World’s Fastest Cu­ber

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by Dar­ryn King

On a re­cent Sun­day at the Salt Palace Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Salt Lake City, Utah, there was a lot of rig­or­ous twist­ing and twid­dling of click­ety-clack­ing mul­ti­coloured cubes.

The fi­nal­ists of the main event at the 14th US Na­tional Speed­cub­ing Cham­pi­onship were mostly uni­ver­sityaged dudes. One wore in­dus­trial-grade ear­muffs dur­ing solves, an­other earplugs, an­other an In-N-Out Burger pa­per hat.

Fe­liks Zemdegs, a pale 22-year-old from Mel­bourne, took to the stage in shorts. Sud­denly he was un­scram­bling the cube, wrench­ing his head back as if to give the mad flurry of his fin­gers more room. In roughly the time it will take you to read this sen­tence, there was a solved cube on the mat in front of him.

In the very spe­cific sense of per­fectly align­ing the 54 coloured tiles of a Ru­bik’s cube, Zemdegs is the fastest man in the world. He has been called the Usain Bolt of the puz­zle, though the com­bi­na­tion of iron dis­ci­pline and daz­zling men­tal and phys­i­cal agility might in­stead make one think of a con­cert pi­anist or vir­tu­oso vi­o­lin­ist. Ac­cord­ing to Zemdegs, the sub­con­scious “flow” state is sim­i­lar, too. “You don’t re­ally think,” he tells me. “You just do it.”

For the best part of a decade, Zemdegs has been smash­ing world records, pri­mar­ily his own. In May, in Mel­bourne, he set a new world record for the speed­i­est solve ever, at 4.22 sec­onds. (It was early in the day; his hands weren’t even warmed up yet.) At home, he has clocked him­self at around 3.5 sec­onds. He also holds the world record for solv­ing the puz­zle us­ing one hand: 6.88 sec­onds.

In the in­ter­na­tional speed­cub­ing com­mu­nity (again, mostly young, mostly guys), Zemdegs is a rock star, reg­u­larly ac­costed to pose for self­ies with fans and sign their cubes.

“Fe­liks is as­tound­ing,” co­me­dian Lawrence Le­ung, an­other pas­sion­ate cu­ber from Mel­bourne, told me. “You can see from com­pe­ti­tion videos that he is a cool cu­cum­ber, a ninja. In most elite sports, many train for decades to fi­nally achieve great­ness in their field. How­ever, in the arena of speed­cub­ing a teenager like Fe­liks can be­come the world cham­pion. What does that feel like – to be so young, know­ing you are the best in the planet at some­thing? It bog­gles my mind.” (Le­ung, for his part, has jumped out of an aero­plane and solved a cube dur­ing freefall. “Fe­liks is so fast, he would have solved the cube be­fore they opened the aero­plane door.”)

In April 2008, when he was 12, Zemdegs came across a YouTube video called “How To Solve a Ru­bik’s Cube”. (It had been cre­ated by a Ne­braskan teenager in his bed­room.) A quiet, math­e­mat­i­cally minded kid, Zemdegs was in­trigued to learn that there was a method and logic to tack­ling the in­ter­lock­ing cubelets and their 43 quin­til­lion pos­si­ble con­fig­u­ra­tions. (Well, 43,252,003,274,489,856,000.)

That af­ter­noon, he strolled the 10 min­utes to the lo­cal Mind Games store, picked up a Ru­bik’s cube for around $15, and re­turned home to fol­low along with the tu­to­rial.

In about an hour’s time, he was done. He scram­bled the thing and started again.

Zemdegs in­sists that, with pa­tience, any­one can con­quer the cube. Ed­ward Snow­den, NFL quar­ter­back Ryan Fitz­patrick and Justin Bieber might at­test to that. (Daily Mail head­line, July: “Justin Bieber plays with Ru­bik’s Cube as Hai­ley Bald­win flaunts taut torso”.)

But few are struck, as Zemdegs was, with the de­ter­mi­na­tion to get faster and faster. His ini­tial prac­tice ses­sions – be­fore school, dur­ing class, while watch­ing TV, at

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