# Algebra of the 2x2x2 Rubik s Cube

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1 Algebra of the 2x2x2 Rubik s Cube Under the direction of Dr. John S. Caughman William Brad Benjamin. Introduction As children, many of us spent countless hours playing with Rubiks Cube. At the time it seemed like little more than an fascinating puzzle. While taking courses in abstract algebra I, as many others, started thinking of how to organize the puzzle as an algebraic structure, I had little success. The first thing ones might notice is that the group structure is nonabelian. The next thing one might realize is whole group of the cube is very large. You must not only consider the permutations of the pieces, but must account of the orientation of the corners. Contained in the group of the Rubiks cube is a subgroup with two generators. For the miniature (2x2x2) Rubiks cube the two-generator group (generated by rotations of adjacent faces) is of order 29,60 and has some very nice algebraic properties. I will explore Daniel Bump and Daniel Auerbachs paper analyzing the two-generator group of the miniature Rubiks cube. 2. The two-generator group Let G denote the two-generator group of the miniature (2x2x2) Rubiks cube. Let R denote a clockwise rotation of the right face of the cube, and let U denote a clockwise rotation of the top face of the cube. Thus G= R,U. I will sometimes denote R by R and U by U. Let K denote the subgroup of G that only changes only orientation of any of the 6 cubes that generally move. This is to say K fixes the position of the cube pieces of G that are affected by the group. Proposition K is an abelian, normal subgroup of G of order 3 5. Proof. Let g G and k K be arbitrary elements of their respective groups. By definition k only effects the orientations of the cube pieces without permuting them. The element g will scramble the Rubik s cube in some particular way, and it is clear that g will unscramble the cube in the same fashion. Thus the element gkg will, in effect, scramble the Rubik s cube, change the orientation of some of the scrambled pieces while leaving their position fixed, and then unscramble the cube a specific changes in orientation. The net effect of the element gkg is nothing more than changing orientation of specific pieces. Hence gkg K and K is normal in G. Since the elements of K only change orientation of cube pieces, and order of the orientation changes does not depend upon the order they are preformed in, K is clearly abelian. To get a bound on the order of K, it is necessary to observe that for each of the 6 cube pieces that can be permuted, there are 3 possible orientations. This

2 forces the order of K to be 3 5. To get a good representation of the cube we will label each possible twist by different numbers: 0 representing no change of orientation, for a clockwise twist, and 2 for a counterclockwise twist (or two clockwise twists). Help!! Singmaster: Now since the sum of the orientation shifts is 0 for any one change of orientation, it must be 0 for any changes of orientation, i.e. it will be 0 for any orientations of the corner triples. Since the solved cube is a pattern in which the sum of the orientation shifts was 0, any possible pattern must have a 0 sum of shifts. In particular, if we reach a pattern i which each corner is in its correct place, we can readily see the orientation shifts as the amounts the corners are twisted and so the total twist of corners must add to 0. This is always taken modulo 3. Thus the number of corner twists must be 0 modulo 3. This tells us that we have free choice for any 5 of the 6 movable corners. The remaining corner s orientation is determined by the choice of the the previous 5 and the constraint of being 0 modulo 3 tells us that k 3 5. It is left to show k 3 5. The diagram below shows that the operation RUR URU 2 R U 2 K twist the three corners labeled 2, infinity and 0 clockwise by one click. Figure : Orientation changes via RUR URU 2 R U 2 Figure 2: 3 dimensional cube labeling For the following calculations we will use the labeling of the cube as it is seen is figure 2. It follows from the following table and calculations that the operation above, together with its conjugates, generate the group that contains all of the operations that change the orientation of the corners such that the 2

3 total number of twists is 0 modulo 3. M oves K UKU RKU (RU)K(RU) (UR)K(UR) U 3 ku R 2 KR R 3 KR (U 2 R 2 )K(U 2 R 2 ) (R 2 U 2 )K(R 2 U 2 ) (R 2 U)K(R 2 U) (R 3 U R 2 U 2 )K(R 3 U R 2 U 2 ) (R 3 U )K(R 3 U ) (R 3 U R)K(R 3 U R) (U 3 R 2 )K(U 3 R 2 ) (U 3 R 2 U)K(U 3 R 2 U) (RU 3 )K(RU 3 ) (R 2 U 3 )K(R 2 U 3 ) (U 2 R 3 U)K(U 2 R 3 U) (U 2 R 2 U)K(U 2 R 2 U) From the table above it is clear that we can twist any three corners of our choosing 20. I will show that these elements of K are enough to generate any twisting of any corners such that the total number of twists is 0 modulo 3. To do this I will show the element (RU)K(RU), (,,,0,0,0), along with the other elements of K can generate the 6-tuple (0,,2,0,0,0). Together (,,,0,0,0,) and (0,,2,0,0,0,) generate any possible orientation combination of the corners labeled 0, and 2. Without loss of generality this can be done for any three corners, thus the elements of K seen above generate all of K. So K 3 5 and hence K =3 5. ( 0 0 0) + ( 0 0 0) ( ) + ( ) (0 2 ) + (0 0 0 ) ( ) + (0 0 0 ) ( ) Two pieces of the cube are unaffected by any operation in G, thus the operations in G only affect the locations and orientation of 6 pieces. The corners that 3

4 move will be labeled with the elements of the projective line P (F 5 ) (see Figure once i insert it). The quotient G/K acts faithfully as a group of permutations of P (F 5 ) ignoring orientation. Hence the quotient is a subgroup of S 6 where the elements are those of P (F 5 ). One group of permutations of P (F 5 ) is PGL(2,F 5 ) acting on P (F 5 ) by fractional linear transformations. The group GL(2,F 5 ) acts on elements of P (F 5 ) by ( a b ) c d : x ax + b cx + d, x F 5 { }, where if x= then ax+b cx+d = a ax+b c, and if cx + d = 0 then cx+d =. The center Z of GL(2,F 5 ) is all scalar matrices of the identity matrix. The center acts trivially on P (F 5 ), thus the action on the projective line is really an action of GL(2,F 5 )/Z=PGL(2,F 5 ). Proposition G/K=PGL(2,F 5 ). As a permutation group acting on P (F 5 ), we have Proof. I will first show that generators of G/K are contained in PGL(2,F 5 ). The elements R and U generate G and UUUUR=R, thus U and UR generate G. So I will show that U, UR are contained in PGL(2,F 5 ). Using the labeling in Figure 2 and the fractional linear transform described above, the element U corresponds to the cycle (0,,2, ) and the element UR corresponds to the cycle (0,,2,3,4). I will now verify that U and UR have the following fractional transformations: ( ) ( ) 0 0 U = P GL(2, F 2 5 ) 2 Yields the following fractional linear transform x 2x + Thus working congruent modulo F 5, To see that = =, 2 + = 3 = 3 2, = 5 = by definition = 7 2 = 2 = 3, = UR = ( 0 ) P GL(2, F 5 ) 4

5 Yields the following fractional linear transform: x x + Still working congruent modulo F 5 it is easy to see that 0, 2, 2 3, 3 4, 4 5 0, and. Thus G/K PGL(2,F 5 ). It is also easy to verify that these two elements generate PGL(2,F 5 ). still either need subgroup order 8 or some trick to show the two matrices generate PGL. Corollary G/K = 5! and G/K = S 5. Proof. To see that G/K = 5! I will show the size of PGL(2,F 5 ) is 5!. This will first be done by counting GL(2,F 5 ) then finding the size of the qoutient. GL(2,F 5 ) consists of all two by two matrices with nonzero determinant and entries from F 5. M(2,F 5 ) is all matrice with entries in F 5 and has 5 choices for each of the 4 entries, and thus has = 5 4 = 625 elements. I will subtract off the zero determinant cases of M(2,F 5 ) to determine the size of GL(2,F 5 ). Consider the matrix ( ) a b M = c d Thus the determinant of M is a d b c and we are looking for where det(m) 5 0. Case : a 0 ; d 0. Then there are 4 choices for a, 4 choices for d, 4 choices for b, but that will fix c since there are nozerodivisors in a field. Thus this case yields =64 possibilities. Case 2: a 0 ; d=0 ; b=0. There are 4 choices for a, both b and d are fixed as 0 thus there are 5 choices for c. Case 2 yields 4 5=20 possibilities. Case 3: a=0 ; d 0 ; b=0. This case is analogous to case 2 and thus yields 20 possibilities. Case 4: a 0 ; d=0 ; b 0. There are 4 choices for a, choice for d, 4 choice for b and choice for c namely 0. Thus this case yields 4 4 =6 possibilities. Case 5: a=0 ; d 0 ; b 0. This case is analogous to case 4, thus there are 6 possibilities. Case 6: a=d=0. Either b or c must be 0. If b is 0 there are 5 choices for c, and if c is 0 there are 5 choices for b. This double counts when the are both b and c are 0. Hence this case yields ( 5)+( 5 )-=9 possibilities. This covers all 0 determinant cases. Thus there are =45 total cases. This tells us that GL(2,F 5 ) has =480 elements. Since PGL(2,F 5 ) is the quotient GL(2,F 5 )/Z, where Z = { ( 0 0 ) ( 2 0, 0 2 ), ( ) ( 4 0, 0 4 ) } 5

6 has order 4, PGL(2,F 5 ) has order =20=5! To get the isomorphism between PGL(2,F 5 ) and S 5 will be checked by labeling the 5-Sylow subgroups of S 5 in the following way: =< (2345) >= {(2345), (3524), (4253), (5432), ()} 0 =< (2354) >= {2354), (3425), (5243), (4532), ()} =< (2453) >= {(2453), (4325), (5234), (3542), ()} 2 =< (2543) >= {(2543), (5324), (4235), (3452), ()} 3 =< (2534) >= {(2534), (5423), (3245), (4352), ()} 4 =< (2435) >= {(2435), (4523), (3254), (5342), ()} S 5 acts on P (F 5 ) by conjugating its 5-Sylow subgroups, more so by conjugation the group of permutations of the projective line group obtained is in fact PGL(2,F 5 ). To see that the permutation group obtained contains PGL(2,F 5 ) it is sufficient to check for generators of S 5 where conjugation of the 5-Sylow subgroups by the generators induces a linear fractional transformation. Consider conjugation by the cycle (2345): (2345)(2345)(2345) = (2345) : (2345)(2354)(2345) = (5234) : 0 (2345)(2453)(2345) = (4235) : 2 (2345)(2543)(4235) = (2534) : 2 3 (2345)(2534)(2345) = (4523) : 3 4 (2345)(4523)(2345) = (3425) : 4 0 thus conjugation by (2345) correspond to the fractional ( linear ) transformation x x+, which in turn corresponds to the matrix GL(2,F 0 5 ). Now let us se how conjugation by the cycle (45) affects the 5-Sylow subgroups. Since (45) is a transposition (45) =(45), that is it is its own inverse. (45)(2345)(45) = (2354) : 0 (45)(2354)(45) = (2345) : 0 (45)(2453)(45) = (2543) : 2 (45)(2543)(45) = (2453) : 2 (45)(2534)(45) = (2435) : 3 4 (45)(2435)(45) = (2534) : 4 3 6

7 so 0,, 2 and 3 4. x 2 x. This can be seen by: This action has the fractional linear transform =, 2 = 2, =, = 2 3 = 2 2 = 4, = 2 4 = 2 4 = ( ) 0 2 The fractional linear transform x 2 x corresponds to the matrix 0 GL(2,F 5 ). Since S 5 is generated by (2345) and (45) (see lemma below), conjugation by any element of S 5 of the 5-Sylow subgroups labeled a s such is contained in PGL(2,F 5 ). The net effect is a homomorphism S 5 PGL(2,F 5 ). Since the order of S 5 is 5!, the two groups have the same order. This only only nontrivial normal subgroup of S 5 is A 5 and the element (2345) A 5 acts nontrivially, the homomorphism is nontrivial and must be an isomorphism. Lemma The elements (45) and (2345) generate S 5. Proof. I will be preforming various products in < (45), (2345) > to get all the transpositions of S 5. Since every element in S n is a product of transpositions, when we get all transpositions of S 5 from < (45), (2345) > we will have shown that < (45), (2345) >=S 5. Recall :< (2345) >= {(2345), (3524), (4253), (5432), ()} (45)(2345) = (4)(523) = (235), and < (235) >= {(), (235), (3)(25), (532)} (2345)(45) = (423)(5) = (234), and < (234) >= {(), (234), (3)(24), (432)} We have two products of disjoint transpositions (3)(25) and (3)(24) so we can use their product and it s cyclic subgroup to get transpositions. (3)(25)(3)(24) = (25)(24) = (45), and < (245) >= {(), (245), (254)} (245)(45)=(24) and (45)(245)=(25) so we now have three of the ten transpositions needed. Using (3524) from above, (3524)(45)=(42)(53)=(35)(24), and we have (24) thus we have (35)(24)(24)=(35). < (35) >= {(), (5)(3), (3)(5)}. Similarly (45)(3524)=(34)(52)=(34)(25), and we have (25) thus we have (34)(25)(25)=(34). < (34) >= {(), (4)(3), (3)(4)}. So we have (5)(4) and (4)(3) and their product (5)(3)(3)(4)=(5)(4)=(45). < (45) >= 7

8 {(), (45), (54)}. So we have (45)(45)=(4) and (54)(45)=(5). Getting either of these transpositions guarantees us (3) from the product of transpositions above. Thus we have three more transpositions, yielding six of ten. We can use the transpositions (4) and (24) to get (2). Notice (4)(24)=(24)=(42) and < (42) >= {(), (2)(4), (4)(2)}. We have (4), so we have (2)(4)(4)=(2). Now we are up to seven of the ten transpositions. Now I will use (2345) and the transposition (2) to get (35). (2345)(2)=(345) and < (345) >= {(), (345), (4)(35), (543)}. We already have (4) thus we have (4)(4(35)=(35) collecting the eighth transposition. I will use (25) and (35) to get (23). (25)(35)=(325)=(253) and < (253) >= {(), ((23)(25), (25)(23)}. We have (25) so we get (25)(25)(23)=(23), the ninth transposition. To get (34) I will use (35) and (45). (35)(45)=(435)=(354) and < (354) >= {(), (34)(35), (35)(34)}. We have (35) so (35)(35)(34)=(34) and we have the final transposition. Since we have all the transpositions, {(2),(3),(4),(5),(23),(24),(25),(34),(35),(45)}, od S 5 and every element of S 5 can be written a s a product of transpositions, < (45), (2344) >= S 5. Now We will show that G is a semidirect product of K H for a subgroup H. By definition of a semidirect product, we must verify three things. First that H K={e} (where e is the identity of G), second that G=HK and finally that K G, which was already shown. To construct the subgroup H, first suppose the cube is in its solved configuration. Suppose that the front face F is red and the opposite face B is blue. Consider an operation that leaves only red or blue sticker pieces on the faces F and B. Let us say that this element of G is said to solve the cube modulo the identification of F and B colors. Let the H be the set of elements in G that solve the cube modulo the identification of the F and B faces. The binary operation of composing two elements of H is closed because it moves stickers between opposite faces or permutes them on the same face while not caring about the rest of the cube. That is, we can move stickers back and forth, or permute within the face, and we will still have the cube solved modulo the identification. The identity element e, which leaves the cube in the solved configuration, has only red stickers on the F face and blue stickers on the B face, thus e H. For each h H there is a series of moves that will get the cube back to the solved configuration, namely repeating the inverse of the moves you did in their opposite order. This operation is clearly associative because it can be thought of as composition. H is a group and since its moves are contained in G, it is a subgroup of G. Proposition Every element of g/k has a unique representative in H, and so G is the semidirect product K H. Proof. Exactly six cubes move in the two generator group. If the location of the six cubes are known, and the cube is in the solved configuration, then there is only one element of K that will solve the F and B faces modulo the identification of the F and B colors. Since K does not permute the cubes, but 8

9 change their orientation, this element must be the identity element of G. hence H K={e}. What must be shown now is that if a permutation of the six cubes is attainable in G, then this orientation that solves the cube modulo the identification of F and B colors can be achieved in H. Let h = RUR URU R URU 2 R U H h 2 = URU RUR U RUR 2 U R H Figure 3: The image of h in H Figures 3 and 4 show that these are in fact elements of H. It is clear that use figure to show that the elements are solved via the identification. By figure 5 it is clear that h has the same image as U in G/K. By figure 6 h 2 has the same image as R in G/K. Now consider the subgroup H of H generated by h and h 2. Any element of G can be written in the form hk where h H and k K. This is true because up to a twist, the generators of G are contained in H. Due to the stickers that h and h 2 move it is clear that every element of H is generated by h and h 2, hence H =H. Thus HK=G, and we have the desired semidirect product. 9

10 Figure 4: The image of h 2 in H 0

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