The Fewest Moves Challenge is an event where you have to find your most efficient solution for a given scramble within one hour. Slowly trying many possibilities and spreading out solutions is hence not a practical approach, especially in an official competition setting. This makes time management an integral part of any FMC attempt.
Since FMC is more about efficiency than speed, there is no fixed method you use. There can be a loose framework of steps, but flexibility is key. So keep in mind that hard splits are almost impossible to pin down, and are dependent on the person’s comfort level, the difficulty of the scramble given, and your solution.
What I have found works best for me is to spend the first 10-15 minutes or so simply blockbuilding. Trying different starts, pairing up random pieces, building squares, anything that seems promising for future continuations. Then, select a few starts that are the most appealing or have the best next moves, and try to get a skeleton. This would take around 15-20 minutes. And then, finish the solution with insertions and whatever else you find to be the most efficient. These splits are not hard and fast of course, this is only my experience. It would depend a lot on what techniques you are the most comfortable with. For example, if you don’t feel confident with insertions, specifically leave more time for that step so you don’t start panicking and completely lose focus
Abhijeet Ghodgaonkar during FMC Event
FMC might be a very flexible event, but it’s also a fairly risky one. You might have a fantastic start that transforms into a difficult and long ending, you might have a hard start that somehow has a very easy ending. It isn’t something you can predict, but it’s something you can prepare for partially by having a backup.
If you find a reasonable and straightforward solution while messing around with the cube, in the beginning, write it down separately. Keep it just in case you aren’t able to find any other better solution in the remaining time. Alternatively, you can use a start to make a quick skeleton that can then be kept aside to use later if you don’t find anything better. The skeleton or solution doesn’t need to be found through deep techniques or efficiency, it just needs to be a reasonable length so it works as a backup. Just in case!
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The Scramble and the Start
While you can get a level of consistency with your FMC solves, it is also an event where each attempt is dependent on the difficulty of the scramble. I find it very useful to write down the scramble and the inverse scramble (and check them) immediately after receiving the FMC paper on a rough sheet. This way, you don’t need to go through reversing the opposite scramble every time you want to check the inverse. Little things like this can make a difference.
There are also times when you won’t be able to find any decent starts. The best option then would be to use one of the bad starts and just continue. Or do something weird: insert a few moves, do a slightly longer solution for joining pairs or blocks etc. and get some semblance of a final solution ready as a backup. Keeping it handy would reduce panic as well since you know you are at least safe from a DNF.
Insertions and rNISS
Blockbuilding time can be extended if there aren’t any good starts. Insertions, however, are very varied. There can be just a 3 corner cycle that can be dealt with easily, or there can be a 5 corner 3 edge cycle that requires more time and attention. Hence, you should plan your splits according to the insertions you get after making your skeleton. Most people solve insertions by labelling the relevant pieces using stickers and going through the solve, searching for an appropriate spot for maximum cancellations. However, there is another method that I think makes insertions easier to visualize and solved in less time.
rNISS (reverse NISS) plays off the concept of the cyclicality of the scramble and solution, as said by the NISS in its name. This method helps to pinpoint the unsolved pieces at a particular location in the skeleton. To do so, you perform the moves after that chosen point, then perform the scramble, and finally, do the moves in the skeleton before and leading up to the chosen point. What you will end up with is a mostly solved cube with only the pieces that need an insertion being unsolved. This makes it so much easier to visualize their positions and orientations compared to sticker labelling. You can even insert some funky, non-traditional moves if you have many unsolved pieces and get a more efficient solution. And if you’re adept at scrambling, this can even be executed as fast as the common method in some cases.
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FMC is an event where time management is key to being consistent. Keeping reasonable backup solutions, keeping your eye on the clock, and not taking too long for starts or skeletons that provide little reward in the end is essential. This only comes with practice of course; over time it will be easier for you to identify and weed out which continuations won’t be worth it for the time spent. When to stop looking is a skill I still struggle with. And remember, always write things down! You might think you’ll remember later, but I’ve lost some great continuations and wasted too much time recalling those moves many times. Hopefully, this blog has given you a general idea of how to use your one hour wisely.
Pranav Prabhu is the current 3x3 Fewest Moves (Single) National record holder from Chennai. He started cubing when he was 14 and has 5 years of cubing experience. Besides cubing, Pranav enjoys reading books, writing, and playing the piano. He has participated in 36 competitions and won 30 podiums including 8 gold medals and 1 National record.