Rubik's Cube group
|Algebraic structure → Group theory
The Rubik’s Cube group is a group (G, •) that corresponds to the set G of all cube moves on the Rubik's Cube mechanical puzzle with the group operation • being the concatenation of cube moves. With the solved position as a starting point, there is a one-to-one correspondence between each of the legal positions of the Rubik's Cube and the elements of G.
A 3×3×3 Rubik's Cube consists of 6 faces, each with 9 colored squares called facets, for a total of 54 facets. A solved cube has all of the facets on each face having the same color.
|turns the front clockwise||turns the front clockwise twice||turns the front counter-clockwise|
|turns the back clockwise||turns the back clockwise twice||turns the back counter-clockwise|
|turns the top clockwise||turns the top clockwise twice||turns the top counter-clockwise|
|turns the bottom clockwise||turns the bottom clockwise twice||turns the bottom counter-clockwise|
|turns the left face clockwise||turns the left face clockwise twice||turns the left face counter-clockwise|
|turns the right face clockwise||turns the right face clockwise twice||turns the right face counter-clockwise|
The empty move is . The concatenation of is the same as , and is the same as .
The following uses the notation described in How to solve the Rubik's Cube. The orientation of the six centre facets is fixed.
We can identify each of the six face rotations as elements in the symmetric group on the set of non-center facets. More concretely, we can label the non-center facets by the numbers 1 through 48, and then identify the six face rotations as elements of the symmetric group S48 according to how each move permutes the various facets. The Rubik's Cube group, G, is then defined to be the subgroup of S48 generated by the 6 face rotations, .
We consider two subgroups of G: First the group of cube orientations, Co, which leaves every block fixed, but can change its orientation. This group is a normal subgroup of G. It can be represented as the normal closure of some moves that flip a few edges or twist a few corners. For example, it is the normal closure of the following two moves:
- (twist two corners)
- (flip two edges).
For the second group we take G permutations, Cp, which can move the blocks around, but leave the orientation fixed. For this subgroup there are more choices, depending on the precise way you fix the orientation. One choice is the following group, given by generators (the last generator is a 3 cycle on the edges):
Since Co is a normal subgroup, the intersection of Co and Cp is the identity, and their product is the whole cube group, it follows that the cube group G is the semi-direct product of these two groups. That is
(For technical reasons, the above analysis is not complete. However, the possible permutations of the cubes, even when ignoring the orientations of the said cubes, is at the same time no bigger than Cp and at least as big as Cp, and this means that the cube group is the semi-direct product given above.)
Next we can take a closer look at these two groups. The structure of Co is
since the group of rotations of each corner (resp. edge) cube is (resp. ), and in each case all but one may be rotated freely, but these rotations determine the orientation of the last one. Noticing that there are 8 corners and 12 edges, and that all the rotation groups are abelian, gives the above structure.
Cube permutations, Cp, is a little more complicated. It has the following two normal subgroups, the group of even permutations on the corners A8 and the group of even permutations on the edges A12. Complementary to these two groups we can take a permutation that swaps two corners and swaps two edges. We obtain that
Putting all the pieces together we get that the cube group is isomorphic to
When the centre facet symmetries are taken into account, the symmetry group is a subgroup of
The symmetry group of the Rubik's Cube obtained by dismembering it and reassembling is slightly larger: namely it is the direct product
The first factor is accounted for solely by rotations of the centre pieces, the second solely by symmetries of the corners, and the third solely by symmetries of the edges. The latter two factors are examples of wreath products.
- Joyner, David (2002). Adventures in group theory: Rubik's Cube, Merlin's machine, and Other Mathematical Toys. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6947-1.
- Davis, Tom (2006). "Group Theory via Rubik’s Cube".
- Rokicki, Tomas et al. "God's Number is 20".
- Singmaster, David (1981). Notes on Rubik's Magic Cube. Penguin Books. ISBN 0907395007.
- Schönert, Martin. "Analyzing Rubik's Cube with GAP".