The Sunday Magazine

Solve a Rubik's Cube in under 5 seconds? These teens say an algorithm is key

They’re known as "speedcubers," young people who can solve the puzzles presented by the colourful cubes in just a few short seconds. Alisa Siegel takes us to a Toronto competition where teens race to solve the puzzle in record time.
They’re known as 'speedcubers'; young people who can solve the puzzles presented by the colourful cubes in just a few short seconds. They compete against each other — and the clock — as they race to solve the puzzle in record time. (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images)

How fast can you solve a Rubik's Cube? Now, do that with one hand or while blindfolded. 

That's the skill level that hundreds of teens at a Rubik's Cube championship in Toronto exhibited as they raced to solve the puzzle in record time.

They're called "speedcubers" and each can align every side of the popular three-dimensional toy in a matter of seconds. Their hands whirl around the mechanical device at speeds faster than the eye can blink. 

Close to 150 people competed in the Return to Toronto contest in February, each aiming to be the fastest to align every side of a Rubik's Cube. (Alisa Siegel/CBC)

About 200 young Rubik's Cube wizards — mainly boys between the ages of 10 and 20 — faced off in February at the Return of Toronto competition. The goal of the contest: to be the first to twist the cube into the winning position, where all like-coloured tiles are on the same face. 

Some upped the difficulty by solving the puzzle with just one hand, others completed it blindfolded or while jumping up and down. 

Thaddeus Krueger specializes in juggling the puzzle.

"I can juggle three Rubik's Cubes and solve all three at the same time," he told documentary-maker Alisa Siegel.

Still, it all comes down to speed. Father Eli Mogil watched a boy solve a 2x2x2 cube in 1.2 seconds. "It was the most incredible thing in the world," he said. "He moved his hands 30 times in 1.2 seconds."

Erno Rubik invented the Rubik's Cube in 1974, but the first toy didn't hit shelves for another four years. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

The mind-twisting puzzle was invented in 1974 by Hungarian architect and sculptor Erno Rubik. His namesake toy hit the market four years later and became one of the most popular in history. 

The puzzle still resonates with young and old 45 years later, with a growing number of people obsessing over what they dub "cubing." More than 350 million cubes have been sold worldwide. 

Toronto's Bill Wang is the Canadian record holder. He solved a 3x3x3 Rubik's Cube in the blazing time of 4.76 seconds — around the same time it takes a Ford Mustang GT350 to accelerate to 60 kilometres an hour.

Susan Krueger, 5, centre, raced for the fastest solve time alongside her grandmother, Anne Bradford, left, and mother, Donna Krueger, right, at Return of Toronto. (Alisa Siegel/CBC)

Speedcubers, however, don't have horsepower to boost their times.

Instead, they say the secret is memorizing an algorithm that provides a roadmap to a set of twists and turns that will quickly unscramble the tiles. 

"The philosophy of Rubik's Cube solving used to be, that people would try to attack it by solving one side at a time. But in reality, it's sort of like building a house, where you have to build the first layer, the second layer and sometimes you have to kind of break the progress that you have to keep moving forward," said Harris Chan.

"And, I think just learning from different people about ways to tackle the same problem. For example, I think it's really an interesting way to approach things."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full documentary.

Written by Amara McLaughlin. Produced by Alisa Siegel. 


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