ball, and the Puck.
If anyone out here is a fellow collector I'd like to hear from you.
If you have a cube variant which you think is rare, or an idea for a
cube variant we could swap notes.
I'm in the middle of compiling an exhaustive library for computer
simulations of puzzles. This includes simulations of all Uwe Meffert's
puzzles which he prototyped but _never_ produced. In fact, I'm in the
middle of working on a Pyraminx Hexagon solver. What? Never heard of it?
Meffert did a lot of other puzzles which never were made.
I invented some new "scramble by rotation" puzzles myself. My favourite
creation is the Twisty Torus. It is a torus puzzle with segments (which
slide around 360 degrees) with multiple rings around the circumference.
The computer puzzle simulation library I'm forming will be described
in depth in DOTC #4 (The Domain of the Cube Newsletter). So if you
have any interesting computer puzzle programs please email me and
tell me all about them!
Also to the people interested in obtaining a subscription to DOTC,
who are outside of Canada (which it seems is just about all of you!)
please don't send U.S. or non-Canadian stamps (yeah, I know I said
Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope before). Instead send me an
international money order in Canadian funds for $6. I'll send you
the first 4 issues (issue #4 is almost finished).
Address: 259 Thornton Rd N, Oshawa Ontario Canada, L1J 6T2
One other thing, the six bucks is not for me to make any money. This
is only to cover the cost of producing it and mailing it. I'm
just trying to spread the word about DOTC and to encourage other
mechanical puzzle lovers to share their ideas, books, programs and
puzzles. Most of the programs I've written and/or collected are
shareware for C64, Amiga and IBM. I have source for all my programs
(all in C or Basic) and I am thinking of providing a disk with the
4th issue of DOTC. If the response is favourable I will continue
to provide disks with DOTC.
-- Mark Longridge <email@example.com> writes:
It may interest people to know that in the latest issue of "Cubism For Fun" %
(# 28 that I just received yesterday) there is an article by Herbert Kociemba
from Darmstadt. He describes a program that solves the cube. He states that
until now he has found no configuration that required more than 21 turns to
He gives a 20 move manoeuvre to get at the "all edges flipped/
all corners twisted" position:
or in Varga's parlance:
Other things #28 contains are an analysis of Square 1, an article about
triangular tilings by Martin Gardner, and a number of articles about other
% CFF is a newsletter published by the Dutch Cubusts Club NKC.
6710 AG Ede
Membership fee for 1992 is DFL 20 (about$ 11).
-- dik t. winter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rubik's Revenge: The Group Theoretical Solution
Mogens Esrom Larsen A.M.M. Vol. 92 No. 6, June-July 1985, pages
E. C. Turner & K. F. Gold, American Mathematical Monthly,
vol. 92 No. 9 November 1985, pp. 617-629.
Cubelike Puzzles - What Are They and How Do You Solve Them?
J.A. Eidswick A.M.M. Vol. 93 No. 3 March 1986, pp 157-176
The Slice Group in Rubik's Cube, David Hecker, Ranan Banerji
Mathematics Magazine, Vol. 58 No. 4 Sept 1985
The Group of the Hungarian Magic Cube
Chris Rowley Proceedings of the First Western Austrialian
Conference on Algebra, 1982
Rubik's Cubic Compendium
Erno Rubik, Tamas Varga, et al, Edited by David Singmaster
Oxford University Press, 1987
Enslow Publishers Inc