The soft clicking of plastic pieces sliding past each other echoed throughout the room. As sunlight streamed into Hayward City Hall, competitors practicing on the sidelines moved their fingers so fast they became a blur. Their eyes were fixed on the multi-colored Rubik’s Cubes in their hands.
But Ryan Gjew couldn’t see a thing. He was wearing a cardboard box over his head. As spectators watched, the flashes of orange, green and blue blended together as seconds ticked away on the digital clock in front of him. After three minutes and 45 seconds, he raised the box and smiled sheepishly. Several rows of unmatched colors still remained.
The blindfold competition was just one of the challenges players faced at Rubik’s Rumble 2016, an elite Rubik’s Cube tournament that brought together players from around the world. Over a hundred competitors came to Hayward this Saturday to show their skills and solve the puzzle as quickly as possible
“With the blindfold test, first you memorize it, then you solve it,” explained Gjew, a UC Berkeley engineering student. “What most people do is create images.
He said he imagines that each puzzle piece has a letter on it. He then strings those letters together to create a memory sequence.
This year’s Rubik’s Rumble also featured a one-handed competition as well as an array of individual events based on speed. Of the 123 registered competitors, the youngest player was eight years old. The oldest was over 60. The first place finisher, Ty Marshall, solved the cube at an average speed of 9.57 seconds. The second place competitor, Edward Lin, was just a fraction behind with an average speed of 9.58.
The Rubik’s Cube, most commonly made up of nine colored squares on each side, can be arranged in 43 quintillion — that’s 43,000,000,000,000,000,000 — different configurations. It was invented in 1974 by Hungarian architect Erno Rubik to explain three-dimensional geometry. Originally known as the “magic cube,” it took Rubik a month to solve his own puzzle. By 1982, the first worldwide speed-cubing competition was held in Budapest, Hungary.
“People see the Rubik’s Cube and say, ‘Oh you have to be a genius to solve that,’” said Brandon Harnish, one of the event’s organizers and a competitive cuber. “That’s the biggest misconception I know. What it really involves is being able to follow directions. It just takes a certain level of initiative.”
The event also included educational exhibits for the competitors and their families. In one corner of the rotunda, participants huddled as they assembled cubes in different color patterns before adding them to a large mosaic of dozens of Rubik’s Cubes displayed on the floor. The picture changed constantly as more cubes were added. In one instance, it came out looking like a football.
A few feet away, a LEGO robot whirred with precision as it spun and flipped a cube to solve the puzzle. Upstairs, a 3-D printer spat out multicolored Rubik’s Cube stands that were sold for $1.
The Rubik’s Rumble is a part of the World Cube Association, a worldwide organization that holds these kind of competitions in 79 countries around the world. It is a strictly volunteer organization with no staff or funding.
This year, the event was sponsored by the city of Hayward and Friends of Speed Cubers, a support organization for competitive Rubik’s cube players.
April Chan, who founded the group, said she wanted to get kids interested in subjects like math, science and technology.
“I felt it was really important, given our geographical location,” said Chan, also one of the Rubik’s Rumble organizers. “We’re so close to Silicon Valley. And the people that are competing have skills that naturally fit into that technical world.”
Harnish, who organized the event alongside Chan, said that he believes that the Rubik’s Cube community in the Bay Area is only going to grow as younger players are drawn into the game.
“We want to make the experience so good for these newer competitors that they keep coming back,” he said. “I could see regular, local competitions getting up to the size of 200 by 2020. It’s not just possible, it’s almost inevitable.”