Experimenting with Cubing As a Way to Maintain My Abilities

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by Young Lee |

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Column by Young Lee

For the past few weeks, I’ve been studying sequences of hand movements and letter combinations. For example, U, R, U’, L’, U, R’, U’, L was one combination I had trouble with. As were F, U, R, U’, R’, F’ and R’, D’, R, D, U. If these sequences are at all familiar, perhaps you can solve a Rubik’s Cube or other form of 3x3x3 combination puzzle cube. That’s exactly what has fascinated me recently.

Each letter sequence — codes for moves on a 3x3x3 combination puzzle cube — represented both a key to my success and a hurdle for me to overcome. 

A few months ago, my young nephew became fascinated with combination puzzle cubes. Watching him twist and turn each panel of his cube in an attempt to solve it caused me to reconsider what the cube could mean to me. It’s certainly a kind of fidget toy, a mental challenge, and an opportunity to connect with him and my father, who also has become interested in cubing. But I also saw the puzzle cube as a potential way to measure the progression of my Charcot-Marie-Tooth symptoms.

About the same time that my nephew started cubing, I had the unwelcome surprise of realizing I couldn’t cross my fingers anymore. I remember being able to cross them with ease as a child, so I was shocked to find that I had lost that ability, which perhaps was a sign of worsening CMT symptoms. However, because CMT tends to progress with time, increased weakness is something I know I’ll have to understand and get comfortable with.

This is why I saw potential in 3x3x3 combination puzzle cubes and cubing as a useful hobby. My idea was that I could use my average solve time — a standard measure of progression in the cubing world — as insight into my current level of finger dexterity. 

I had this idea under the assumption that after the first few solves, the act of solving a 3x3x3 combination puzzle cube would become more of a dexterity challenge than a mental one.

Back when I used to go to a physical therapist to manage my CMT symptoms, I remember doing simple exercises to check my baseline and measure progress. I saw cubing in a similar light: I thought I could use puzzle solves as my baseline exercise.

Ultimately, I think this venture had mixed results. I quickly realized that I was incorrect to assume that solving a cube was simply a dexterity challenge. Even after solving the cube for the hundredth time, it’s still very much a mental exercise, and the path to faster solves is often a more efficient algorithm, or sequence of movements to get to the solution.

But that makes me respect cubing even more. The fact that a 3x3x3 combination puzzle cube has more than 43.3 quintillion possible combinations, with each possible combination being only about 20 moves away from a solution, is mind-boggling. And just like in life, especially with a disability, sometimes you have to work smarter instead of trying to use brute force to work your way past hurdles. 

Still, I think having a hobby like cubing is probably useful for CMTers. A common piece of advice found in CMT circles is to take advantage of the abilities you have while you can, because as with many degenerative diseases, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. I believe that if I hadn’t played piano as a child, my hand dexterity probably would be much worse than it is now, and perhaps cubing, piano playing, and exercise can help me keep up the fight for my dexterity.

Currently, I have my incredibly unremarkable five-solve average of 3.5 minutes. Check back with me in a few months, as hopefully that time will be shorter when I learn to work faster and smarter. And check back a decade from now to see how I’ve kept up the fight for my ability.


Note: Charcot-Marie-Tooth News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Charcot-Marie-Tooth News or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Charcot-Marie-Tooth.


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