Have you ever heard someone say “If I had started cubing in [Insert Year here], I would have had the World Record”? I think most cubers have, and many of you may realise you’ve said that yourselves. But is it true?
I’ve also been thinking about whether we should consider current World Record holders to be greater than their compatriots over the last 12 years since modern Speedcubing began.
In order to discuss the 2 questions posed, I’m going to focus my writing on the reasons for the progression of 3×3 as it is the most popular and well-known event. Most of the concepts I write about can be applied to all other events.
Let’s start by looking at the progression of 3×3 World Records from 2003 onwards.
If you asked Dan Knights or any other of the renowned cubers in 2003, I’m sure none of them would have come close to predicting the rate at which the record would drop and that people could average 6-7 seconds by 2015. So why is it that records have always tumbled at a rate faster than most people predict? The simple explanation is that faster times are a lot easier to achieve now than they were 12 years ago – it requires less talent and less practise to reach a certain level as the years go on. Below are the main reasons that I believe cubing has advanced. These all help us to consider the answers to the original 2 questions.
One of the biggest factors surely has to be the type of cubes we use. In 2003 everyone used a Rubik’s storebought. Since then there have been several major advancements in the hardware. From Rubik’s DIY and Type A to Type C/F then Dayan Guhongs and Zhanchis to the superfast, ultimate-corner-cutting, perfect-out-the-box, non-poppable Moyu cubes of today. Each of these models revolutionised cubing when they were released and suddenly everyone’s potential dropped by a second or 2.
To a lesser extent, lubricant has also changed. Back in 2003 lubricant was used, but nowadays the range and choice is extensive and the choice of lube is made based on how you want your cube to feel, rather than just to make your cube faster.
The basics of the current most popular 3×3 method (CFOP) was already around in the 1980s, and was published in the 1990s (albeit with a different name). CFOP solves from 2003 are not totally different from the CFOP solves of today in terms of the moves being executed, but the method has evolved slightly.
- Some of the tricky F2L cases have better algs now, as well as new algs to make some cases rotationless.
- New OLL and PLL algs have been found and become the part of the standard set that new cubers learn.
- Extra alg sets have been developed and are learnt more frequently. Basic ideas like EO control and COLL are now supplemented by well-developed ZBLL, OLLCP and 1LLL algs.
- Every existing idea has a multitude of resources. There’s an endless choice of written guides, alg lists, YouTube tutorials and walkthroughs. You also have more knowledgeable friends nowadays too!
The ergonomics of solves (“finger-tricks”) has no doubt changed significantly.
- There’s a standard way to spam <R,U> moves – you won’t see anyone turning with their wrists anymore! That was almost standardised as long as 10 years ago now, but there have been major advances in more recent years too…
- D moves are no longer a bad thing: Think of the sudden emergence of the <R,U,D> E-Perm around 5 years ago, or the double-flick D2 for A-perm.
- M (and even E) moves of the top Roux (or even CFOP) solvers are getting faster and faster.
Indeed much of this has happened due to advances in hardware, but as ergonomics are slowly optimised for human hands, new cubers simply start from a much better place. Any cuber who started in the last few years does not finger-trick like they do because it’s a natural thing to do when starting to solve. They start off with great ergonomics because they copy the current fast cubers.
I think this is the most underrated factor in how cubing records develop and how a given time gets easier to achieve each as time goes on.
Breaking a World Record is incredibly hard and the thought that you have a chance can make you very nervous at competitions. Not surprising, as you could become the fastest person in history to do something.
But what if the World Record is beaten and becomes a second or two faster? I think it suddenly makes the old record a lot easier to beat.
A given time is much more difficult to achieve when it would mean a World Record. Just because you can get sub-10 now doesn’t mean you would have managed to in 2007 even with the same hardware etc. Psychology must not be underestimated!
Although there is variation depending on where you live, it is likely that number of competitions near you will have increased either slightly or dramatically.
More competitions not only means more opportunities to break Records but also less nerves each time as you know it’s not your only chance.
Number of Cubers
It’s obvious that more people cubing these days means that it’s harder to beat all of them in order to set World Records. Assuming that other advancements in cubing makes a World Record likely each year, then in 2005 you would only have had to beat 520 other people to get a World Record. In 2015 you have had to beat 14127 people. That immediately suggests you are more special in some way. But we also can’t know for sure whether 2005 people would have beaten World Records in 2015 if they had started cubing 10 years later!
Would you have broken the record 10 years ago?
The World Records in September 2005 were a 12.11 second single solve and 14.52 average. Now there are 3313 and 3198 people with a better single and average than those records respectively. That’s a lot of people who could make a basic claim that they would have broken the record in 2005, but of course the truth would need to be analysed differently for everyone.
I’m sure for some people it would be fair to say that they would “probably” have beaten the world records in 2005 because they are so unbelievably fast now, and with less cubers around back then their chances would have been magnified, but unfortunately no-one can ever know for sure. In summary, consider the following things before you make the claim that you have been a world beater in a different era!
- You would have used their hardware
- You would have learnt their algs
- You would have learnt off some badly-written guide
- You would not have had many people to discuss with
- You would have learnt dodgy finger-tricks
- You would have had to overcome nerves
- You would have had many less competitions
- You would not have been able to learn off anyone faster than the records at the time
Can we say that a World Record holder from 10 years ago is as great as one now?
Given the number of variables that have changed over the years, it’s a near-impossible question to answer. But I’ve presented the changes that have happened over the years and the worst thing you can do is forget these.
From a personal viewpoint, although my World Records were of course faster than my famous predecessors such as Dror Vomberg and Chris Hardwick, I would never consider myself better than them as without their efforts in developing methods, providing resources and breaking barriers I would never have achieved the times I did. I have absolutely no doubt about that.
Surely Feliks is the greatest ever though?
Well yes, there is a massively strong argument for that considering the wide range of events he excels in, the length of time that he has dominated for, and his ability to continuously push the barriers of what is considered possible. Let’s just say I wouldn’t argue against it!
I may go on to try and do an analysis of contenders for the title of Greatest Ever if people show interest! Such an analysis would be very subjective but statistics can be used to provide a variety of measures.