Thursday, July 4, 2013

Cubing in Public, Federal Holiday Edition

I suspected something was up when SuperMonkeyWife got ready in the kid's bathroom instead of ours, although I did not discover that there was a broken shower head in our bathroom until later.

My first though was that I should peruse the local drugstores. At least they're open on the 4th, and I didn't really want to go to Walmart and stand in line behind all the people getting beer and sparklers.  Since I tend not to spend more than $20 on a shower head and I didn't really need anything fancy other than having the detachable head, whatever might be at the drugstore would likely be acceptable. (If you're wondering, the part that fails on the plastic ones is the piece that you hang the detachable head on. The repeated stress of hanging the shower head back on it eventually cracks it in its weakest point. I am not convinced that buying a more expensive shower head will prolong this failure long enough to make up for the additional expense.) I asked the clerk at CVS where a shower head might be, and he walked to the aisle I already perused. Plungers, yes. Sink stoppers, yes. Fluorescent light bulbs, for sure. No shower heads.

As we're walking back towards the aisle, he noticed me twiddling the cube in my hand and suggested that he could fix it for me. I asked him how fast he was, sincerely hoping that I've found a real cuber at last, and he wasn't sure how to answer the question right away. Without waiting for him to try to formulate an answer, I told him that I average just under 40 seconds and he seemed impressed. Then I had to lay on him the heavy news that 40 seconds wouldn't even get me in the senior division and that there are kids in  California that are averaging under 15 seconds. I showed him a typical solve, and then I did a second one for his coworker up front. His coworker made the "the best I ever did was three sides" comment that I've already complained about in a previous Holiday Cubing post. However, they seemed like nice guys and I didn't feel like calling him out on the three sides thing. While I was talking to them, and they were still capably handling customers, one of their customers took interest in what I'm doing and commented about how he used to be able to do it, but he can't now. (I'm surprised that I haven't complained about that particular thing in a previous post.) He asked if I can explain it, and I went through my usual bit about the centers not moving relative to each other, and about how there's a one-to-one correspondence between the pieces and their eventual locations, and it seemed unsatisfying. He wants to know if there's like, a thing I can just tell him that will subsequently allow him to solve the cube. I tried to make clear that there isn't and explained that it took a couple of weekends for Will Smith to learn how to solve a cube for "The Pursuit of Happyness". He asked me for the cube, so he could show me that he could do a side - except that he fell victim to the classic blunder of getting involved in a land war in Asia.

No, that wasn't it.

His classic blunder was that he completed a side, but not the layer. For someone who had a) claimed to have previously solved the cube and b) had just watched me explain the bit about the centers and how they determine what goes where, I didn't expect him to revert to working without any of that information. He was also a bit shaky, having put himself on the spot, and I know firsthand that that doesn't lead to efficient cubing. As soon as he finished the side he asked about solving the rest of the cube from there, and I had to take it back from him and re-complete the side so that it was a complete layer and explained again why that had to be that way. I showed him the move to insert edges into the middle layer three times, more slowly each time and then walked him through the move the fourth time. I rushed through the remainder of the cube, eager to get out and see if the other drugstore on that corner had a shower head. No dice.

After the second shopping failure, I relented and went to Walmart.  I got a shower head, along with a few other necessities. I also poked my head in Gamestop since I was over that way. At Gamestop, instead of getting to talk to my usual clerk, I got the shift manager instead. Having the cube in my hand gave him some sort of flashback from 1981 where he won $10 from a friend of his for solving the cube. He said it took him 57 minutes and change, and I heard my usual clerk suggesting to the manager that he was just making up numbers. I had a list of games that I was considering, but I couldn't make a clear decision because the manager was too chatty and wasn't making any sense to me (although it's equally possible I didn't make any sense to him).  Thinking I needed to worry more about dinner, I leave without getting anything and ponder the idea that someone solved a Rubik's cube in just under an hour.

Assuming one had any sort of a system at all, there are only 20 pieces to solve. Let's get really crazy and suggest that they're only making one turn every 10 seconds, so an average of 6 turns a minute. So, that's a solved cube in 342 moves, or  17 face turns per piece. By comparison, the lower bound is 1 face turn per piece for the 3x3x3 cube if solved by computer. A good speedcuber is using a solution that is somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-60 turns, or 3 face turns per piece. My corners first method might be 70-80 moves, or 4 face turns per piece. The Nourse method would put you somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-120 moves, or 5-6 face turns per piece, unless you're super unlucky. So, with 17 face turns per piece, the solution must be so complicated and esoteric that perhaps it would stand to reason that you would forget it, or it was somehow an example of the Infinite Monkey Theorem, or it was utter baloney.

I will leave the determination of the scenario as an exercise for the reader.

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