How 3-D Puzzles Work

3D Puzzle Tips and Tricks

As any experienced puzzler will tell you, there is no quick and easy way to master 3-D puzzles. Like any worthwhile pursuit, it requires lots and lots of practice and experience with a wide variety of puzzles. Puzzles also require a certain kind of intelligence. It's no coincidence that some of the best puzzlers are engineers or computer programmers -- methodical problem-solvers who can think mathematically and sequentially.

That said, many puzzles hinge on a "secret" that, once revealed, makes the riddle a whole lot easier to solve. In 1981, just a year after the Rubik's craze hit the U.S. and England, a 12-year-old British schoolboy named Patrick Bossert circulated a small leaflet called "You Can Do the Cube" that claimed to reveal the secret moves behind solving the wildly popular puzzle [source: Rubik's]. The mini-book, which quickly sold 1.5 million copies, helped create the lingo that Rubik's fans still use today.

Rubik's now has a website called You Can Do the Cube where beginners and frustrated old-timers can learn Bossert's method. Here are the first Rubik's tips and tricks:

  • On a classic 3-by-3 Cube, the six middle pieces don't move. The color of those pieces is therefore the color of that side.
  • To learn the secret algorithms to solving the cube, you must first learn the names and symbols representing each side of the cube
  • The side facing you (no matter the color) is the front (F); the side away from you is the back (B), the topside is up (U), the bottom is down (D), and the right and left side are (R) and (L).
  • A basic turn is a quarter turn of a side in a clockwise direction. So the symbol R means you turn the right side a quarter turn in a clockwise direction. The symbol Ri means right inverse, which is a right side turn in a counterclockwise direction.
  • All cubes can be solved in six stages starting with the completion of a cross on one side. Download the step-by-step instructions from the "You Can Do the Cube" website or watch the videos to learn the algorithms -- sequenced moves like "Fi U Li Ui" -- that can work any piece to its desired place on the cube.

The beauty of many 3-D puzzles is that they come with their own instructions. Those intricate Japanese puzzle boxes are meant to be opened, but only by the owner, who can presumably keep the steps a secret. The same goes for many 3-D puzzles that are really more like wooden models of ships, buildings, or animals. Paul Gallant's 3-D jigsaw puzzles -- sold under the names of Wrebbit and Puzz3D -- don't come with step-by-step directions, but do include detailed diagrams of the finished puzzle from several angles and tips for locating corner pieces and "hidden" pieces whose location isn't clear from the pictures.

For lots more information on puzzles, games and brainteasers, see the links below.

Related Articles


  • Cleverwood. “Kumii Puzzles” (Accessed August 17, 2011)
  • DePalma, Anthony. The New York Times. “New-Fangled Idea for an Old-Fashioned Toy.” December 20, 1998 (Accessed August 16, 2011)
  • PuzzleBoxWorld. “About Japanese Puzzle Boxes and Care of Your Puzzle Box” (Accessed August 17, 2011)
  • Rubik’s. “Cube Facts” (Accessed August 17, 2011)
  • Rubik’s. “The History of Rubik’s” (Accessed August 16, 2011)
  • Slocum, Jerry. The Art of the Puzzle: Astounding and Confounding. “Mechanical Puzzles: Their History and Their Challenge.” Katonah Museum of Art. October 2000 (Accessed August 17, 2011)