Nicolas Hammond - Rubik's Cube

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A long time ago (almost 25 years ago!), I used to be quite quick at solving the Rubik's cube. In fact, in 1980 I believe I was the fastest in the world. I was averaging 30-40 seconds (average of 10 cubes). I cannot find anyone who was this fast back in 1980.

My Rubik's Cube History

I saw my first cube in 1979 when Peter Horrell, Head of Mathematics, showed one in class. I was hooked. I originally ordered cubes (they weren't available in stores back then) from David Singmaster. Unfortunately, the original cubes weren't too solid and I either broke them or wore them out. Whenever I ordered more cubes, I would let David know how long it was taking me to solve. He wrote this up in his notes. One thing led to another and before long I was mentioned in other newspaper/magazine articles, appeared on several TV shows, and wrote a book, "How to Solve The Cube in 37 Seconds".

It is amazing how much of this old material is now available on the Internet. I was 16-17 years old when all this happened.

Newspaper/Magazine Articles

The original David Singmaster Cubic Circular is on-line. I am mentioned a couple of times in Issue 1 about a computer algorithm I wrote to determine an upper bound for moves affecting the Upper face and again about appearing on Swap Shop and Paul Daniels Magic Show.

This issue lists the qualifying times for the first national championship (I had the fastest qualifying time, but didn't win the national event). I also get a mention in Issue 5 about the TV appearances and later about God's algorithm for the Pyraminx.

I was mentioned in a March 1981 Scientific American article by Douglas Hofstadter.

If God were to enter a cube-solving contest, It might encounter some rather stiff competition from a few prodigious mortals, even if they do not know Its algorithm. There is a young Englander from Nottingham named Nicholas (sic) Hammond who has got his average solving time down to close to 30 seconds!
Must admit it was rather nice to be compared to God, though I think I would have lost. He later published a book, Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern, which listed his Scientific American articles. See page sample on Magic Cubology

I was mentioned in Reader's Digest. I will have to research the exact issue.

I was also mentioned in Time on March 23, 1981 - this is a link to the original article about the Hot-Selling Hungarian Horror.

The Eighties Club mentions me in a list of Games People Play.

TV Shows

The first show I appeared on was Multi-Coloured Swap Shop with Erno Rubik on January 24, 1981. I solved a cube in 37 seconds setting a record for live TV. This was the first time that the cube had been solved on national television in England. Noel Edmonds then gave me another cube to solve, but this had 11 white stickers and 7 blue stickers. Swap Shop was aired live. Two weeks later several people tried to beat this record, but no-one could (closest was about a minute).

I solved a cube on the Paul Daniels Magic Show. Paul then showed how a cube is solved by throwing one up in the air and it was solved when it came back down. Not sure of the exact date but it was around 1981. I have since seen the same trick by David Copperfield on a TV show around 1988 but this was a repeat so I don't know when it first aired. The Paul Daniels Magic Show was a day of rehearsal with filming in the evening. The first time Paul did the trick I could not believe it as I was standing right in front of him - truly amazing. He did 3-4 rehearsals throughout the day, making sure that he did not throw the cube too high for the camera and that I was not blocking the audience or camera angles. My parents watched all of the rehearsals and the final taping but still do not know how he did it. With all the rehearsals, I saw a lot. As I'd been sworn to secrecy, I still haven't told anyone how he managed it.

I also appeared on The Adventure Game on November 2, 1981 with Graeme Garden, Lesley Judd and Carol Chell. Lesley was the (unknown to us) resident mole. Unfortunately I had never seen the show (nor heard of it) until I was on it. See UK Games Shows for more information on The Adventure Game. The BBC have a clip of the Vortex - I'm the kid in the red sweat shirt at the start of the clip. Somewhere in the show I believe I had to talk to Randgo, the talking aspidistra.

I appeared on several local TV shows both with the Rubik's Cube and with other puzzles.

In December 2006, I was invited to appear on It Started With Swap Shop and solved the cube in front of a live audience in 36 seconds. I had about one month to practise and, fortunately, still had a copy of my book. I hadn't touched the cube in almost 25 years so was a little rusty. I went through 5 cubes in one month! The newer cubes do not last as well as the old ones.

Books

I wrote "How to Solve the Cube In 37 Seconds" after appearing on Swap Shop. It was published in early 1981. The book is occasionally available on eBay. It detailed all the moves and tricks I used to solve the cube, along with including additional moves if someone wanted to get even faster!! The book went through two versions and six printings. Twenty-five years after I wrote it, it was the only source I looked at when I needed to practise before appearing on TV in December 2006. I believe that my book listed more moves than any other book at the time (and probably since, but I can't vouch for this - I haven't seen any book that details the number of possible moves mine had).

Even though the book lists moves to solve the cube quickly, it also contains very, very simple step-by-step 8 stage solution. You only need to learn 5 moves to solve the cube - the book has the moves in it - it's so simple that a 7 year can solve the cube with the book.

When I was invited back on TV in November 2006 and started to practise, my seven year old son started watching me and wanted to solve the cube as well. Using only the notes from my book, he was able to solve the cube by himself in a couple of weeks (well, he did have other homework to do!) and he can now consistently solve the cube in under 4 minutes. Here's the YouTube clip of him solving the Rubik's Cube in under 4 minutes.

Or, using the wonderful web, YouTube let's me embed the same information.

Current Material

I had about a month's notice before flying back to England to appear on TV in December 2006. I only used the moves in my book and was able to solve it on TV in 36 seconds. A slight improvement. It should have been around 30 seconds - I wasn't quite sure of one of the moves towards the end and so used some moves that I knew would work rather than the shortcut (had I gotten the move wrong, it would have been a scrambled cube again). I doubt it is obvious to anyone, I don't think they were filming me when I did it but someone had a stopwatch on me.

My original algorithm was based on David Singmaster's bottom, middle, top layer solution. I used a computer (back in 1981!) to search for better moves and incorporated these in to my book.

There are now better algorithms for speed-cubing, but I strongly believe that my algorithm is the simplest and easiest to learn.

God's Algorithm

The Rubik's Cube has 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 different patterns. God's algorithm is the name given to the solution that involves the shortest number of moves. God's algorithm is at least 18 twists (based on the number of turns you need to make to get to the large number above) however it can be proved that there are some patterns that require at least 20 moves. This is the current lower bound on God's algorithm. The current best known God's algorithm is under 26 moves. See Wikipedia for more details.

Upper Face God's Algorithm

In 1981-1982, I wrote a computer program to help find the shortest moves to solve the upper face. Eventually I reduced the number to 21 but lack of computing power forced me to give up the search. David Singmaster mentioned this in Cubic Circular, Issue 5 I recently revisited the problem. The answer (in face turns) in 16. I used a computer to find the shortest moves for all upper face moves. See God's Algorithm for Rubik's Cube Upper Face for details.

Last updated: October 22, 2007.