Painting by numbers, learning by sounds

Ok, so I cheated. Sure, I can do the Rubik’s cube, but only because I looked at the instructions. Except for for the second to third to last step – a total fluke, I managed to figure out that one for myself. I don’t even know if my method matches the instructions, but I refuse to look at that section lest my version turns out to be worse. Stubborn or what? I digress…


So yes, I can do the cube, but no, I didn’t figure it out myself. There are maybe six more types of cube to go plus the unlicensed ones; all is not lost. The question is, how does one remember how to do it?

From personal experience, I’ve found the trick is to link what I’m doing to what I’m saying or hearing in my head. I guess it would be called ‘audio-kinetic learning’ if this was a psychology blog, but that sucks the fun and novelty right out of it, so on we go. For the most part, this happens automatically: as I twist the face on the right hand side upwards, I say “up”, and when I twist it back down again later, I say “down”. This leads to a kind of mumbled “left up right down right left left right” going on while I twist the cubies to and fro. What wasn’t initially apparent, however, was the extent to which this learning method was relying on the intonation, or pitch, of each word. Some of the words I used to mean two different things, or it wasn’t clear which face I was referring to but this didn’t matter, since my hands were working off the sound of the words too!

Of course, after a while muscle memory kicks in and things become almost entirely automatic, but that doesn’t mean the time you spend picking up the steps bit by bit isn’t important. It’s like if you imagine crossing a river: once you’ve built a bridge, it’s easy to cross, but while you’re rowing from one side to the other to transport the materials and construct it, you have to really think about what you’re doing to get it right.

So anyway, this idea of using the sounds as an aide memoire got me thinking, can you force this kind of thing? And that’s what I did. The last step to solving the cube simply wasn’t sinking in, so I assigned a sound to each movement and now whenever I forget how to do it, all that I have to do is sing the tune (if one can call it that) and voilà, Rubik’s cube is complete! The sounds I use for this step are as follows:

middle-pitched “doo” = front

high-pitched “dudleyung!” = top

low-pitched “doo” = right and left

And it works! Crazy as I might sound to my sister while I’m doing it, I can now “do the cube”, and I’m proud of it.

Image was found at and is courtesy of Wikimedia users “AndyHedges” and “TheCoffee”, who contributed the photo and its editing respectively.

P.S. The Rubik’s cube Google Doodle from 19th May 2014 is truly mesmerising. Check it out at


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