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How to read notations: the meaning of letters, numbers and apostrophes

To solve a speed cube, it is useful to be able to read algorithms and know certain move sequences by heart. How to turn a cube is depicted in so-called notations. These forms of notation consist of letters, numbers and apostrophes. You’ve probably already seen them in some instructions. But what do these sequences of numbers and letters mean? Don’t worry, it’s not quite as cryptic as it sounds. We will show you how to read these move sequences for your speed cube.
Table of Contents
Please note: We will be describing the official notation of algorithms for cube-shaped rotation puzzles, starting with size 3x3 speed cubes. Notations for Megaminx, Pyraminx and shape mods are not explained here.

The basics

Notations consist of letters, numbers and special characters. Each letter and each number has its own function in the notation:
  • Letters: Letters describe which layer you need to turn.
  • Numbers: Numbers indicate how often you need to perform this turn.
  • Special characters: You either have to turn the cube clockwise or counterclockwise. When you see an apostrophe (') after the letter, it shows you the direction in which you have to turn the speed cube.

These letters represent the cube faces

You will see the following letters again and again when solving 3x3 speed cubes. They represent a cube face:
F
'Front', the side of the cube that is facing you.
B
'Back', the back side of the cube
R
'Right', the right face of the cube
L
'Left', the left face of the cube
U
'Up', the side of the cube facing up
D
'Down', the side of the cube facing down

These letters represent the layers

You can recognize the middle layers by the following letters:

M
E
S

M: 'Middle', is the middle layer between the left and the right layer.
E: 'Equatorial', is the middle layer between the bottom and the top layer.
S: 'Standing Layer', is the layer between the cube side facing you and the back side of the cube.

Notations for 3x3 speed cubes

Letters

For stand-alone letters, you make a quarter turn, i.e. you have to turn the respective side or layer by 90 degrees. This is equivalent to a 'single turn'.
For F, turn the front face of the speed cube by 90°.
F
For B, turn the back face of the speed cube by 90°.
B
For R, turn the right face of the speed cube by 90°.
R
For L, turn the left face of the speed cube by 90°.
L
For U, turn the upper face of the speed cube by 90°.
U
For D, turn the bottom face of the speed cube by 90°.
D

Apostrophe

If there is no apostrophe after the letter, rotate the layer of your 3x3 cube clockwise. For letters with an apostrophe, you have to turn the respective layer counterclockwise by 90°. When you read a sequence out loud, the apostrophe is pronounced as 'prime'.
Tip: If you are new to cubing, we recommend you rotate the speed cube during the solve so that the side you want to turn is facing you. After you completed the move, rotate the cube back to its original position. This way, you can be sure you always turn in the right direction.
For F’, turn the front face of the cube counterclockwise.
F'
For B’, turn the back face of the cube counterclockwise.
B'
For R’, turn the right face of the cube counterclockwise.
R'
For L’, turn the left face of the cube counterclockwise.
L'
For U’, turn the upper face of the cube counterclockwise.
U'
For D’, turn the bottom face of the cube counterclockwise.
D'

Numbers

If there is a number after the letter, it describes the number of single turns. For example: For F2, you rotate the side of the cube that is facing you (front) clockwise by 180 degrees.
For F2, turn the front face of the cube by 180 degrees.
F2
For B2, turn the back face of the cube by 180 degrees.
B2
For R2, turn the right face of the cube by 180 degrees.
R2
For L2, turn the left face of the cube by 180 degrees.
L2
For U2, turn the upper face of the cube by 180 degrees.
U2
For D2, turn the bottom face of the cube by 180 degrees.
D2

Rotating the entire speed cube

For all of these sequences, you always hold the cube with the same side facing you. However, advanced cubers also like to turn the entire cube once in a while. You can identify this step by the letters x, y and z:
For x, turn the entire cube – R-turn
x
For y, turn the entire cube – U-turn
y
For z, turn the entire cube – F-turn
z

X: Rotate the entire cube as if you were making an R-turn.
Y: Rotate the entire cube as if you were making a U-turn.
Z: Rotate the entire cube as if you were making an F-turn.

And that’s all there is to it. As you can see, the sequences are written very intuitively. With this knowledge, you can now already understand notations for the 3x3 speed cube. So go right ahead and try them out.
Take a solved cube and follow this notation: U D' R L' F B' U D'
You should end up with a pattern where the centre piece on each side is a different colour than the rest of the cube face. You can find other cool patterns under speed cube patterns.


Are you struggling to copy the forms of notation based on the pictures? All steps are clearly shown and summarised in the video. Memorise basic notations so you can use them when you are out and about too.


Notations for 4x4 speed cubes and larger

With the Big Cubes, the specification of a single letter does not make it immediately clear which level needs to be rotated. For that reason, there is another number in front of the letter. So 2L, for example, stands for the second layer of the left cube face.

Turning two layers at the same time

When it comes to speedcubing, saving time is everything. So, for speed cubes sizes 4x4 and up, it is particularly useful to turn two layers at the same time.
There are two notations for rotating two layers simultaneously: lower-case letters of the respective cube face or a 'w' (for 'wide move' or 'wide layer move') is tagged on to the upper-case letter. The notation with the appended 'w' is the one officially used during WCA tournaments.
For Fw / f, turn the two front layers.
Fw / f
Turn the two front layers
For Bw / b, turn the two layers in the back.
Bw / b
Turn the two back layers
For Rw / r, turn the two layers on the right.
Rw / r
Turn the two layers on the right
For Lw / l, turn the two layers on the left.
Lw / l
Turn the two layers on the left
For Uw / u, turn the two upper layers.
Uw / u
Turn the two upper layers
For Dw / d, turn the two lower layers.
Dw / d
Turn the two lower layers
If you need to turn more than two layers simultaneously, then that number will be written first. For example, 3Rw calls for a single turn of the three layers on the right side of the cube. 3Rw2, therefore, indicates a turn of 180°.
More examples:
  • Rw represents a clockwise single turn of the two right layers.
  • Lw' represents a counterclockwise 90° degree turn of the two left layers.
  • Uw2 represents a clockwise 180° turn of the two upper layers.


Finger tricks for speed cubing

To save time when attempting a speedcubing solve, you not only need the ability to think ahead but also nimble fingers. With finger tricks, you can save valuable time during a solve since they eliminate the need to reposition the cube and enable you to perform several steps of the sequence at the same time.
Once you have memorized the algorithms, the finger tricks will give you more solving speed. The video explains step-by-step how to execute the finger tricks.