David Singmaster

David Breyer Singmaster (1938–2023) was an American mathematics professor at London South Bank University in the United Kingdom. He was most famous for being an early adopter and enthusiastic promoter of the Rubik's Cube. His Notes on Rubik's "Magic Cube" which he began compiling in 1979 provided the first mathematical introduction to the Cube as well as providing one of the first published solutions. The book contains the cube notation which has become standard. He also owned a huge collection of mechanical puzzles, which he stated in 2002 contained "perhaps 3000 puzzles, of which about 400 are Rubik Cubes and variants".
Contents
History
Singmaster's association with Rubik's Cubes dates from August 1978, when he saw a Cube (at that time a rarity) at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Helsinki. Some other mathematicians at the conference, including John Conway and Roger Penrose, already had one. Singmaster acquired a Cube from Hungarian mathematician Tamás Varga, and was able to solve it by early September 1978, taking about two weeks to develop a general solution. He devised his notation for recording moves (now known as the Singmaster notation) in December 1978. In June 1979 he wrote the first (nonHungarian) newspaper article about the Cube in The Observer newspaper. He became one of the most enthusiastic and prolific promoters of Rubik's Cube during the early 1980s, and for two years even ran his own puzzle company, David Singmaster Ltd, which stocked puzzles and books. Throughout this period he shared an office with Morwen Thistlethwaite another prominent Rubik's Cube theorist.
Notes on Rubik's "Magic Cube"
By February 1979 Singmaster had written in manuscript form the first version of his "Notes on the 'Magic Cube'". The booklet contained his mathematical analysis of Rubik's Cube using basic group theory. The first edition became available (by mailorder) in October 1979. The book was subsequently expanded as results of his correspondence with other "cubologists" came in. The 5th edition was published in August 1980 and was retitled as Notes on Rubik's "Magic Cube". Although selfpublished, it was one of the few resources available for cubers until mid1981 when there was an explosion in cubing books. Even then it was still considered by many "THE book" on the Rubik's cube, with "the history, anecdotes, the math theory, and a solution."[1] The book included a variant of the Layer by layer approach for solving the cube based on other Layer by Layer solutions at the time and played a major part in the popularization of the method.[2] In 1981, at the height of the Rubik's Cube craze, the book was formally published by Penguin Books (UK), with a US edition by Enslow Publishers. There were also Dutch and Spanish translations. He estimated that he sold around 50 to 60,000 copies of his book. Much of the mathematical content of the book was later reworked by Alexander H. Frey in collaboration with Singmaster to create their Handbook of Cubik Math published in 1982.
Contents
The first edition (October 1979) contained 10 sections plus an addendum totalling around 30 pages. Section 4 contained the group theory and the reader was advised to "skim through it" on first reading. For those wishing to solve the Cube the most important parts were: section 3 which described the notation; section 6 which described some basic commutators demonstrating how algorithms can be constructed; and section 9 which outlined the Layerbylayer approach and provided some improved processes. Editions two, three and four followed in quick succession (Oct 1979 to Jan 1980) and contained new material in three short addendums as information from his correspondents came in.
The most important update came in August 1980 with the fifth edition. This nearly doubled the size of the book with a lengthy Fifth Addendum. This contained many new anecdotes, processes, and other theoretical results including some details of the Thistlethwaite Algorithm. Important for cubers was a small catalogue of algorithms, many just for the upper layer including 2cycles, 3cycles, flips and twists. There was also a list of pretty patterns (including his "cube in a cube in a cube" pattern which he had discovered himself). For the first time there was a separate stepbystep solution guide in its own section.
Singmaster method
Singmaster had initially solved the Cube using a Corners First method (using basic commutators and conjugates) but by 1979 he had developed a variant of the Layer by layer method. In the first edition of his Notes (October 1979) he provided an outline of the method, together with suggestions for various algorithms. His solution steps are:
 1) Put all bottom edges correctly in place.
 2) Put all bottom corners correctly in place.
 3) Put middle slice edges correctly in place.
 4) Flip top edges so all U faces are up.
 5) Make top orientations correct. [i.e. making a single U move]
 6) Put top edges correctly in place.
 7) Put top corners in their right positions.
 8) Twist top corners into their correct orientations.
For the stepbystep solution from the 5th edition see this David Singmaster's Solution as webified by Jeffrey W Baumann.
Cubic Circular
Singmaster is also famous for his Cubic Circular newsletter published 19815. In total five magazines were published, of which three were double issues. The newsletters, which he considered as further addenda to his Notes, are an unparalleled source of historical information about Rubik's Cube and other twisty puzzles during the 1980s Cube craze.
Publications
Books
 Notes on Rubik's "Magic Cube", David Singmaster. 1981. Penguin Books ISBN 0140061495 / Enslow Publishers ISBN 0894900439
 Handbook of Cubik Math, David Singmaster and Alexander H. Frey. The Lutterworth Press, 1982. ISBN 0718825551
 Rubik's Cubic Compendium, by Ernő Rubik and four others. Edited with an Introduction and Afterword by David Singmaster. Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0198532024
 The Cube: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Bestselling Puzzle, Jerry Slocum, David Singmaster, WeiHwa Huang, Dieter Gebhardt, Geert Hellings, Ernő Rubik. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2009. ISBN 157912805X
Newsletters
 Cubic Circular magazine published 19815 by David Singmaster (available online at Jaap's Puzzle Page)
Articles
 Singmaster, D. "The Hungarian Magic Cube." Mathematical Intelligencer 2:1. (1979) p. 2930
 Singmaster, D. "Sixsided magic." The Observer. (17 June 1979) p. 40.
 Singmaster, D. "The Magic Cube." Games & Puzzles 76. (Spring 1980). p. 46.
 Singmaster, D. "The educational value of the Hungarian Magic Cube. In: Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress on Mathematical Education: Berkeley, California, U.S.A., 1016 August 1980. Published: Boston: Birkhäuser, (c. 1983).
 Singmaster, D. "The incredible cube." Games & Puzzles 81. (Summer 1981) p. 4, 5, 10.
 Singmaster, D. "Cube news again." Mathematical Intelligencer 3:3. (1981) p. 107108.
 Singmaster, D. "Moral and mathematical lessons from a Rubik Cube". New Scientist. (23/30 Dec 1982) p. 786791.
External links
 Wikipedia entry on David Singmaster
 Interview with David Singmaster at Twisty Puzzles. Originally published c. 2002 (archive).
 Video: David Singmaster talks about Rubik's Cubes, Gathering 4 Gardner  Celebration of Mind, 23 March 2014
 Video: Cubic Tales, Erno Rubik, David Singmaster, Jeffrey Varasano, at Gathering 4 Gardner, April 2018