4:27am

Sun January 8, 2012
Around the Nation

Familiar Rubik's Cube Challenge Gets A New Edge

Originally published on Sun January 8, 2012 8:16 am

When Lucas Etter's grandparents bought him a Rubik's Cube while he was visiting their retirement home, it was mainly to pass the time. Fast-forward two years, and that pastime is now an obsession.

Many are still playing with a toy that's been around for more than 30 years: the Rubik's Cube. The puzzle that challenges players to align a single color on each side first went on the market in 1980. Now a new generation of players is pushing the limits of the Rubik's Cube using modern technology.

Lucas, 10, is a "speedcuber." He uses memorized sequences or algorithms to solve the 3-D puzzle in a matter of seconds. Shortly after getting his first cube, Lucas turned to Internet videos to find the best method.

"YouTube has a lot of random stuff, but it does have good stuff too," he says.

Lucas is getting pretty fast. At a competition in November, he reached a new personal best for solving the cube: 12 seconds.

"I want to get the world record," he says.

The current record holder is teenage Australian Feliks Zemdegs. At last year's Melbourne Winter Open, Zemdegs solved the cube in just 5.66 seconds. Video of his triumph was posted to YouTube.

"I look at these kids and it's quite incredible what they do," says Tyson Mao, co-founder of the World Cube Association.

The group organizes speedcubing competitions. Mao believes anyone, regardless of age or intelligence, can learn how to solve the cube. Plus, with the growth of competitions and Web videos, the Rubik's Cube is still a cool, inexpensive toy to play with.

"I think YouTube is probably one of the biggest pieces in terms of the spread of the Rubik's Cube. It's really allowed the globalization of the Rubik's Cube, and it's really made it accessible to everyone," he says.

The resurgence of cubing has led to the development of an educational program for teachers and even knock-off cubes from China that can be manipulated faster in competition than the original Rubik's Cube.

Lucas is pushing himself to get as fast as he can, practicing two hours a day. He's also using another piece of technology to shave seconds off his time: an app on his iPod that generates scrambles for his Cube.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This past holiday season, millions of people bought video games, iPads and other high-tech gadgets. But many are still playing with a toy that's been around for more than 30 years: The Rubik's Cube. The puzzle that challenges players to align a single color on each side, first went on the market in 1980.

As Brenna Angel of member station WUKY reports, a new generation of players is pushing the limits of the Rubik's Cube using modern technology.

BRENNA ANGEL, BYLINE: When Lucas Etter's grandparents bought him a Rubik's Cube while he was visiting their retirement home, it was mainly to pass the time. The puzzle can take a long time to figure out. Fast forward two years, and that past time is now an obsession.

LUCAN ETTER: This is my one-handed Cube. This is the 2x2 Cube.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CLACKING OF A RUBIK'S CUBE)

ANGEL: Ten-year-old Lucas is a speed Cuber. He uses memorized sequences or algorithms to solve the 3D puzzle in a matter of seconds. Shortly after getting his first Cube, Lucas turned to Internet videos like this one to find the best method.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO TUTORIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: To begin with step one, first find the yellow center on the Rubik's Cube. What you want to try to do is you want to...

ETTER: YouTube has a lot of random stuff but it does have good stuff too.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CLACKING OF A RUBIK'S CUBE)

ANGEL: Lucas is getting pretty fast. At a competition in November, he reached a new personal best for solving the Cube: 12 seconds.

ETTER: I want to get the world record.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANGEL: So do you know who holds the world record?

ETTER: Yes, it's a teenager in Australia named Feliks Zemdegs.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ANGEL: At last year's Melbourne Winter Open, Feliks Zemdegs solved the Cube in just 5.66 seconds. Video of his triumph was posted to YouTube.

TYSON MAO: I looked at these kids and it's quite incredible what they do.

ANGEL: That's Tyson Mao, co-founder of the World Cube Association, which organizes speed cubing competitions. Mao believes anyone, regardless of age or intelligence, can learn how to solve the Cube. And with the growth of competitions and Web videos, the Rubik's Cube is still a cool, inexpensive toy to play with.

MAO: I think YouTube is probably one of the biggest pieces in terms of the spread of the Rubik's Cube. It's really allowed the globalization of the Rubik's Cube and it's really made it accessible to everyone.

ANGEL: The resurgence of Cubing has led to the development of an educational program for teachers and knock-offs from China that actually move faster in competition than the original Rubik's Cube.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CLACKING OF A RUBIK'S CUBE)

ANGEL: Lucas is pushing himself to get as fast as he can, practicing two hours a day. And he's using another piece of technology to shave seconds off his time: an app on his iPod that generates scrambles for his Cube.

For NPR News, I'm Brenna Angel in Lexington, Kentucky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.