If a person stopped me in the street and asked me “SHOULD I BE COLOUR NEUTRAL OR NOT??”, I’d probably reply “sure, try to be colour neutral”. Today I’m going to try to make a case for why Colour Neutrality/being ‘Colour Neutral’ (we will call it CN throughout the rest of the post from here on out) is probably not required and you can be just as fast, if not faster, solving with just white cross or any other colour you started off with, and because fast is a subjective term, I’ll say sub 10 in 3x3 is a good ‘barrier’ to cross to be considered ‘fast’. Naturally, we are only going to talk about 3x3 here. Just so we are on the same page, Colour Neutrality is the ability to start solves with any colour and be just as fast while not having any ‘primary’ starting colours for your cross/1x2x3 blocks (if you solve with roux, for example)
To give little bit of background, I’m almost sub 7 (I average anywhere around 7-7.5 and sometimes faster/slower) and to date, I haven’t done a single solve in an official competition in which my cross colour wasn’t white, no matter how easy the yellow cross was, simply because I didn’t trust in my ability to recognize f2ls and even LL cases with white on the top. Over the last few years I’ve tried to force myself to be CN, even tried to do sessions where I do just Yellow crosses because that’s the next natural colour to solve crosses because it is the opposite colour and my F2l colours are going to be the same and recognition is far easier. I was always slower by at least 2-3 seconds with yellow on average, even slower when I tried solving the cross on other colours.
So, why did I give up on trying to be colour neutral which was going to help me in the long run? To put it in simple terms, it was just a hassle at that point for me to try and force myself to do something I was clearly not comfortable doing and certainly was not even close to the ballpark of how much I averaged, anytime I tried picking up CN. Colour Neutrality as a concept wasn’t inspiring to me until I saw Feliks Zemdegs being just as comfortable with green or red, as he was with white.
Some cubers followed suit and became CN, for eg. Seung Hyuk Nahm, who wasn’t CN until he was sub 10, took the effort to unlearn his old practices of solving the cube starting with white and did 100 solves starting with each colour everyday (600 solves everyday) until he was eventually comfortable starting his cross with any colour. This is a very special case of someone who has enough time and dedication to do 600 solves every day. Most of us either have just the time, or the dedication, and most of the time, we just want to have fun solving the cube and improving with more solves as opposed to trying to deliberately do something we aren’t comfortable doing.
If you just started cubing, learnt from a youtuber/friend and you were encouraged to solve cross on any colour, probably even forced to look at all the colours and try to pick a colour and start with it, then you’re in luck. That comes to the point, which is, CN as a habit is very hard to cultivate if you have been cubing for many years and if you’re trying to be colour neutral after reaching a certain barrier, say sub 15. At that point, the habit of solving with white is so ingrained into you, it’s going to be very hard to even unlearn that habit, let alone picking up CN. You’re more likely to try to find easier cross solutions for white, even when there is an obvious x-cross case for some other colour (personal experience, including official solves in WCA competitions).
As Feliks mentions in this excellent article about Colour Neutrality, if you’re not CN, you’re familiar with the ‘patterns’ as opposed to ‘colours’, which means if you try to start your solves with colours other than white, you’re going to try to deliberately look for ‘colours’ as opposed to ‘patterns’ which means every single sub-step of your solve is going to be slower no matter which method you use, and will take an excruciatingly long time before you’re equally comfortable starting with any colour.
Sometimes the biggest qualms I have about not being CN is when I see reconstructions of other solves and think to myself, “I would make my life so much easier if only I get this green cross solution, but on white”. But then, I also remember, I am personally far more comfortable looking deeper into the solve with white as opposed to picking an easy cross solution on a different colour and trying to solve f2ls pairs, taking my own sweet time for each pair. That comes to the next point, the best way to improve if you feel like you reached a dead end, is to try to force yourself to look as deep into the solve as possible, as opposed to forcing yourself to be colour neutral, which is definitely a strategy, but lot harder.
If you’re able to plan out your cross during the inspection, force yourself to look for easy f2l pairs/corner/edge. If you’re able to plan the first pair on almost every solve, try to track at least one piece of the second pair. If you’re able to do that, you probably don’t need this article and you don’t have to read further. Being absolutely CN allows you to have more options to pick easier cross solutions, thus making it easier to look deep into solves, but most of us don’t start off being CN, and to pick up CN and also be comfortable enough to look as deep into the solve as possible, is extremely hard.
There is always room for improvement when it comes to F2Ls and you can constantly learn new algorithms, get used to it, learn new algorithms for newer cases, get used to it and continue this cycle, probably learn new alg sets like winter variation to influence the LL using the last f2l pair. There are many strategies outside of CN which will help you reach the sub 10 mark. You can also just do basic f2l algs, probably full OLL and full PLL (both of this is a must learn in my opinion) and still solve the cube under 10 seconds or even quicker if you are just a fast turner and develop your ability to turn the cube quick and develop finger tricks which suit your style of turning. At least that’s what I did personally. I know full PLL, most of the OLLs and I’m comfortable with any f2l case I come across to solve it without thinking about it so I can start looking for the next pair(s).
There are various other ways in which you can improve your solves and be a faster Speedcuber without having to let go of your fundamentals and unlearn many old habits before you start seeing results. A very important point which is not talked enough, is how good cubing hardware has become, especially in 2021. We have cubes and accessories that help us develop any style of turning, and still be forgiving enough to minimize locking up, catches, and maximize smooth turning, no matter the speed. In my opinion, this has played a part in closing the gaps between the fastest speedcubers, for eg. Up until 2015, only Feliks Zemdegs, Lucas Etter, Mats Valk were the absolute big dogs in 3x3, and most of us back then would have probably rooted for either Feliks or Mats in major championships. Now anyone among the top 20, or even top 30 in the world ranking can be a potential world champion, especially after covid, as a lot of people have considerably improved during this time.
So if you’re wondering if you should switch to CN, the answer is, probably not. The most important reason I wrote this article/blog is because sometimes I feel bad not picking up CN from the very beginning and I feel guilty for something I had no control over. I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way too if you’re at least sub 20 and have considered trying to be CN at least once in your life. I am here to tell you that you haven’t missed out on anything simply because youre not CN, and have so many ways of becoming faster, if you’re willing to let go of some of your old habits.
Bad f2l cases, unnecessary cube rotations, last layer algs that don’t fit your turning style, or are just plain inefficient, like the first N perm you learnt, are all things you can unlearn and improve no matter how fast you are. You can be world class without even considering the option of trying to be CN. The longer you’ve not been CN, the harder it is to be CN, and even if you do become CN, sometimes you’re probably going to favour your ‘primary’ starting colour during competitions as you trust your instincts to be better at that colour. If you still consider becoming CN as an option and are willing to go an extra mile or two down the route of being slow for an extremely long period of time, before you see results, go ham!