Getting Fast with an Easy Method

People seem to think that learning a fast method will automatically make them faster. This is not true! I've met many cubers who use full F2L and three-step last layer or even full Fridrich and who still can't average under 40 seconds. Learning more last layer algorithms (at least up to full Fridrich) will certainly speed up your last layer. As I've written elsewhere, however, the most important part of any layer method is the first two layers, which, because of the flexibility it allows, is much more complex than the last layer. Mastering the first two layers is the fastest way to improvement. The problem is that most cubers really master the first two layers only after they become comfortable with F2L, which can take a long time. I don't think this is the right approach. Rather, I'd argue that you should start practicing the correct mindset for the first two layers as soon as you learn a simple layer-by-layer method.

This page addresses some key techniques necessary to speed up the first two layers using only a simple layer-by-layer method (cross, corners, then edges). With a lot of practice, sub-30 averages are possible even with no F2L and a 4-step last layer (Step 2 of my Learning Fridrich).


The Cross
First Two Layers: Easy Simplifications and Different Target Slots
Looking Ahead: The Most Important Concept in Speedcubing

The Cross

Solving the cross edges one at a time, as most beginners methods decribe, takes many more moves than necessary. Read the cross page for examples of ways to solve two edges in certain positions. Aim for 7 or 8 moves. At this stage, don't worry about extended cross or other advanced cross techniques.

First Two Layers: Easy Simplifications and Different Target Slots

Most LBL beginners guides do the first two layers by solving the corners and then the edges, all with the target slot at FR. Below are three "algorithms" typically found on such guides, one for each direction in which the corner can point.

Corner points right Corner points front Corner points up

Notice that the third "algorithm" is significantly longer than the other two. Since we can solve the first-layer corners in any order, to minimize the number of turns, choose a corner on top not pointing up whenever possible. Also notice that we don't need to solve all the corners before moving on to the edges; we can solve an edge as long as the corner in the same slot has already been solved. This gives us more flexibility in our solve and sometimes allows us to avoid the bad corner case by first solving an edge.

The next technique, which takes more practice, is to use different target slots. The three algorithms above are only for the FR slot. By applying them from different angles, we can solve pieces with target slots at the back without first having to bring them to front using time-consuming whole cube turns. Carefully examine the examples below, keeping in mind that you already know all of these algorithms from one angle. Once you understand how the algorithms work, it will be much easier to apply them from different directions.

UBL corner to BL slot

UFR corner to BR slot

UFR corner to BL slot

UB edge to BR slot


The following examples illustrate the points above, along with a few more advanced insights. Apply each scramble to a solved cube with the cross on bottom.

Example 1

Step (Piece and Target Slot)AppletMoves Applied/Comment
Cross y'U'R2B'L'F'L2

This solution was obtained by first focusing on the UL and FL edges. Another solution, L2F'L'DLBD, can be obtained by focusing first on the UL and FL edges.
UFR to FR slot U2'RU2'R'

Before this step, we can already start looking at the DFR corner. We choose this rather than using than simpler URU'R' because with U2'RU2'R', we can get the DFR corner to U and not pointing up. This type of looking ahead will often be necessary for high efficiency.
UBL to BR slot R'UR

Target slot in the back. No cube turn.
UBR to BL slot LU'L'

Target slot in the back. No cube turn.
UBL to FL slot U2'L'UL
UR to BL slot LU'L'Dw'R'UR

Target slot in the back. No cube turn.
UL to FR slot We could have done dR'URdLU'L', which would have replaced the cube rotation with a double turn by bringing the target slot to the back. I think both are equally fast.
UL to FL slot U2'L'ULDwRU'R'
UL edgo to FL slot U2'L'ULDwRU'R'
Number of moves: 49 moves and 2 cube turns

Example 2

Step (Piece and Target Slot)AppletMoves Applied/Comment
Cross LD'U'R'FUwU2'L2'

Focusing on UF and FR.
UBR to FR slot U'RU2'R'

This solution leaves no easy corner on top. A better solution would have been U2'RU'R', but let's pretend we didn't see this. Now what?
UL to FR slot yUL'ULDwRU'R'

Recall that one way to avoid the hard corner case is to solve an edge. The only edge we can solve at this stage is the one corresponding to the corner we just solved, and fortunately for us, this happens to be on U. This gives us an easy corner.

Once again, we are left with a hard corner. We go to another edge.
UR to BR slot yURU'R'Dw'L'UL
UBR to FR slot yUL'U'L

Yes, this does give us a bad corner. The other solutions, however, places the corresponding edge flipped, which is even worse; I'm going with the lesser of the two evils. It turns out, though, that there is yet another edge we can fix!
UR to FL slot y'U'RU'R'Dw'L'UL
UBR to FR slot U'RU2'R'
UR to FR slot Dw'L'ULDwRU'R'
Number of moves: 54 moves and 4 cube turns

If none of the corners points up and we have a piece on U at every step, as in Example 1, we can expect to complete the first two layers in under 50 moves and very few cube turns. Even when we are forced to deal with multiple corner pointing up, the techniques above will allow us to complete the first two layers within 60 moves for most solves. The average number of moves is perhaps 55.

Looking Ahead: The Most Important Concept in Speedcubing

We often hear of looking ahead applied to F2L, but this is an important concept even for the first two layers of a beginner's method.

I wrote in the preceding section that the average number of moves for the first two layers with a beginner's method can be as low as 55. Play the applet above showing the full first-two-layer solution for the second scramble from above, which takes 54 moves and 4 cube turns. It shouldn't feel all that fast. This speed is about 2.1 tps (turn per second), where a turn here can be either a face turn (quarter or half) or a cube turn. Even at this speed, if you never pause in between algorithms, you can solve the first two layers in less than 30 seconds.

Solve the first two layers as you normally do now, counting the number of turns (including cube turns) and measuring the time, to calculate your current tps. Now, use a clock to figure out how fast this is if you make everything smooth. If this is a lot slower than how you normally turn the cube, which is often the case, your solve has too many pauses. Learn to look ahead, first keeping the same tps, and then going up to 2 tps or even higher. Metronomes is very useful for this. Gradually work your way up to 120 BPM, which corresponds to 2 tps, making one turn per beat.

Say you can't average under 1 minute. If 4-look last layer takes you 15 seconds, which is a fairly slow pace, you need a 45 second first two layers, which, calculating with 55 moves and 4 cube turns on average, comes out to 1.3 tps, or 78 BPM. Listen to that on a metronome. That's how slow you need to go to average under a minute. Try repeating similar calculations with your goal.

Perhaps you have already started working on F2L. This is not a problem; I encourage you to keep learning F2L, but revert to this simpler corners-then-edge approach once in a while. With only one piece to look for at each step, this will greatly simplify looking ahead. Once you extract all the experience you can from this simpler method, having fully understood looking ahead, applying the same concept to full F2L should not be very difficult.