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With Rubik’s Cubes, victory is only 23 clicks away

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Stanford-trained mathematician Tomas Rokicki has broken his own record, proving that any (solvable) Rubik’s Cube position can be cracked in 23 moves or fewer.

For anyone who’s spent hours twirling the sides of the colored puzzle, this news might just be frustrating. But for mathematicians, this is a big success for elegant computer solutions.

Rubik’s Cubes, in case you forgot about the ’70s sensation, challenge players to spin sides of 3x3x3 cube in order to make each surface a single color.

Last year, students at Northeastern University proved they could solve even the most twisted configuration in as few as 26 moves. In March, Mr. Rokicki one-upped them by whittling down that number to 25. His solution used a computer to churn through possible paths toward victory and filtered out any repeats. This is how most mathematicians solve puzzles nowadays when there are 43 quintillion possible positions – teach a computer to do it, and just wait for it to consider every possibility.

But this takes a really long time. Rokicki sped up the process by finding a clever way to divvy up the possible configurations into sets. It still took his PC 1,500 hours to come up with a solution.

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