The twists and turns of Rubik's Cube 'speedcubing' - Los Angeles TimesForget calculus, spelling bees and chess. With the exception of Dungeons & Dragons, no pastime so exemplifies nerdiness as the ability to solve a Rubik's Cube. So it's a bit surprising, even disappointing, to learn that solving the Cube doesn't require the intellect of Albert Einstein or a "Rain Man"-like facility with numbers.
Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times
Yes, says Tyson Mao, the 23-year-old co-founder of the World Cube Assn., "Anyone can solve a Rubik's Cube. I could probably take any random person off the street and in 90 minutes teach them how to do it."
But for the masses, the Rubik's Cube can still seem like an impenetrable puzzle -- a notion that will get thrown for a loop on Saturday when the association hosts its second annual Cubing at the Cube event at the Discovery Science Center. It's an evening of speed solving, where anyone and everyone is encouraged to compete.
Mao once held the record for solving the 3-by-3-by-3 Rubik's Cube while blindfolded. His younger brother Toby, a cello performance major at Northwestern University, once held the world record for a 3-by-3-by-3 single solve (10.48 seconds). But that was two or three years ago. Times have changed. Records have been shattered. Mao's time of 1 minute, 5 seconds, seems positively sluggish compared with Alexander Yu's current record of just over 1 minute.
"These kids have hours and hours to spend practicing. I'm not in school. I just don't have the time anymore," says Mao, who soon will start a new job trading energy futures for a hedge fund in midtown Manhattan. But cubing remains in his blood. "Rubik's Cube has changed my life. Without it, I have no idea where I would be right now."
The Mao brothers were hired to teach Will Smith how to solve the cube for his role in "The Pursuit of Happyness." "They could have just done it with effects," Mao says, "but Will really wanted to learn how to do it. When it looks like he's solving it in the movie, he's actually solving it."
Invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor Erno Rubik, the six-sided, rainbow-colored mechanical puzzle hit the peak of its popularity in the 1980s. The fad waned, but loyalists remained, developing the sport of "speedcubing" on their own or in small groups. In 2004, the Caltech Rubik's Cube Club began hosting competitions, and cubers came out of the woodwork.
Today, the speedcubing community has its rules, its champions and soon, its own documentary. "CubeFreak," which features Mao and other top solvers, will screen at the Newport Beach Film Festival in late April.
Don't think, however, that these gatherings are total nerdfests.
"It's a huge misconception that Rubik's Cube solvers are mathy, geeky, socially inept people who don't date," Mao says.
Sure, Mao has an astrophysics degree from Caltech -- and a three-episode stint on the second season of "Beauty and the Geek" to his credit -- but his talents include juggling, piano and violin, and he's nurturing a nascent interest in wine tasting.
But has he gotten any better at talking to girls? "That," he says with a slight blush, "remains to be seen."
Blogged with the Flock Browser