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Rubik’s Cube Therapy

Written By Peter Watson
Cover Art by


There are 43 quintillion possible configurations on a Rubik’s Cube, and only one of those is correct. The cube functions as a distraction from the messiness of the world.

Editors’ Note

I overthink everything.

I have spent weeks drafting e-mails that I could have completed in minutes because I worry about choosing the wrong words.  When a halal cart worker asks me what sauces I want with my chicken over rice, my mind throbs with indecision. The most nerve-racking part of a horror movie for me is not the jump scare itself , but the tiring mental labor of trying to predict when one is imminent. But I have learned how to relieve some of my tension through a cube that sits on top of my bookshelf.

A Rubik’s cube is really just a cluster of 26 smaller cubes, whimsically known as “cubies,” which fuse into one larger cube with sides that measure 5.7 centimeters each. 

One can twist these sides vertically and horizontally to either scramble or unscramble the colors of the cube—white, yellow, green, blue, orange, and red. The Rubik’s Cube, s an exercise in reliability, repetition, and resolution in a chaotic world that refuses to follow satisfying patterns.

There are 43 quintillion possible configurations on a Rubik’s Cube, and only one of those is correct. This may seem daunting, but I find it relieving. There are few scenarios in life where exactly one perfect solution exists. Choosing a college major is intimidating because the closest thing to a definitive, singular answer is an abstract “career goal” that is constantly in flux (in the span of one week in 2019, I switched from computer science to French to graphic design, and after each choice I felt certain I would never change my mind. I am now an English literature major). 

Solving my Rubik’s Cube, however, is a transition from chaos to clarity, from complexity to color-coded congruity. When solved, the red face is always across from the orange face, the white across from the yellow, and the blue across from the green. The cubie in the center of each face actually stays in the same place at all times. There is constancy in the light squeaking of each twist and turn, the solidness of each block of color, even the minty smell of it from the time I kept a package of Orbit gum in the same backpack pocket as the cube and rain fused its cool scent to every object in the pocket.

The beauty of the cube is that, while there is strictly one endpoint, one configuration that “cubers” consider solved, each cuber has their own idiosyncratic way of reaching it. 

Most cubes are black with colored stickers, but I see my cube without stickers, whose cubies themselves are dyed with color, as more durable. There are many methods of solving it, including the Roux Method, which requires more intuitive solving than memorized patterns, and the ZZ method, which entails more than four hundred algorithms. 

The method that works best for me is the Fridrich method (named for Jessica Fridrich, who first documented speed-cubing processes.) It is a brute force procedure that, while it may not be as elegant or slick, applies to any starting configuration and only necessitates nine short lists of motions to learn. It is not the fastest or the most dynamic, but it will always get the job done.

The cube’s secret is that it is actually not difficult at all. I learned how to do it a few years ago when I was bored, home alone, and felt like watching a few hours of YouTube videos of nerds explaining formulas. I love the implications about human collaboration, potential, and progress behind the fact that it took Ernő Rubik a month to solve the cube of his own invention, but anyone today can figure it out in an afternoon by internalizing procedures that others pioneered. 

With the right movements, a cuber can organize five squares of one color into a cross shape on one of the faces, slide in the corners to complete the face, secure the middle layer, then orient and permute the last layer, solving the cube, in under a minute. The tricky part is completing these steps without inadvertently negating previous advances, but it is more forgiving than you might expect; the algorithms don’t just put cubies in their proper positions, they can also allow the user to revert a piece back to its position, say, four twists ago, like an “undo” button in real life.

I wish I could say my Rubik’s Cube is a family heirloom, or a last gift from some lost loved one, or anything other than one of more than 350 million mass-produced polyethylene children’s toys on earth, and I concede that solving it is a pretty worthless skill to have. But I find comfort in that worthlessness. 

The universe is messy, uncertain, and hurtling toward entropy. Sometimes I need the reassurance of laughably low stakes and the solace of actions with no consequences. The rote memorization is not unlike how my mother prays her rosary, reciting rituals in her head as she moves from bead to bead.  The Rubik’s Cube becomes my escape.

About The Author

I'm a student at Macaulay Honors College at CUNY Lehman College. I recently started a nonprofit, PaintingsforthePlanet.com , where I sell my art to raise funds for environmental organizations.