Lessons in Failure: The Rubik’s Challenge

Tuesday , 28, July 2015 1 Comment

Chapter 1: In Which a Gauntlet is Cast



Every month at brightsolid we have a full company update, wherein a member of each team presents a short talk about what their business area has been working on for the prior month. Four weeks ago, our Customer Account Manager kicked off her talk by throwing me a Rubik’s cube, and challenging me to solve it before she’d finished her update.

I hadn’t touched a Rubik’s cube since I was a child, and had never learned how to complete it, so I spent the talk fervently and very randomly flipping colour to colour, with never a hope of completing it in time. After a couple of minutes I did have the wherewithal to fire up a guide on how to complete it, but by then it was too late, and the guide too complex to follow in such a short space of time. I failed.


Learn from Doom




For many, many years Dr. Doom was and remains my all-time favourite Marvel supervillain. Many people say that Doom’s superpower is his intellect, being regularly ranked the most intelligent or second most intelligent person in the Marvel universe, but I disagree.

Doom’s true superpower is his capacity for learning from failure.

In a fictional universe where villains make the same mistakes again and again and again, Doom stands alone in the fact that whenever he is defeated, he comes back better prepared, having fully learned lessons from his failure, and kicks ass.

He must have a phenomenal post-incident analysis process, because his lessons learned invariably work. When he was defeated by Galactus, he developed a weapon to steal Galactus’s powers. When he was defeated by the Beyonder he developed a weapon to steal the Beyonder’s powers. When he was defeated by the Silver Surfer, he developed a weapon to steal the Silver Surfer’s powers… these might not be the greatest examples.
















The point is that Doom learns, he adapts, and when he’s defeated he comes back better prepared and ready to fight. It’s a lesson that other Supervillains would do well to learn – after all, the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

So with Doom’s resolve at the fore of my mind, I decided I’d learn to do the Rubik’s cube in time for our next team update – that was four weeks ago, our next team update is on tomorrow, and I can now complete the Rubik’s cube in 2mins 30. It’s a bit off the sub six second world record, but it’s sufficient for my purposes.


Chapter 2: Over-complication can be Overcome


I’ll be honest, the first time I looked at instructions for how to learn to solve the cube I almost chucked it aside. Memorising over 100 different steps and multiple different patterns did not fill me with glee – I’ve always been a more practical person than theory-based, and the idea of learning pages of coloured patterns and rotational algorithms was fairly anathematic to me. Therein then lies the next lesson…

Make the Problem Your Own.



This applies to so many aspects of life, but it in particular applies when problem solving or learning a new skill. Don’t approach it on someone else’s terms, make it your own. Turn it on its head and redefine it in terms you are well equipped to manage.

In this case, to solve the problem of memorising rotational algorithms, I applied a portion of my memory that I know works well and with little effort – remembering rhyming patterns. I took every step, and created a little poem that I could just rattle off mentally which would take me through process end to end.

I used the guide at Rubiks.com, and memorised steps 1-3 as they’re straightforward enough. Indeed stanza 1 of my poem reads as follows:


“Steps one to three don’t need a rhyme

They’re so damn easy just take some time

Learn them all then come back here

This poem will aid you, have no fear.”

Step Four: The Enfourening

When you come to step four, on each side of the cube there’s an inverted ‘T’ shape. Depending on the colour at the top of that inverted T, you need to move that piece clockwise or anticlockwise. Below is how the Rubiks.com site explains how to rotate the pieces based on where you want it to go.









No. No no no no no. That is not something that clicks in my mind, and the way they call anti-clockwise ‘inverted’ and give it a lowercase ‘i’ suffix is just horrendous to my mind. I hated it, so I reworked it into more manageable nomenclature, and critically, into terms which could rhyme. All the ‘i’ suffixes became ‘a’ for anticlockwise, leading to the following:


‘U’ -> Top

‘R’ -> Right

‘L’ -> Left

‘F’ -> Front

‘B’ -> Back

‘Ui’ -> Ta

‘Ri’ -> Ra

‘Li’ -> La

‘Fi’ -> Fa

‘Bi’ -> Ba


Make sense?

Under this nomenclature then, the steps to turn the piece clockwise become ‘Top, Right, Ta, Ra, Ta, Fa, Top, Front.’

Turning that into a memorable rhyming stanza, I ended up with:

“If Clockwise falls the square so bright

turn top then right,

Remember munt,

TaRa, TaFa, then top, then front.”


It could have been rude, but I behaved. The steps to turn the piece anticlockwise become:

“If Anticlockwise wends its weft,

Tala top left,

then top and front,

and end it all with tafa’s shunt.”

Two short stanzas replace those horrendous diagrams – simple! To my mind, anyway, and ultimately that’s the whole point of this exercise. Reinventing it in terms that make the most sense to me.

At the end of Step Four, you end up with this:


Step Five: Where you’ve probably already stopped reading

At this stage you can probably just stop reading unless you want to apply this poetry method to solving the rest of the cube.

To follow the entirety of my method, go to https://uk.rubiks.com/blog/how-to-solve-the-rubiks-cube and learn stage 1 to 3 right now. Once you’re comfortable with those, read the instructions for steps four, five and six, then follow the poem below to complete it faster than ever before!


Steps 1 to 3

Steps one to three don’t need a rhyme

They’re so damn easy just take some time

Learn them all then come back here

This poem will aid you, have no fear

Step 4

If Clockwise falls the square so bright

turn top then right,

Remember munt,

tara, tafa, then top, then front.

If Anticlockwise wends its weft,

Tala top left,

then top and front,

and end it all with tafa’s shunt

Step 5

For five we play the front then top,

The right goes Ta then RaFa plop.

If there’s a line it’s front then right,

And top goes Ra to TaFa tight

Yellow corners flow from right

Then on to top then ra top right

Now stick it the sun god’s ma,

we finish off with top top ra

Step 6

We’re almost done so ra front ra!

Then double back damn right and fa!

Ra dub back give thanks to ma,

We finish off with right right ta

Clockwise turns a twice front whore,

Top left Ra then front once more

Front la right and top we sing

Double front is the last thing


If you do end up trying to use this poem to solve a Rubik’s cube, you’re probably mental. I can’t imagine it making sense to anyone other than myself, but that’s the point of this blog post, it doesn’t have to.


When you fail, use the opportunity to learn.

When you’re learning, don’t hold yourself to anyone else’s standards or expectations.

Make any problem your own.

And win.




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