Rubik’s Cubes return as a modern phenomenon

The rise of commercially available high-speed internet led to a revolution in online do-it-yourself projects. People quickly learned things from tying a tie to cooking gourmet meals. Of all the various activities, one quickly became a fad and a trend, especially among the younger demographic: the process behind solving a Rubik’s Cube.

Hungarian sculptor and architect Erno Rubik invented in 1974 what he called the “Magic Cube,” a puzzle purely for entertainment purposes. Although several other similar models existed, Rubik’s quickly caught on in both Europe and the United States. Ideal Toys obtained the rights to reproduce his invention in 1980 and within two years sold 100 million copies of the toy.

However, even in the present day the Cube is far from fading away, and is continuing as a hobby and even an intense competitive event. In 2004 speedcubing competitors Ron van Bruchem and Tyson Mao, from the Netherlands and the United States respectively, formed the World Cube Association in order to organize and record competitive speedcubing and solving.

Local Chattahoochee High School senior and speedcubing professional Andrew Kang explains the world of the Rubik’s Cube, describing the recent mainstream interest in the Cube to the requirements and prestige of international notoriety.

Kang is the national champion for the standard Rubik’s Cube event. In the event the competitor receives five tries on a standard 3 x 3 x 3 cube. The middle three times are averaged and that average becomes the person’s score.

Kang competed in the 2007 World Championship in Budapest, Hungary. The Hungarian capital was chosen as an homage to the inventor of the Cube, and because 2007 marked the 25th anniversary of competitive speedcubing. His score was 13.05 seconds, and he set another record by completing one cube in 10.88 seconds. As a result, he is the No. 2 professional standard Rubik’s Cube event competitor in the world.

Kang’s beginning was modest. Having touched a Cube once prior to his sophomore year, Kang had little experience or skill with the Cube.

“Daniel Chung—he goes to Tech—started a club my sophomore year back in 2005. He got me interested by solving it in front of the class during orchestra and I decided to join then,” Kang said.

Chung performed the solution for the Cube in about 70 seconds, impressing Kang. “[I] didn’t know that I would be averaging 12.5 seconds in the future.”

Kang explains that to solve a cube under a minute is beginning level, 30 seconds is intermediate, 15 to 20 seconds is advanced and to average under 13 seconds is professional. Of course, there are a variety of other events, including blindfolded solving, 5 x 5 x 5 cubes, the Professor’s Cube and even by only using one’s feet.

The key to getting better, says Kang, is simply practice with skills in math, the ability to think discretely, building basic algorithms and proficiency in hand-eye coordination. Andrew himself practices about 2 hours a day—half as much as he did a year ago.

Eventually people learned to adopt certain methods to solve the puzzles. The most common is the Fridrich method, as it is both fast and effective, but also the first. To make solving the puzzle fair, the sides are mixed up algorithmically. Even though there are 43 quintillion combinations on the standard Cube, there are strict regulations to the disorientation of the Cube.

Kang also sheds some light as to why the Cube recently became popular.

“This is the first time the cube has made a comeback after it died out a couple years after its release. Anyone can buy a cube for $10 and go on the internet to learn how to solve it. And for those people that are not satisfied with just solving it, there is also a competitive edge that keeps them practicing. That’s what kept me going through 2 years so far,” Kang said.

Kang’s statistics impress anyone. He ranks top 20 in several other events including solving a standard Cube one-handed, and he holds the record for the most Cubes solved in 24 hours—3,500 solutions.

Though these figures seem impossible, especially to anyone who does not know how to solve a Cube, Kang claims that it is easy to learn if taught from someone who really knows.

For example, the previously mentioned Tyson Mao and his younger brother Toby taught Will Smith how to solve the Rubik’s Cube for the film The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith can now solve a Cube in just under a minute.

The best part about cubing for Kang, he says, is “being able to do something well…and being recognized as the second best in the world. That’s kinda fun too.”

To learn more about competitive speedcubing, you can go to www.worldcubeassociation.org, www.rubiks.com and www.speedcubing.com.