Today students ages 6 to 13 from all five boroughs competed in the first ever “You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube” tournament in Central Park — the cutest stinkin’ competition this city has seen in a long time. Not only that, it’s high time for a Rubik’s event; this year marks the Hungarian-born puzzle’s 30th birthday.
A 9-year-old competitor, Simkho Shimonov, said he likes the Rubik’s Cube “because it’s like you’re making your fingers exercise.”
In addition to the questionable benefits of exercising your fingers, Megan Swithers, 13, said, “It entertains your mind for a while.” Swithers, who is from Staten Island, surpassed her personal best by 32 seconds today, going from 3:26 to 2:54.
Two divisions of nearly 30 students in all competed: One group used the “You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube” solution guide; the other geniuses solved the puzzle completely by memory. The competition progressed in heats according to age, and all ages took the event very seriously. Most contestants maintained spelling bee-style poker faces, to use an ample mixed metaphor, as they clicked the rows of colored boxes right, left, up, and down.
Jesus Lopez, 13, was so nervous he almost dropped his cube! He earned third place in his heat, but bemoaned his misstep, saying, “I think if I didn’t fumble I would have finished first.” His strategy was to focus on lining up one color so as not to get distracted by the challenge of aligning them all. “It pretty much tests your intelligence,” he said. (When his classmates check out his Rubik’s skills, he tells them, “I’m pretty smart like that!”) Lopez usually completes the Rubik’s Cube twice a day, but today he practiced way more: “My hand really hurts because I’ve been doing it so many times today.”
Amy Pimentel, the winner of the 11-13 heat in the division that did the puzzle without the guide book had the fastest time of the entire day: just under 57 seconds. The superstar 12-year-old from the Bronx said she was not spared by anxiety in her efforts: “When I saw everybody else doing it really fast, I got nervous…my hands were shaking.” Her next goal is reducing her time to 45 seconds.
When the kids weren’t busy competing or playing in the amusement park at Victoria Gardens at Wollman Rink, where the competition took place, they were being chased by swarms of reporters — the Voice (of course), Fox, DNAInfo, NYPost.com, NY1, to name a few. The tent where all the puzzle-solving took place, which was about the size of a two-car garage, held an overwhelming number of cameras, video equipment, and folks wielding notebooks and pencils. Slow news day, guys?
The Department of Parks & Recreation, which hosted the media-stormed event, integrated You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube into its after-school curriculum at the beginning of the school year. You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube representatives trained the instructors of the 32 Parks Department after school programs, and they passed the knowledge on to their students. “I’m so happy that it caught on. I see us doing this every year,” said Cindy Caruso, Citywide Afterschool & Summer Camp Coordinator. “I think the kids learn how to deal with pressure. They gain self-confidence,”she said.
“It truly does boost self-esteem and confidence,” said Holly Riel, Senior Vice President of You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube. “It’s very challenging to solve, but the object is simple to understand.” It teaches students to persevere, to manage frustration, and to follow their instincts, she said. In defense against the square puzzle’s nerdy reputation, she said, “It’s not for nerds; It’s for anybody who’s willing.”
The “You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube Solution Guide,” the how-to brochure used by students to crack the puzzle, also contains fun facts like “More than 300 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold worldwide. If all the cubes were placed on top of each other they would reach the top of Mount Everest, twice!”
Is your mind blown yet?