Qualities to look for in a speed cube

**Updated on January 23 2017**

A speed cube can feel completely different from another speed cube. It has many different characteristics that make it good or bad. Through my years and experience in speed cubing I have studied these qualities and prioritized their impact on the overall performance of speed cube.

If you already know your stuff skip to the THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE BEST SPEED CUBE

Here are the qualities to look for in a speed cube:

  • Primary characteristics:   These two characteristics can make or break a speed cube
    • Turning: This is the most obvious and the first thing you will notice on a speed cube. It makes up a majority of how a speed cube feels.
    • Corner Cutting: This characteristic is more of an ability to increase the performance of a speed cube
  • Secondary characteristics:   These are indicators of the primary characteristics. The lack or presence of these characteristics really depends on the Primary characteristics.
    • Catching
    • Lock Ups
  • Extra characteristics:   These are external or is not directly affected by the speed cubes design.
    • Tensions and Lubrication
    • Stickers Body Color, Stickerless Puzzles and Size

**I should let you know that the terms and information you will read are based on my experience, knowledge and theories so they may or may not be universally accepted or agreed upon**

 

Primary Characteristics

Turning

Speed cubes will generally have two types of turning:

FAST or SMOOTH

You can’t really compare one style over the other or you can’t say one is better than the other. It is important to understand that it all boils down to your own preferences.

These terms (fast, smooth) are what I like to use to describe layer styles. I chose these terms because I think they are pretty accurate but they may not be known or accepted universally.

Fast turning cubes will feel very light or will require very little effort in turning. Fast turning cube seem to have very little friction between layers so turns will feel very light and have very little resistance. Fast turning speed cubes can also have a characteristic of being scratchy, dry and will have a distinct sound during layer turns.

Pros – Little resistance between layers allows fast turns which allows execution of algorithms in lightning fast speeds

Cons – Fast turns coupled with little resistance results in little to no control.

Smooth turning cubes feel very nice with very fluid flowing precise layer turns. Unlike fast turning cubes smooth turning cubes seem to have layers nicely resting on each other. This will give a little bit more resistance to turn layers although it results in a smooth, precise gliding of layers. As the name suggests smooth cubes will not be scratchy, or dry and will be more quiet.

Pros – Smooth layers that glide along each other allows smooth layer turns which allows total control and precision.

Cons – Some speed is sacrificed for the control that you get.

Which turning style is better?

As I mentioned earlier these two styles are a matter of preference and one isn’t better than the other. Similar to the speed cube itself, speedcuber will have their own turning style and prefer one over the other.
When reviewing a speed cube I first have to consider which type of turning it falls in, whether it is a fast or smooth turning speed cube. It’s not fair to say a speed cube has bad turning because it is a smooth turning cube and you like fast turning cubes and vice versa.

A speedcubes turning should be reviewed based on which turning style it falls under. Here are some scenarios to better understand this.

  • A Fast turning speed cube is good when you can execute algorithms in lightning speed. It is bad when you have absolutely no control over the layers which will cause overshooting
  • A smooth speed cube is good when you have absolute control over layer turns resulting in smooth precise algorithms that flow nicely. It is bad when your hand hurts because turning layers just takes too much effort.

Lubing of these two types of speed cubes also differ and can sometimes change or dampen its characteristic.

  • A fast turning speed cube can use a thicker lube like 50k traxxas which can actually make it slower but give it more control.
  • A smooth turning speed cube can use a very light lube such as Calvin’s lube which can give it more speed but lose some control.

Corner Cutting

What exactly is corner cutting?

  • Just by the name you can almost think of it as a short cut. Instead of a layer waiting on an intersecting layer to complete its turn, the first layer can begin turning even though the second layer hasn’t completely finished.

What is good and bad corner cutting?

  • The popular belief of how well a speed cube can corner cut is usually how much it can corner cut. Here’s an example: Speed cube ‘A’ can corner cut 45 degrees while speed cube ‘B’ can corner cut only 40 degrees. It’s true that speed cube ‘A’ can corner cut “more” than speed cube ‘B’ but does that really it mean it can corner cut “better”? Think about common scenarios in life and you will see that “more” doesn’t always really mean “better”.

Here is what I believe is more important and what you should actually consider about corner cutting:

It’s NOT necessarily how much a cube can corner cut but how well it can handle corner cutting.

  • A good corner cutting cube will execute corner cuts effortlessly which means the speed cuber will hardly feel or notice any corner cutting.
  • A bad corner cutting cube will execute corner cuts very roughly and dramatically. This results in the speedcuber really noticing the corner cut. It can be so slight that it just makes a sound, usually a clacking sound but it can be so bad that it actually slows down the flow of an algorithm.
  • Good corner cutting will allow the speedcuber to concentrate on look ahead, the flow of algorithm execution and generally make it a more enjoyable solve.
  • Bad corner cutting will disrupt the flow of the algorithm execution, distract the speedcuber,  ruining look ahead which will result in slower times and a more unpleasant solve

If it’s still hard to understand take a look at this scenario:

  • You have a Rubik’s cube competition and there are two routes to the venue, route A and route B. You are running a bit late so naturally the route that gets you there in the shortest amount of time is “better”.
  • Route A is 10 km while route B is 12 km. (For the sake of comparison I will use the term “more” here.) Route A is “more” shorter than route B, but will route A get you there faster than route B? In other words is route A “better” than route B? Not necessarily right? Since one route can have more traffic than the other or one route can be more uphill, or it may have very bad potholes, etc.
  • Now lets connect this scenario with corner cutting. In the scenario your goal is to get to your destination as fast as possible, whichever route you take that does this is “better.” So in speed cubing, your goal is to solve the cube as fast as possible, whatever corner cutting characteristic does this is “better”
  • Now let’s go back at corner cutting and ask does “more” corner cutting mean “better” or will “more” corner cutting mean you will get faster times or make the solving more enjoyable? Not necessarily right?
  • “More” doesn’t mean “better”, so what makes corner cutting better? Let’s go back to the two routes. Route A which happens to be “more” shorter has lots of stoplights, a lot of traffic, and has ugly roads which means lots of stopping and delays. Route B is a 4 lane highway with much less cars which means you can keep a steady speed.
  • Alternatively route A could be the highway and route B could have the heavy traffic, so naturally route A would get you there faster. But the point I am trying to make is that “more” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”.

Secondary Characteristics

Catching

  • Catching is when a layer catches on another layer. A layer can start it’s turn even though any intersecting layers haven’t fully finished their turn. Most common catching is when a corner pieces catches on a center piece and when an edge piece catches on another edge piece. There are several degrees of catching. Catching can disrupt the flow of execution of algorithms. It can be mild that you won’t notice anything but it can get bad that it happens very often.

What causes catching?

  • Corner Cutting: This is the most obvious reason for catching. Bad corner cutting would cause a lot of catching.
  • Turning Style: A super fast turning speed cube usually results in overshooting which causes catching.

Lockups

  • You can expect to have zero to no lockups with newer 3×3 speed cube on the market because the internal mechanisms have gotten so good
  • Lock ups are more common on 4×4 speed cubes and up. The more layers the more likely it can have lockups

What causes Lockups?

  • Similar to catching lockup happen with very fast and imprecise turning.
  • It also has a lot to do with the internal puzzle design and the number of parts moving inside a puzzle. The more moving parts inside a puzzle, e.g 7×7 puzzle, the more chances it has to get jammed and lock up with each other.

Extra Characteristics

Tension and Lubrication

What about tensions and lubrication?

  • A speed cube can change its characteristics to an extent just by adjusting it’s tensions or adding proper lubrication inside the speed cube. Speed cube tensions and the lubrication used is entirely depended on the speed cuber and like the speed cube itself all boils down to preference.
  • Finding the perfect tension of one specific speed cube can vary from easy to very tricky, this all really depends on the speed cube. For example, the Qiyi Valk 3 had really good tensions out of the box and I only needed to adjust it slightly and add lube for it to be perfect. The Gan 356 Air on the other hand was so difficult to find perfect tensions which lasted me around a week playing with different tensions and springs.
  • Since a speed cube has internal pieces rubbing and sliding across each other lubrication is very important. The only type of lubrication you should use on your speed cubes is “SILICONE LUBE” and it’s kind of hard to mess up because there are silicone lubes that are specific to speed cubes. Now that you know to only use silicone lube you should know now that there are different types of silicone lubrication and they will range in viscosity, or thickness.
  • Some speed cubes will perform better with a thicker silicone lube while some will work well with thinner silicone lubes. There is no one perfect silicone lubrication for all speed cubes and it will differ from speed cube to speed cuber. In fact some speed cubers mix and combine different brands and viscosity to create their own personalized silicone lube.

When should you adjust tensions and add lubrication?

  • I like to find perfect tensions and apply lubrication only after a speed cube is broken in, here’s why. A speed cube newly opened out of the box still has fresh internal pieces that when you turn layers it usually feels scratchy, dry or a bit rough. These fresh plastic pieces slide along each other so after many solves theses pieces get smoothed out which usually makes the cube turn faster or smoother. So if you’ve adjusted and found perfect tensions when your cube is brand new, you can be sure you’ll repeat that after it has been broken in.
  • I will also not yet add lubrication and even remove the factory lube already in there if there’s too much of it. The reason for this is because those internal pieces needs more friction to smooth each other out so if lubrication is present you won’t get that friction which will make breaking in take much longer.
  • You will usually notice a change of characteristics of your speed cube when it has already been broken in. Sometimes an indicator of being broken in is when you see nice scratches (PHOTO) along the internal pieces which act like grooves where pieces glide along. Once broken in you have a speed cube that will perform at it’s 100% best without tensions and lubrication. At this point, adjust tensions to find the perfect spot and adding the best type of lubrication for your speed cube will only make your speed cube better.

How I apply lubrication on a speed cube

There are a number of methods to lubricating a speed cube which range from very quick to very tedious. The method I like to use is somewhat quick but very effective.

I only apply lubrication to two pieces of the speed cube but in key areas where all the interior pieces slide along and intersect. This ensures that all interior pieces of the speed cube will be covered with lubrication.

Here’s a video:

How I adjust tensions on a speed cube

The way I adjust a speed cube is really very simple. Other speed cubers are more thorough and totally disassemble all pieces and put it back together. I think it’s not that necessary and how I adjust tensions is really good enough for me.

Before getting to this point you obviously have noticed that your speed cube is too tight or too lose. Here are the steps I use to adjust the tensions.

  1. Remove all center caps to expose the screws
  2. Adjust bottom layer
  3. Adjust top layer
  4. Go around the cube and adjust layer on the sides

Tip:

  • I like to use a wrist turn when adjust the screws on each side. This allows me to keep the same amount of adjustment on all sides.

Here’s a Video:

 

Stickers, body color, stickerless puzzles and Size

Stickers, body color and stickerless puzzles doesn’t really affect affect the performance of a puzzle itself but it is what the speed cubers can see so it will affect his/her recognition.

Stickers

The stickers are what makes a cube a puzzle and without stickers a cube can’t be scrambled and by the same logic can’t be solved either. There are different types, shades, even schemes of stickers that are all a matter of preference of a speedcuber.

  • Types: The most popular type of stickers would have to vinyl stickers. Another type of stickers are technically not stickers but tiles which aren’t very popular now. Tiles come in textured or smooth.
  • Shades: Sticker shades range from regular shades. Half brights have yellow, orange and green colors in bright shades. Full brights have all colors in bright shades except for white, because it’s just white.  
  • Schemes: The most popular and really what is used on all puzzles today is the Western Scheme. Earlier produced speed cubes have the Japanese Scheme and some cubers like to even make their own scheme. A friend of mine developed his own color scheme to help him because he is color blind.  

Body Color

 

I think body color is matter performance because I really like black body puzzles and have become used to it, so if you give me a white body puzzle, my recognition would be really bad.
Stickers

 

 

Stickerless Puzzles

  • Stickerless speed cubes are now legal in competition and unlike stickers, the actual plastic of the cube is colored. This eliminates the borders created by cubes with stickers which may affect the speedcubers recognition.
  • Stickerless speed cubes actually can have a different feeling from the same speed cube with stickers because the plastic used can have different properties making it actually turn better. This created the “Force Cube” which is a speed cube with each piece from a stickerless cube. (elaborate more here or just give a link)

Size

Speed cubes do have different sizes, these range from the 57mm, 55mm and 42mm. There are extremely smaller and larger rubik’s cubes although those aren’t really popular for speed cubing. Of Course the standard size is 57mm and while most speed cubes are generally around 57mm, some speed cubes are larger than others.
57mm is the standard size of a speed cube although some cubes are slightly larger or smaller than others.

This small difference may change how a speed cube feels to someone with smaller or larger hands.

Wrapping up

A speed cube that is labeled to be the “Best Speed Cube” is very subjective and really is down to personal preference. Although there are reasons why that particular speed cube was chosen by that person. When a speed cube is highly regarded and is a common favorite among other speed cubes it’s important to understand why this is the case.

The first and obvious characteristics you will really notice are the main characteristics, which are turning and corner cutting. The most important consideration when gauging how well a speed cube can turn is whether it is a fast or smooth turning cube. Based on this you can really judge how well it turns. Corner cutting also is a major characteristic and it’s important to take note how well a speed cube can handle a corner cut rather then just how much it can corner cut.

How good or bad the main characteristics of a speed cube is will usually tell you a lot about the secondary characteristics. The lack or presence of catching and lockups really all depends on the mix or combination of the two main characteristics.

Extra characteristics also affect the performance or comfort of the speed cuber especially with lubrication and adjusting tensions although different speed cubes react differently and it always boils down to the speed cube design itself.

At this point I hope you can better understand the qualities of a speed cube and be a better judge in testing out and trying different speed cubes. In the end what really matters is the speed cube that feels the most comfortable and pleasurable to solve is really the best speed cube for you.

HAPPY CUBING!

One thought on “Qualities to look for in a speed cube

  • April 15, 2016 at 8:20 am
    Permalink

    nice job on the text

    Reply

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