How fast can you solve a Rubik's Cube?
If you think you're a top speed-cuber, test your skill at one of these international competitions.
In the twisting, turning, multi-colored world of the Rubik’s Cube – and, yes, there’s a whole Cube world out there – you’re either hands-on or hands-off. You’re either a doer or a watcher. You’re either a solver … or not.
Everybody knows the Rubik’s Cube. More than 350 million of them have been sold, according to the official Web site, since a Hungarian architecture professor, Erno Rubik, first showed his invention to his students in 1974. Back in the late 1970s, and certainly through the 1980s as it exploded in popularity, the Rubik’s Cube became a pop culture icon, a kind of Warhol-inspired mind-bending, patience-testing meld of artistic simplicity and mathematical complexity.
The Cube has not gone anywhere in the three decades since its heyday. Instead, through the years, it's picked up an entirely new bunch of devotees: speed-cubers.
These players aren’t just solvers. They’re solvers with a competitive burn.
Hundreds of competitors from 41 countries gathered in São Paulo, Brazil, in mid-July for the 2015 Rubik’s Cube World Championship. The Worlds, held every two years, are the culmination of hundreds of events held annually. Just this summer, since the Worlds in São Paulo, more than 100 events have been sanctioned by the World Cube Association.
National titles have been on the line, too. This summer there was a tournament in Israel, as well as Greece, Hungary and Japan. Many more events are scheduled for this month.
"It's like the Mona Lisa smile," Rubik said at an event in Israel last year. "It's both complex and very simple at the same time."
The competitions themselves have come a long way. In the inaugural one in Budapest in 1982, winner Minh Thai of the U.S. twisted and turned his way to a win on a 3x3 Rubik’s Cube in 22.95 seconds.
To compare: In April, Collin Burns, a 15-year-old from Doylestown, Pa., set the world record at an officially sanctioned event in his high school cafeteria. He did a 3x3 in 5.253 seconds.
“You just need to get lucky,” Burns told Vox. “Or at least that’s part of it.”
Burns set the record in the single-solve Rubik’s Cube, just one of several events in a competition. There’s also the Rubik’s Cube average. In that, a competitor is timed on five solves, the highest and lowest times are thrown out and the average is scored. That world record is held by Feliks Zemdegs of Australia. His record, set at a 2013 competition in Melbourne, is 6.54 seconds.
Some events are done blindfolded, some one-handed, and others are scored on fewest moves. Poland’s Jakub Kipa solved a Rubik’s Cube earlier this year in 20.57 seconds – setting a world record for a solve done with the feet.
Solving a Rubik’s Cube has become easier over the years – for those with the patience – if only because there are literally hundreds of tips and videos online. A Czech professor in New York, Jessica Fridrich, has a method named after her (the Fridrich Method), considered one of the most popular ways to solve the puzzle.
Now there are Rubik’s Cubes designed specifically for speed, too. They can be adjusted for tension and oiled up with a special lubricant.
“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you,” Rubik once said. “If you are determined, you will solve them. ”
Perhaps. But with the Rubik’s Cube and its 43 quintillion possible twists and turns, it’s still going to take some hands-on work to get it done.
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