Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cubing in Public

I'm sure most of you that know me have seen me baffle, astound, or annoy others around me in public with my perpetual Rubik's cube solving. Ideally, I would view it as some sort of mathematical evangelism, but more likely it's just attention-grabbing behavior.

The last time I stopped to bring a paycheck to the bank, I went to a branch over by where I work, and where a few of the managers and tellers know me - and have seen my silly cube nonsense. Typically, I just hand the teller my deposit, and see if I can solve it by the time they have my deposit done. For some reason, I did not have my cube out yet, and I was next in line to go to a teller. One of the managers sees me, says hi, and asks where my cube is. I mentioned that it was safely in my pocket, and I produce it from my pocket in a scrambled state. The female teller at the end calls me over, but a male teller in the front that had just finished with a customer says to me:

"Give me two minutes and I'll have that solved for you." I figure the other employees either put him up to it, or they're just having fun watching me toy with him. I start walking over to the teller that called me.

"Two minutes?" I'm incredulous, but not for the reason he thinks.

"Two minutes."

"Two minutes? I'll have it done my the time she finishes my deposit!" I hand the female teller my deposit, and she starts clicking away. I'm a tad ahead of her, and once I can tell I'm on the last set of moves, I slow down enough so that I can put down the finished cube in time to take the receipt from her hand at the exact moment she offers it to me. Presumably, we're talking about 30 seconds or so, and that included my slowdown.

So now, the male teller is incredulous. We re-scramble the cube since there's no one in line behind me, and then I start asking him what method he used - and this is the part that really gets me - he's using the Lars Petrus method! (Quick version for those who don't follow the link - Form a 2x2x2 corner, expand to 2x2x3, finish two layers & orient remaining edges, and permute the last layer similar to the Fridrich method. The Petrus method also has multiple ways for some of the later stages to be combined, so it is a very flexible and capable method but leaves a beginner wondering what to do next a lot. Yeah, I know, that's still not a helpful description.) For starters, I hadn't encountered anyone out in public that used that method. What made it all the more strange for me is that since he didn't know the widely accepted name of the method, I can only assume that he had it taught to him by someone else, and had been cubing in isolation. It's not one of the widely known methods that was around in America in the first era of the cube in the early to mid-eighties. Typically I only run into people that do the regular layer-by-layer method, but I do know people that figured out how to solve it on their own and do corners first. After I watched him struggle with my beat-up cube and complain about how he can't tell the red apart from the orange, I show him how the corners first method works, although briefly, and then I show him how two-in-one moves work, where two cube face moves are combined into a single hand motion.

Maybe the next time I see him he'll be able to beat me. I would actually look forward to it.

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