About how I got into puzzles. Story of solving of cubes against time, through gaining theoretical knowledge and analyzing of many dead ends, to meeting great people or writing web-pages.
It all started at the turn of the 80s and 90s of the last century for me. Back then I was a kid and as it happens in case of young ones, the biggest fun for them is to explore everything they can find. This is especially true for the content of many old wardrobes/closets and mysterious nooks situated in grandparents' apartment (viewed by children's eyes).
I don't remember exactly the first combinatorial puzzle I ever saw in my life. I don't even remember the first puzzle I tried to solve or the one I really succeeded to solve. Only incomplete fragments of azure-blue box with literally magical name "magic cube" got stored in my memory from childhood (I couldn't read yet that time of course). The box usually lay on the main desk in the grandparents' living room, occasionally it could be found on the desk in their study room, sometimes I found it in the tableclothe and bedclothe closets, and I think once I glimpsed it also in grandfather's wardrobe. That was especially interesting for me because of all the fabulous things which could be found in there by a little boy - such an inexhaustible supply of fascinating items like a sling-shot, old coins, medals and badges, toy cars changing their color with temperature, plastic dinosaurs, marbles, tank on battery power, chained Céčka (C's) or already mentioned Rubik's cube. And what a great hiding place it was when we played hide-and-seek with cousins! Naturally, grandfather always had to re-arrange all stuff in a wardrobe after my "adventure tour". However, it rarely led to the same order of things that were in there prior to my "exploration". That's why I thought there is always something new I could play with for hours (understand minutes from adults' perspective :-)) in this such a charming place.
That blue box was already special by its appearance. In addition to classical pictures and inscriptions on the packaging, it ended in some kind of gripping tab at the top. Therefore, it literally encouraged you to take a pencil and insert it into this opening. Then it was sufficient to grab that pencil (with the box in the middle) at both ends, swing your hands and see how the box is spinning around the pencil by means of momentum. So little was keeping me happy! Retrospectively speaking, I'm extremely glad that my childhood was without Feɪs.bʊk and similar computer-related dallies.
The 3x3x3 Rubik's cube was inside the box. Color scheme of grandparent's one was white opposite blue, yellow opposite green and orange opposite red, I think. Apparently first original Hungarian batch of this puzzle was indeed made with this sort of color scheme. Nevertheless, it was only a turnable colorful toy for me back then. At that time, I didn't even think that a sophisticated combinatorial puzzle is right in front of me.
Family members later told me that my grandmother was able to solve the 3x3x3 cube. She was allegedly using some form of the corners-first method. Purportedly it lasted her "about half an hour" to solve the cube, which could indicate she wasn't using any already published tutorial for this purpose, only her own algorithms.
I remember I found the same blue box with a cube inside a few years later (I was cca. 10 years old) in a cards-and-games drawer in our living room. Aim of the puzzle was clear to me at that time, however, I only managed to sort out one layer in color (layer by layer manner of solving is probably the most common way of trying to solve the puzzle for the first time). If I'm not mistaken, I also saw a "Logika v kostce" (Logic in cube in English) brochure from 1982 on parents' work table in a living room one time.
Although a color scheme of our cube was standard this time (white opposite yellow, green opposite blue and orange opposite red), red and orange colors were interchanged for some incomprehensible reason. As a consequence, some people maybe remember that the Rubik's cube java applets on my first web-sites (see images at the bottom on that linked page) had a color scheme with red and orange colors being interchanged.
The cube stayed unheeded in its blue box in a drawer for the next couple of years, but its time was yet to come.
Somewhen near the time of finding the 3x3x3 Rubik's cube at home I was at my second grandmother's garret in her family house. The garret and adjacent corridor was connected by round stairs (without railing, however, there was a wall on both sides so no place for falling down). I remember three things the most. First off, the dark, dust-covered wardrobes and generally scary environment. Second, a board game with ice-hockey players for two people that was found in one wardrobe - I think it's being made till today in a modified version (it's something like a table-football being played in a pub, except for ice-hockey players instead of football players). Third, a "magical" handcuffs with a ring in the middle, so it was impossible to take it out at first sight.
Despite of my vehement objections, the ice-hockey game remained at grandmother's garret. Nevertheless, I was begging for the puzzle and as a result I was carrying it away. Soon after obtaining I was able to solve it (i.e. it was probably one of my first ever solved puzzles). Hence I was showing myself off in a school by taking the ring out with my hands behind my back. Later I found the other way at home, however, that was de facto cheating because it required physical strength (one handcuff had to be "ripped in half" in order to take the ring out, or something like that - I don't remember the details anymore).
It could have been third or fourth grade (I went to first grade at the age of 7). After this puzzle-showing-off had gone, I was experiencing nothing interesting from the puzzle point of view till the end of elementary school.
I liked minesweeper a lot in the first grade of grammar school. For a 9x9 field (10 mines in total) my personal record is 2 seconds, for a 16x16 field (40 mines in total) my personal record is 35 seconds and for a 30x16 field with 99 mines in total I once achieved a time under two minutes (119 seconds), I think.
Later I found out there is some keyboard shortcut for stopping the timer while allowing the player to look for another mine. That was the end with playing minesweeper against time.
In the third grade of grammar school it happened. It was the year 2004 and a lovely summer (maybe late spring) day. Suddenly a door bell was ringing and a neighbour appeared behind the entrance door. I don't remember the reason for his visit (it had to be something very important, as you know it is common in the case of neighboring sessions). Nevertheless, he brought a puzzle and put it on the kitchen table - I think the goal lay in taking a ring out of a cord which was connecting puzzle's body and some ball with a diameter larger than a diameter of a ring itself. I don't know yet if I solved it (I would rather say I didn't) or how long did it take me. I know, however, that it led me to the idea of trying to solve a "queen of puzzles" - the Rubik's cube itself.
I started to search through house junk, looking for a Rubik's cube. Surprisingly, I succeeded quickly. Fascinated by its simplicity and complexity at the same time, I tried to figure out whether the puzzle is solvable at all or not. Based on the stories of my coeval friends I knew about a possibility to re-sticker the stickers. What I didn't know was if I interchange two of them, will the cube still be solvable?
I recalled my childhood and tried to apply the layer by layer method. It had no effect - more specifically, it led to a solution of the first layer, but I didn't get further. When a couple of following days didn't bring any breakthrough idea that would make me finally moving forward (I was still stuck on the first layer), I went ahead and asked guːgəl what to do. It found the corners-first method, among others.
Anyway, I didn't want to use tutorial just yet, so I quickly saw through it in order to find out its basic steps. First one was to solve the corners. Using trial-and-error method I rarely did it, so then it was possible to keep going - to solve the edges.
Trouble was that in an effort to solve the edges, I quickly scrambled beforehand solved corners (which were so hard for me to solve). Due to the overwhelming unsolved/solved corners ratio in the first step (I was probably able to solve them in one out of 100 attempts - because it was more or less random turning of layers with a wish of corners to be solved), I was soon desperate and after a few days moved entirely to the tutorial found on the internet.
At first it was all Greek to me (I switched back to the layer by layer method), so I was searching for other sources as well. Luckily enough I came across the pages by Josef Jelínek (back then he was also describing the layer by layer method), but I had still a hard time to understand it - I couldn't correctly orient the corners in the third layer no matter what. Thanks to Joe's experience and insight, he managed to explain me the basic principles of solving (patiently and easily so that even I could understand them) during our e-mail communication. After two more days spent on understanding of tutorial I finally solved the Rubik's cube for the first time, using layer by layer method.
As a next step I decided I don't want to be dependent on tutorial. Therefore I was solving like crazy (i.e. until I knew the algorithms by heart). At that time, I was around three minutes regarding speedsolving.
I started to learn more about the cube. I was gathering the information mostly from abroad web-sites - either it was dealing with watching of mind-blowing videos, searching for new algorithms, exploring of cube laws or being in touch with similar freaks (in a good way).
Joe was initiating me into speedcubing and I was eager to know everything about it. Since then I was solving everywhere - outside, at school or at home while using WC. I was keeping track of solving times and saw my gradual progress. I was lubing the cube with a silicone oil, I was adjusting it, and furthermore I was gaining knowledge about blindsolving. Soon I found out there are also other puzzles than just the famous 3x3x3 Rubik's cube.
Showing-off at school no. 2 began :-). Due to my enthusiasm I agitated some of my classmates and taught them how to solve the cube. All of them quit soon nonetheless.
Showing-off was ruined by classmate Lenka who brought the Square-1 to school at the beginning of a new school year. In a scrambled state, of course. I wasn't able to get it back to a solved one. After a while I managed to get the puzzle into a cubic form, but that was all.
Couple of days later Joe told me about a puzzle exhibition/meeting (starting September 9, 2004) near Vltavská underground station in Prague, which was organized by Jarda Flejberk. Joe said he would attend, so I had to go out and meet him face to face. Plus an unofficial competition in speedsolving of a 3x3x3 Rubik's cube (some kind of predecessor of Czech Open as we know it today) took place there. Under the supervision of Joe, who was a judge, I masterfully placed 8th (out of eight competitors) with a time of 7 minutes and 49 seconds. Although I was normally able to solve the cube around two and a half minutes at that time, I executed wrong algorithm (twice) in the last step - permutation of edges. The reason for it was that I was learning another edge-permutation algorithm just before the exhibition. As it turned out, I wasn't familiar enough with this new algorithm. I rather chose to use the older algorithm in the third case, however, it didn't affect the end of the starting list yet.
No one would ever think at that moment that I'm going to be the best from the starting list in terms of speedsolving - I was keeping a nice third place in a historical world Square-1 rankings one time in 2006. Nevertheless, it should be noted that former and current competitors as well as conditions are incomparable. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
After the meeting I talked a bit with Joe, and we have been discussing also the Square-1 of my classmate which I brought with me. To my astonishment, Joe quickly solved the puzzle in the blink of an eye. I was watching him with my mouth open wide, being amazed by his finger tricks. However, with all respect to Joe, I remember the 2x2x2 Rubik's cube most of all - puzzle seller Hendrik Haak from Germany had it exposed in his stand. I asked him if I could try out the puzzle and not only he understood my bad English, but he also agreed with a smile on his face.
Well, I grabbed the cube, scrambled it with a couple of moves and then tried to solve it back for at least 15 minutes. When I finally succeeded, I hove a sigh of relief and triumphantly felt like a world champion. After that I was convinced for a long time that the 2x2x2 Rubik's cube is much harder to solve than the 3x3x3 Rubik's cube :-).
At some point around this time period I switched to another 3x3x3 Rubik's cube solving method, namely corners-first. As it could be expected, I was influenced by Joe - we were discussing it in detail at the meeting (understand he was talking everything about it, I was all ears). Looking back I am very grateful to him for not recommending me CFOP, practically the only method being recognized (at that time) as the fastest, best, most used and whatever. Joe has done a lot for a cubing community in general. For example, he translated competition regulations - which is an act no Czech repeated yet (WCA regulations have been changed several times since then, so Joe's version is unfortunately no longer applicable).
After returning from the meeting, Joe and I came to an agreement to purchase some puzzles from Hendrik - I ordered 1 piece (and the other three got free of charge) of 2x2x2 Rubik's cube (mini version which is 1/8 in size of a standard 2x2x2 Rubik's cube) plus 4x4x4 and 5x5x5 Rubik's cubes (all of them from EastSheen; back then it was nearly impossible to find anything else than just EastSheen and Rubik. However, the latter has been generally recognized as not suitable for speedcubing.) Joe wanted Rubik's magic, Planets puzzle and maybe something else I don't remember yet. Initially I should have gotten the 4x4x4 and 5x5x5 cubes on Christmas, nevertheless, I couldn't wait that long and I had to get familiar with a 4x4x4 one in an instant. I executed perhaps 3 moves and it seemed to be completely scrambled. I spent the rest of the evening by strenuous analyzing of how to get it back into a solved state. I managed to solve it in some mysterious way, therefore I found it again in its original state under the Christmas tree.
Then I met Joe several times in Prague. I clearly recall two meetings in particular (and third one is somewhat blurry). At the first meeting we met each other at Anděl underground station and went to local KFC which is located just around the corner at the underground station exit. Joe brought a lot of puzzles, I had a lot of questions (unrelated for the most part), we were hanging out and suddenly I noticed the last bus going home left already a long time ago. I don't have to tell you that my parents weren't overwhelmed with joy after their son called up, telling them he missed the bus and would like to get home.
At the second meeting I bewared of the last bus going home, and my questions addressed to Joe were probably far more meaningful. He invited me to his house and what a surprise - the cube is not a thing I remember the most. That's actually a family of scorpions which Josef kept in a terrarium just above the shoe-holder at the front door.
Later on, I was reading through Jesicca Fridrich's web-pages and Mirek Goljan was mentioned there. If my memory serves me right, I was contacting him for the first time at the end of the year. More than 8 years later (January 19, 2013) I was contacting Jesicca, because at that time I had no idea she comes from the Czech Republic (Czechoslovak Socialist Republic back then).
After Christmas time (at the turn of 2004 and 2005, to be more specific) I literally spammed Joe with a request to help me to solve the 4x4x4 cube and then the 5x5x5 cube. I encountered a parity problem for the first time. Since Josef's got undeniable talent for explanation of things, I understood his interpretation even this time. Later I somewhere (possibly in a toy-shop) bought the Square-1 (and a friend of mine gave me another one - based on its quality, I think it was also from a toy-shop). Moreover, my classmate Martin gave me the Varikon puzzle and lent me the Rubik's magic (whose strings have been strung symmetrically (for reason unknown) compared to today's version of this puzzle. Thus its starting position was three open circles facing down instead of three open circles facing up).
At a time period when students prepare for a school-leaving exam the most, I didn't think of anything better than creating web-pages about Rubik's cube. It began innocently and quite modestly - a few pages of mentioned layer by layer method. I had no idea where the cube would ever take me over the years...
In the summer of 2005 I was going with Joe and his friend Petra (very nice and kind girl, I met her for the first time at the exhibition - see above) to Poland to my very first official competition. Not only Joe broke a world record in the Rubik's magic event (this event doesn't exist anymore), but I also met some former and future world record holders there. Moreover, I was surrounded by a good-natured people. Zbigniew Zborowski, co-organizer of a competition, deserves to be mentioned for all of them. Not only he offered us (Josef, Petra me and a bunch of other cubers) free nights for a few days in his family house, but also his wife Grażyna made a Polish-cuisine feasts for us. Again free of charge. Among other things, Zbigniew guided us across Auschwitz (it was probably the only place we weren't spontaneously cubing like crazy), he escorted us on our way back to the bus station, and after some time he sent us very nicely edited and digitally enhanced video of a competition (also read its written report) in the form of DVD. Besides medals and diplomas, lots of enjoyment and new experience, I won 3 boxes of biscuits and one pair of towels, which were some of the prizes for people on podium (by the way, I won the Rubik's clock event with a method Joe learned me just a few hours earlier on the spot - till then I was solving the whole first side, not only 5 out of its overall 9 dials). I left one pack of biscuits at Zborowski family for their more than a warm treatment. They took care of us as a shepherdess takes care of her sheep.
In 2006 at other competition - this time in the Czech Republic - I met Milan Vodička (I may have possibly seen him at the exhibition in 2004, I just didn't familiarize myself with him that time) and bought the rest of former valid competition puzzles from him in the same year. That is Megaminx, Pyraminx, Rubik's magic (this time in a standard form), Master magic and Rubik's clock (therefore in Poland I won using not only Joe's "strategy", but also his clock he lent me). Skewb and 6x6x6 + 7x7x7 cubes weren't in the WCA concept yet back then. I also ordered stickers from Milan several times, which he was producing and printing himself.
In the same year I learned how to solve the 3x3x3 Rubik's cube blindfolded.
During the next two or three years I took the information from speedsolving forum, purchased and tried to solve other puzzles, changed the design of my web-pages (as well as texts and methods on them), annually participated in official competitions, met new inspirational people and tried to absorb their often ecstatic ideas.
I have a big confession to make which goes back to around 2008 - I made a mention of SS method algorithms to Joe, he requested them but I didn't give them to him. Timothy Sun's original web-page containing SS algorithms was classified at that time (only a few people in the world knew URL of that page), then even protected by a password (before the algorithms were freely available). I was adjusting the initial algorithms in order to execute them faster. I called the adjustment a "move-optimal solution" (although the algorithms were often longer than original ones) and I told Joe about this move-optimal solution. He asked me if he could look at it. I was acting very selfishly and didn't send him the list of algorithms. I'm sorry about it to this day, it was mean and not in the spirit of fair play (to say it in a nice way). He was totally right when he responded something in the sense of "if there was no shared knowledge, where a speedcubing would be today? You wouldn't know half of the things you do know". I think Joe forgave me a long time ago and forgot the whole incident, nevertheless: pardon me, Joe. Soon I changed my mind regarding my original intent to learn all SS algorithms - it ended up with roughly 6 learned algorithms, and what's more, they were kept in my memory barely two weeks.
At the end of this time period (2009) I began to lose my interest in active speedsolving (however, I would say I am still keeping my eye on this field in a passive way), although paradoxically, my times culminated one year later (see a page about the corners-first method for more). If I remember correctly, I used the original 3x3x3 Rubik's cube every time I competed in this event, even though it was a product from the 1980s (nevertheless, the cube was lying in a drawer from the 80s to 2004, so it was basically a brand new puzzle :-)). In 2010, after buying a new cube, my times went down by 5 seconds from day to day :-).
In 2010 I began to think about writing tutorials for other puzzles, therefore it was necessary to radically change the design of the homepage. After university-graduating I started to realize this plan. Since there weren't documented (at least I didn't find anything) many interesting topics related to the cube (in Czech language), I started publishing thematic articles in the form of a blog in 2012. By that the pages that have been preserved to this day (written in 2016) were created.
If I had to comment on the experience and memories that the puzzles brought to me right here, it would ended up with a pretty decent tome. There is simply no time left now to talk about the wakeful nights spent on analyzing of puzzles, the countless hours spent on creation of web-sites, the pleasure of finding patterns and principles out, the alternation of despair and triumphant feeling when solving, the history related to the puzzles or knowledge sharing with people around the world.
A drop in the sea of unforgettable moments is undoubtedly a joint dinner with Ron van Bruchem, in which I dared him to repeat a Czech tongue-twister "strč prst skrz krk". After his several failed attempts and my gleeful giggle he replied by some kind of "grumpfh-chškröb" 6 times in a row. He said each of these 6 phrases had a different meaning, nevertheless, I wasn't able to distinguish one intonation from another (thus gleeful giggle went to Ron's side). I think he made it all up, it really sounded always the same :-). A memorable moment is also a hand-shake followed by a little conversation with Jaap Scherphuis, despite of the fact I didn't know at that time who he was and how a nice guy he is (we met in 2006 at Czech Open competition).
|from the left: Josef, me and Jaap in 2006|
I managed to thank only a small part of people hanging around puzzles at least for the graphics and software I use on this web. Much larger part would deserve my thanks as well. Without them I may have never started solving Rubik's cube and other combinatorial puzzles, I wouldn't begin to create web-pages, and you would never read these lines. Fate wanted me to conclude quoting Caesar after crossing over the stylish river of Rubicon: "The die is cast".