5 months ago
Lookahead - Planning future stages of a speedsolve whilst executing moves to solve the pieces of the current stage.
Developing your lookahead ability is one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of speedcubing. In my experience, it is largely something you develop with time and increased familiarity and knowledge of the cube. However, I’ve written a simple framework for the main stages of lookahead progression, and I’ve also added my tips and thoughts for improvement at each stage. Throughout this blog, I mainly refer to lookahead improvement in the context of solving the F2L using the CFOP method. Some of the lookahead tips in here are specific to F2L, whereas some are universal.
Firstly, I’d like to briefly describe what I believe to be the three main levels of lookahead ability. These are certainly not comprehensive, and some people may disagree with them, but I think they can serve as a nice guideline.
The three stages in my framework are “Spotting”, “Tracking”, and “Knowing”. I’m also interested to hear if anyone has better name suggestions, but I think these will do for the moment. Broadly speaking, I think they are equivalent to beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels of lookahead ability. In the following examples, I will describe these three levels in the context of F2L pairing.
Spotting: You see F2L pair #1, and watch the pieces as you solve it into its slot. After doing this, you look around the cube to “spot” F2L pair #2.
Tracking: You see F2L pair #1, and as you solve the pieces into their correct slot, you look for, and then “track” the pieces of F2L pair #2, so that you can then solve them immediately after you have solved F2L pair #1.
Knowing: You see F2L pair #1 and #2. In your mind, you already “know” the moves you will use to solve F2L pair #1, and exactly how they will affect F2L pair #2, so that you can solve pair #2 immediately afterwards.
So to summarise, “Spotting” is a beginner level of lookahead where the solver is only focused on the pieces that they are currently solving. “Tracking” is the intermediate level where the solver is focused on solving the current pieces whilst looking at upcoming pieces. “Knowing” is the level at which the solver can visualise/predict where future unsolved pieces will end up on the cube before performing the moves to solve current pieces.
There are, of course, gradual stages of improvement in between these three main levels of lookahead ability. An example of a level in between “spotting” and “tracking” in the context of F2L pairs would be when a solver is only able to track one F2L piece from pair #2 (an edge or corner) whilst solving F2L pair #1. An example of a level between “tracking” and “knowing” would be when a solver is able to predict the end location of the pieces of F2L pair #2 only once F2L pair #1 has been reduced to a 3 move insertion case. To keep this framework simple, I have focused on what I see as the three main levels.
It’s all well and good to have a nice neat framework for the stages of progression, but that doesn’t tell you much about how to actually progress. Below, I’ve outlined a bunch of tips and thoughts around improving your lookahead at these different levels. Attempting to teach lookahead is particularly difficult, because it’s not just a “method” that you can show someone, and in my opinion, a big part of lookahead improvement comes naturally from lots of solving and practice. Just as a reminder, most of these tips are mainly applicable to the cross and F2L stages of the CFOP method, but can certainly be adapted in some fashion to working on lookahead in different stages/methods/cubes.
Improving from "Spotting" to "Tracking"
By far, the most important thing for progressing from just “spotting” pieces to “tracking” pieces is confidence in your solving techniques and algorithms. Again, it’s easiest for me to talk about this in the context of F2L. When you start out learning F2L, a lot of mental effort and thought goes into solving each F2L pair. However, after a certain period of time and practice, your solutions for each F2L pair will become standardised, so that once you see the F2L edge and corner, you know what moves you will do to solve them before executing any moves at all.
Once you’re at the stage where you can confidently solve individual F2L pairs into their slots without looking at the cube, then you can start to work on your ability to track pieces. The simplest and most fundamental drill to practice this is the following:
Solve your cross
Look for your first F2L pair
Determine the moves you will use to solve that F2L pair into its slot. I would advise against memorising the notation to do this, but rather, just thinking about it in terms of the required fingertricks and hand movements, or like “Pair up the corner and edge by hiding the corner over here, bring the connected pair around to the front, and insert it into the front-right slot”.
Before executing any moves, look for another, different F2L pair.
Execute the solution for your first F2L pair. Whilst executing the solution, focus on looking at (“tracking”) the pieces of the second F2L pair. Follow those two pieces around the cube with your eyes until you have solved the first pair into its slot.
Repeat the same process for the remaining F2L pairs on the cube, starting from step 3. Step 2 is not required for the following pairs, because you have already tracked your next pair in step 5.
In doing this drill (many many times!) you will train yourself to avoid looking at the current pieces being solved, and literally “look ahead” to the following pieces, so that this habit begins to make its way into your timed solves. This drill also reinforces your ability to solve F2L pairs blindfolded.
Before doing this drill, it’s also probably a good idea to just practice solving individual F2L pairs blindfolded. Looking ahead to the next F2L pair isn’t really possible unless you’re very confident in your ability to solve individual F2L pairs. If you’re not at that stage just yet, don’t worry, particularly if you’re new to F2L. After you learn the techniques for solving F2L pairs, it does take a little bit of time to make them subconscious in your solves. Additionally, I also recommend taking a look at the tutorial pdf in the F2L module on the website to help standardise your F2L pair solutions - but only after you learn intuitive F2L.
The drill described above should be practiced in isolation - obviously when you’re doing full timed solves, it’s rather impractical. In your timed practice sessions, your goal should be to try and track pieces, but not to the point where it’s detrimental to your solves. So, if that means you can only track one piece (an edge or corner) of the next pair whilst you’re solving the current F2L pair, then that’s fine, and a great start in your progression towards the “Tracking” stage of lookahead.
A couple of other random thoughts to help out with tracking - it can be helpful to slow down your turning at the end of an F2L pair (say, the last three moves) to allow yourself to look elsewhere without pieces rapidly flying everywhere around the top layer and slots. This should help you eliminate your pauses. RiDo has a paragraph in his blog where he talks about the end of each pair solution being a “braking point” in his cool race car metaphor for F2L. Check it out here. (Start from the “Getting a quick lap time” heading if you don’t want to read the entire thing… but you should also read the entire thing :p)
Maintaining a calm turning style with relatively quiet hands and keeping the cube quite still in the air will also help - it means your eyes and brain won’t have to work as hard as compared to if your cube is shaking and moving all around the space in front of you.
Another common drill is to make use of a metronome for F2L practice. That is, set a metronome at a particular speed, and do one turn of your solve on each beat. An appropriate metronome speed is one which really challenges your lookahead ability, but where you don’t make too many mistakes or miss many beats. The most challenging part about this drill is the transition between cross and the first F2L pair, and the transitions between F2L pairs - you will be forced to lookahead so as to not miss any beats of the metronome.
This last tip is more of a mindset thing, but instead of treating F2L as 4 distinct pairs that you need to solve, it needs to be viewed as a constant flow from the cross to OLL. Very often I see quite ‘choppy’ F2L styles, where the solver turns really quickly to solve a pair, pauses, and then does the same thing 3 more times for their F2L. For advanced cubers, choppy F2Ls often give the slowest results, I’d much prefer to have a smooth, rotationless F2L, with some cancellations between F2L pairs, than a really fast-turning F2L. The old adage of “go slow and look ahead” is the most fundamental way of describing this.
Improving from "Tracking" to "Knowing"
So, once you’re at what I have termed the intermediate stage of lookahead ability, the “tracking stage”, how do you effectively progress to the “knowing” stage, whereby you can predict the future state of certain pieces? I believe this largely comes with time and experience, but here are some of my thoughts and some exercises that may help along the way.
In order to predict what will happen to pieces before you execute an algorithm or even just a few moves, you really need to be able to visualise a cube in your mind. This sort of thing can certainly be trained, but it requires a great deal of familiarity with the cube and the way pieces move around. As an exercise, just take a solved cube and do the moves R U R’. Undo them to solve the cube, and then repeat the R U R’. However, this time, before doing those three moves, close your eyes and visualise what happens to the corner and the edge in the front-right F2L slot. For many of you, this will be quite easy - you’ll be able to imagine the pair coming into the top layer and the pieces ending up in the UFL and UF positions.
That’s a very basic level of “knowing”. You know that these three moves will move the pair from the front-right slot into the top layer. The expert level is being able to correctly predict where the pieces of a disconnected F2L pair will end up after doing more than 7 moves at high speed. That’s a bit more difficult. I can’t speak for other fast solvers on this, but in my solves, I feel like I use a combination of “knowing” and “tracking”. Before I solve an F2L pair, depending on the difficulty of the pair and depending on the location of the corner and edge of the next pair, I’ll have a certain degree of confidence regarding where the pieces of my next pair will end up. Subconsciously, if it’s an easy case to “know” and I’m very confident about my prediction, then I won’t bother too much about “tracking” the pieces, and start to look elsewhere for the pair after that. However, if it’s quite a long solution for the first pair, and it will heavily influence the pieces of the following pair, then it’s quite difficult for me to “know” where the subsequent pair’s pieces will end up, and so I have to focus on actually tracking them during the execution of my first pair.
I should also note that this is all just a description of what I think happens subconsciously in the minds of experienced cubers - by no means do I suggest actually trying to think about this in speedsolves, I’d only suggest doing it as a drill, if anything.
If the first visualisation drill was too easy, it’s time to increase the difficulty. Choose any 7 or 8 move trigger, algorithm, whatever you like, and choose any single corner or edge piece. In this example, I’ll use the F2L pair solution R U’ R’ U R U’ R’. The sorts of questions you should now ask yourself are - where will the UBR corner end up after these moves? Where will the UF edge end up? Spend some time thinking about those moves and trying to work out in your mind where certain pieces will move - don’t worry about figuring out the orientation just yet, just try and follow the permutation (location) of the piece. Don't actually make any physical turns on the cube.
With those seven moves above, the UBR corner moves to the ULB position, and the UF edge moves to the UB position. Because the algorithm is 2 gen, the edge (and all other edges) will remain in the same orientation.
One fantastic drill to practice your ability to visualise pieces moving around is the two look F2L drill. Scramble your cube, solve the cross, and then take as long as you need to plan the first two pairs. Execute the solution for those pairs blindfolded, and then take another look at the cube and do the same thing for the last two pairs. Alternatively, instead of planning out the whole solution for both F2L pairs, you can just memorise the solution for the first one, take a quick glance at another pair, and close your eyes. Execute the solution for the first F2L pair slowly enough to allow yourself to track the pieces of the next pair around the cube. Keep your eyes closed, and solve the second pair into its slot, based on the case you had visualised/predicted on the cube whilst solving the first pair.
Let’s go back to that R U’ R’ U R U’ R’ example. Perhaps it’s the first F2L pair that you’re solving. As is the case with many F2L pair solutions, doing those moves does not affect the pieces in any of the other F2L slots. For example, if you have the back-right edge solved, or the corner piece in the front-left slot, you will only need to try and predict one piece, and you don’t need to worry about the one already in its slot. This is because pieces in other F2L slots aren't affected by the moves R U' R' U R U' R'. Practicing and being able to “know” just one piece is very beneficial in cases like this, and will greatly help your lookahead and reduce pauses.
A common misconception is that lookahead is only really useful in the F2L stage in the CFOP method. It’s very easy to get to the final pair and relax, because all you need to do after solving it is recognise an OLL case. However, one thing that I do, and strongly recommend practicing, is trying to predict the OLL case that you’ll get, whilst doing your last pair. The easy mode of this challenge is to just try and predict the edge orientation. That is, solve the cube and three pairs, look at the cube, and then try and solve your last pair as well as an edge orientation algorithm. The more difficult mode is finishing three pairs and attempting to solve your last pair and OLL in one look.
That’s all from me for now - I hope this framework and the associated tips and thoughts can be useful for you. If you’re at all confused or need a reminder of the stages of lookahead, I recommend going back towards the start of the post and reading over the three examples which come after the introduction.
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