How To REMEMBER How To Solve The Rubik’s Cube, Or, Now What Do I Do Again?

As the third part of my trilogy on the Rubik’s Cube (read about the cheapest yet best speed cubes to buy here, and how to solve them simply here) we end up with memorizing – how to keep those moves in the brain for years to come…

In solving the cube, I wanted a few simple moves and to remember them easily – no fuss. For that, I needed a memory aid.

I won’t go into too many details on memory systems (check out these Wikipedia articles for more information on Memorization and the Major System). But if you can pick up "The Memory Book" by Harry Lorayne, in my opinion you’ve got the definitive book on the topic.

The result is we’ll do two things to remember the moves:

  • Use a memory peg system. This ‘pegs’ information into an easy to remember system. We’ll turn moves into letters.
  • Use concrete aids for remembering. Letters need something more, so we’ll use objects.

In my case, I found the current Rubik’s Cube notation confusing. I didn’t want to remember clockwise and counterclockwise for moves (for example, F and F’). Keeping track of where the viewer should be for clockwise was annoying and confusing as well. Also, the notation uses an accent or tick mark (or lowercase) for reverse moves, both of which are harder to remember than using different letters for different moves.

So then, here’s an alternative:

[U]p, [D]own, [L]eft, [R]ight, [C]lockwise, [A]nti-clockwise (obviously, counterclockwise wouldn’t work, as [C] was already in use!)

Each letter refers to the topleft corner of the cube as it faces you (except [A] and [C], which refer to the whole face turning).

But what about the right edges, or bottom, or center?

Use the letter NEXT to the main letter in the alphabet to refer to it.

For example, to twist the top layer to the left you use [L], but for the layer below it use [M], and the bottom layer below that is [N].

rubik-codesHere’s the full moves on a cube and the letters for each:

Note there are some moves left off, but these are the only ones you’ll need for the moves on the previous post.

(I include the following italicized section for completeness on the subject, but you can skip it if you want)

In this list of letters, I don’t discuss moving the cube physically. If you feel you need that, or you’re trying to learn a pattern that means moving the cube as a whole, I recommend [Y] to pick a cube up and turn it upwards, and [X] to turn the whole cube to the right (think of the X and Y arrows on a graph to visualize the directions). Repeat each up to three times to move the opposite direction (eg [X] to the right, and [X][X][X], [XXX], [X]3 or [X3] to the left).

And turning faces? [A] and [C] cover the front face, but the interior slice just behind it, and the face on the back aren’t covered. Two options: Once you turn the cube, of course, the moves we’ve covered here will work. But if you want to be comprehensive, you can remember two groups of three letters to represent that – for example, [H], [I], [J] for the front face, inside face, and back face, and [O], [P], [Q] for the ‘anti’ versions of each – as always, the clockwise versus counterclockwise direction is in relation to how you are currently viewing the cube. Why [H]? At this point, three letter sequences are almost gone from the alphabet – and [H] may remind you of [H]ours, or if you’re inclined, [H]orologe (timepiece). For [O] just think of “[O]pposite of [H]”!

In this case, the complete listing becomes the following (including the [A] and [C], which repeat [O] and [H]):

[A] [C] [D] [E] [F] [H] [I] [J] [L] [M] [N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y]

By the way, you can download these images for your own site via this link

So we traded one notation for another – now what? Well, now we have one unique letter per simple move, and the letter can become a unique object that’s easier to remember:

Horizontal Rotation:
[L] lamp, lock, letter
[M] mouse
[N] nuts, noodles, nachos
[R] rock, ring, rubber band
[S] scorpion, snake
[T] tomato, tart
Vertical Motion:
[U] umbrella,usb drive
[V] vulture
[W] watermelon,wiener
[D] door, dish, disk
[E] elephant
[F] fig, fig newton, fortune cookie, french bread
Slice/Face Rotation:
[C] clock, cake
[A] airplane, ant
Whole Cube Rotation:
[X] xylophone, x-ray, women (XX chromosomes)
[Y] yo-yo,yardstick, man (Y chromosome)

Does it work? Here’s a little story. See if you can visualize it as you read:

Mr. VULTURE is merrily flying around, decides to use his cellphone and give his good friend a RING. However, his friend Mr. ELEPHANT is not happy to be disturbed by the loud noise, since he is busy trying to remove unwanted pounds with his new exercise device, his hula hoop (which is of course shaped like a RING). Annoyed by the noisy interruption, he flings away his RING in disgust, which goes very far into the air and winds up hitting Mr. VULTURE. In pain, he loses control and falls like a ROCK, landing very hard on top of Mr. ELEPHANT.

Do you think it will stay in your head with a bit of practice? Then congratulations – you’ve just learned the sequence of moves for Step 6 in the solution I discussed in the previous post, which twists three edge cubes, using each of the capitalized words in the story:


[V] [R] [E] [R] [R] [V] [R] [E]

As a bonus, I like to envision a vulture standing on the two side squares of the cube he will help rotate, and pecking at the third one in the back (of course, in this position, you know what you’ll end up staring at – but I find that even THAT helps in remembering how to orient the cube!) The result is you visualize how to orient the cube, AND what the sequence starts with.

Silly stories, silly words, whatever works for you. For example, Step 4 is

[U] [R] [D] [C] [L] [A] [U] [L] [D] [L] [L]

If you remembered that URD was a mountain in Norway, CLAUL was a last name of someone you knew, and you were familiar with computer DLLs, then URD-CLAUL-DLL becomes a picture of a mountain, your friend, and a computer. Or you can use the link system, where you link a picture of mountain to your friend, then your friend to a computer. The links help you keep straight the sequence.

Make the images memorable, even bizarre. Think of Saturday morning cartoons and how crazy imagery sticks – after all, who can’t remember right now exactly how Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff, maybe years after you last saw it?

Also, practice a few times. And if something doesn’t stick, don’t force it – try something else. For example, if you have trouble visualizing an Airplane for [A], use an Ant. Or your Aunt. Or mix and match (like I mixed Ring and Rock in the story). The key is to take something abstract (a move, or a letter) and turn it into something concrete (like a rock, or a lemon).

Now, using the letters under each solution move, here is the puzzle again:

Step 3:

[L] [W] [R] [F] [R] [A] [L] [C]

Step 4:

[U] [R] [D] [C] [L] [A] [U] [L] [D] [L] [L]

Step 5 (which is just Step 4 doubled, so no need to remember again):

[U] [R] [D] [C] [L] [A] [U] [L] [D] [L] [L] [U] [R] [D] [C] [L] [A] [U] [L] [D] [L] [L]

Step 6:

[V] [R] [E] [R] [R] [V] [R] [E]

Step 7:


And using a peg system like this, you can relate those moves/letters to objects, and use those objects to remember the sequence.

A system like this is also open ended; by making moves easier to remember, it also makes it easier to remember more and better moves, and so solve cubes faster. Once you know it, adding more moves is just a matter of linking pictures, creating stories, or otherwise visualizing the peg words in your list.

One note: When you want to learn new moves, you can use this letter system to add them, but usually they are in another Rubik’s notation. Use this chart to translate (note that some solutions use a tick for reverse, F/F’, and some use lowercase, like F/f, so F is one way, and f or F’ means the other direction):

L becomes [D]
R becomes [W]
U becomes [L]
D becomes [T]
F becomes [C]
L’ or l becomes [U]
R’ or r becomes [F]
U’ or u becomes [R]
D’ or d becomes [N]
F’ or f becomes [A]

I hope this is of use to others in remembering moves – certainly I’m looking forward to remembering how to solve the cube for quite some time using it…

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