Where to buy the Rubik's cube and how to take care of it
On one long winter's evening I decided to write an article about Czech and outlandish aspects in buying a Rubik's cube. Actually not only about it, also about a shopping of combinatorial puzzles as such. Some sort of comparison or review.
Brand new cube (puzzle, in general) might not have optimal properties for speedsolving. That's why I also added a little bit of how to improve its condition in order to manipulate better with it.
On this page you will find answers to the questions:
- where to buy the Rubik's cube / puzzle?
- what's the best cube for speedcubing?
- how to solve the cube faster?
Where to buy the Rubik's cube / puzzle?
You can essentially get the puzzles in two places. Either in a retail shop or on the internet.
You may buy the 3x3x3 Rubik's cube for a couple of pennies (I saw one for 39 CZK) as well as hundreds of Czech crowns. The cheaper ones will be irreparably broken in the same day of buying (they won't really last longer than 14 days). As for the more expensive ones, I didn't have the courage to purchase those. The reason is that in the Czech Republic it is usually impossible to get anything else than original Rubik's cube by Rubik's company. This cube is generally not considered as a great one - at least in a worldwide speedcubing community.
On the other hand, buying of a cube right in a retail shop brings some good things with it like the opportunity to try out the functionality in case of reliable sellers - therefore, you won't buy a pig in a poke. If you want to have a cube in five minutes, you just come to the store, buy a cube and that's it. It takes a little bit longer through an online shop to purchase a cube, however, this option offers several indisputable advantages.
We can encounter a selling of puzzles on the internet at almost every corner - from various sale sites or auctions (such as aukro.cz or in the world more known ebay.com, for example) through build-to-order pages (usually it deals with promotional items of companies) to specialized electronic commerces (e-shops). Nevertheless, not all e-shops are the same.
Although I'm not a supporter of pigeonholing and putting similar things in the same bag, I would divide the online stores into Czech and abroad ones.
In the Czech Republic there are few businessmen dealing with selling of puzzles. I will try to outline their strong points and weaknesses and begin by what I don't like on them (in comparison with abroad e-shops).
- range of products
- price of puzzles
- customer support
If I was a lover of vanilla ice cream and the ice-creamer had almost all kinds except for vanilla, I would be upset. The same applies to cubes - if I wanted a 3x3x3 cube and the seller had only 2x2x2 cubes, I wouldn't be delighted. My point is: small range of products.
Usually the Czech e-shops are neither variegated in terms of puzzles nor outstanding in any way. To some extent, it's given by a fact that while in the Czech Republic the business is carried by an individual or a small group of people, there are some sort of manufacturing and merchant giants abroad. Manufacturing giant produces the puzzles, merchant giant buys them in and then sells them (e.g. to Czech businessmen who afterwards sell them to Czech clientele in the first place - so Czech businessman is basically some kind of connecting link between the seller of puzzles and the end customer). Czech seller doesn't have the opportunity to buy in the puzzles from Czech manufacturer, simply because there is no such manufacturer in the Czech Republic (certainly not at the position of a giant). It's like comparing Babetta with Harley Davidson - both are motorcycles, yet a noticeable difference is seen between them at first sight.
So while the (abroad) seller buys cheaply and sells expensively, Czech businessman buys expensively and sells even more expensively. Hence the price in the Czech Republic is much bigger when compared to abroad in case of the same product. Price of goods is one thing, postal and packing charge another one. Although it's hard to believe, packages containing puzzles sent from abroad are often cheaper - in terms of postal and packing charge - than packages sent from the Czech Republic!
Now imagine for a moment we want to purchase a new pair of shoes. Suppose that I, as a customer, will walk into the shopping mall and like one pair of shoes in a store A. Then I'm going to look around whether I can find even better deal in a store B which is located just round the corner. I'll hit exactly the same pair of shoes in a store B, with the only difference that it is slightly more expensive. Now I will far-fetch the story a little bit - I will say to myself: "as long as I am already in a store B, at least I will try out the shoes". Right after I put them on, I see that the left shoe is slipshod, there is a missing lace on the right shoe and a hole on top of it. Therefore I'll eventually buy the shoes in a store A and what's more, I'll save a couple of dollars and happily go home.
It is working similarly for the puzzles. I don't want to point the finger at particular e-shops and say they are doing wrong this and that. I'm not even competent to do so. Nevertheless, if I look at some ratings made by local customers, I will see a review like "There is no cover with a producer mentioned on the goods, not to mention maintenance instructions and invoice are missing too. The goods were carelessly packed, rattle-ish package came to me and it's surprising it survived the transport." or "Last year we ordered a 4x4x4 cube and this year we went for a 5x5x5 cube. The goods came unpacked in both cases, producer's guaranty label has been cut off, the box was filthy.". In my eyes the store is not advertising itself well and rather discourages me from buying.
The last passage dedicated to Czech e-shops will deal with what I like about them. Their well-arranged website layout, at least in some cases, is OK I think (it is not much better abroad). An important factor in buying (or complaint, for instance), especially for non-English speaking customers, will probably be the language in which the products are offered - i.e. Czech. The biggest advantage of Czech online shops I see in a short delivery time. Quite frankly, it is somehow hard to imagine that the goods sent from the other side of the world would come faster than the goods sent from a city which is distant less than 100 kilometers, for example.
If we look beyond our (i.e. Czech) land borders at online puzzle stores - see e.g. cube wikipedia - we can make mutual comparison based on several criteria after returning back to Czech e-shops.
Of the previously mentioned factors they are:
- range of products
- prize of puzzles
- customer support
Just click through the first few links in the list of abroad e-shops stated above and afterwards we come to the conclusion that the range of products is much greater in case of abroad sellers.
Not only there is a greater range of cubes available abroad, they are also cheaper when compared to the Czech Republic. In some cases even several times. Some e-shops are offering free shipping as a bonus, so we don't pay for a postal and packing charge, as opposed to the Czech businessmen scenario. Thus the price difference is even bigger.
Regarding customer support, I didn't have to solve any serious problem yet. E-shop stuff satisfactorily answered all of my eventual additional questions, via both contact form or e-mail and skype. So far I didn't have to deal with any complaint either (I can imagine it could be a bit more complicated for me in comparison with a complaint in the Czech Republic). Anyway, the truth is that it is probably working - at least reviews from local customers are reporting about exchange of a puzzle as well as eventual refund (of course this will vary from e-shop to e-shop).
Some more points what I like about abroad e-shops:
- discount coupons - for me as a customer this means even cheaper shopping
- tracking number - seller will attach a tracking number to the package, thus I can track where my shipment is and whether it is stuck somewhere at the airport
- quality of puzzles - unlike in Czech environment, I haven't encounter poor-quality puzzle imitations, received goods were always in a good shape and as expected
- choice of payment method - usually more payment methods to choose from in comparison with the Czech Republic
If I had to say what I don't like about abroad e-shops compared to Czech ones, I would be silent for a long time. I have no choice but to repeat myself in order to mention at least something. Disadvantages for Czech clientele can be:
- longer delivery time
- English language (mostly) and related site navigation
- possibility of more difficult complaint handling
What's the best cube for speedcubing?
People who are solving the cube can be divided into two groups. The first consists of those who take the puzzle as a challenge and they don't need to prove themselves that they can solve it in 15 seconds. Their goal is simply to solve the puzzle. Certain Mr. Graham Parker from England apparently did it in 26 years. The latter group, in contrast, consists of people who compete against the time while solving. Following text will be dedicated especially to them.
Have you ever asked yourself the questions like what is the best cube for speedcubing, what cube has the best properties or what cube is the fastest? It sounds fairly easy and so is the answer.
There is no such thing as the best cube - try to think about it for a moment. Each person has a slightly different requirements on the properties of a cube. What is an advantage for one may be a disadvantage for another. Some prefer "fast" cube which can be overturning and others prefer rather "slow" cube which is, however, not overturning. It's just individual. Similarly you might ask what is the best fruit: pears or apples? There is no correct answer. After all, a banana isn't too bad either ;-)
Moreover, it is quite often a subject of change. Currently (beginning of 2013) most people (speedcubers, to be more specific) like Dayan ZhanChi (we are talking about a 3x3x3 cube), I personally like Sheng En F-II model as well. You can get first mentioned cube for 10 dollars, the other is even cheaper. I can recommend both options without any doubt. At least for beginners.
To choose the "best" cube, see an article about what cube to get for a speedcubing, where I address it in more detail.
How to solve the cube faster?
Let's recap a little bit: we already know where to buy a cube and suspect what model to pick. It remains to tell something about how to solve it in a matter of a few seconds.
There is a number of ways to do that: learning of more algorithms which solve more positions, speed-optimization of algorithms, change of solving method; mastering of a so-called finger tricks, etc. To express it by computer terminology, I would call it "hardware thing".
What I want to talk about is, however, "software thing". What can I do with a cube itself to reach much faster times using the same method and algorithms?
Above all, a cube must be clean. This condition is met in case of brand new cubes. A sign of a dirty cube may be, for example, a lock-up when turning the layer. You can make sure whether the cube is dirty by rotating one layer by 45 degrees and taking one edge out of it. Afterwards it is possible to look inside the cube, or fully disassemble it into particular cubies.
From the past I remember speedcubers who deliberately had to make the cube dirty by putting some sand in. Internal parts of cubies had been sanded down by rotating of layers and as a result, the cube had a smooth feeling. Sandpaper had been used for this purpose as well. No such adjustment is necessary for modern cubes (at least I never needed it).
Very important thing is the lubricant. If you grease well, you speed well. By removing one edge from the cube (as described above) it is possible to insert an appropriate amount of lubricant in. I highly recommend to use a silicon-based lubricant. Petroleum-based lubricants can cause an internal mechanism (made of plastic) to be dissolved. Furniture cleaner, soap or vaseline won't probably be the best choice either. Some cubes are already pre-lubricated by the manufacturer, so there is no need to lubricate them (for a while).
If we have clean and lubricated cube, we can customize it to meet our turning style. This is done by taking off the center caps. Under the center caps are located screws with springs. Screws can be arbitrarily loosened / tightened by a screwdriver, thus we can change cube tensioning. Tightened cube prevents falling apart (in the sense of one or multiple pieces pop out during a solve - a so-called POP), loosened cube allows faster layer movements, i.e. faster turning.
As long as we have "tuned" the cube from the inside, its outside deserves our attention too - although it has no influence to solving speed. The stickers. The ones of poor quality will peel away over the time and they won't be distinguishable in color. To think 10 seconds whether I'm looking at a blue or green sticker is not good. Stickerless puzzles have been recently made - plastic cubies are already colored - but those are banned from competitions. Similarly, plastic tiles (which won't peel away over the time) are also banned from competitions. Edit 2015: stickerless cubes as well as tiles of certain dimensions are allowed to be used in competitions again.
What's the point of it all? Using the same cube, the same solving method and the same algorithms on one hand, and different cube cleanness, various amount of lubricant and different shades and shapes of stickers on the other hand, I moved from the times like 25 seconds to 20 seconds. That's 20% improvement in less than an hour :-).
Other accessories such as timers, carrying cases for puzzles or blindfolds for blindfolded solving will be maybe discussed next time.