February 24, 2020

Eli's First Rubik's Cube Tournament

(I love that Eli chose to wear the squirrel shirt he got for Christmas!)

Eli has something very much in common with me--we both tend to get interested in something and then basically make it our life's calling, and then we lose interest and move on to something else.

I thought that the Rubik's Cube was going to be another of those things with Eli--he'd get super into it, spend all of his money on new cubes, and then quit doing it after a couple of months. However, he's held the interest for a while now, and other than baseball, it's his very favorite activity.

A few months ago, he asked me if he could sign up for a tournament at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I knew absolutely nothing about these tournaments. I said sure, but I really didn't think he'd still be interested by the time it came around. It was only $10 to sign up, though, and they capped it at 150 people; so, I signed him up.

He was looking forward to it for weeks--and yesterday was the big day. The competition actually started Saturday, but he wasn't signed up for any of those events (there are events for all sorts of different cube varieties as well as things like solving it blindfolded or one-handed). Eli signed up for four of Sunday's events: the 3x3x3, 2x2x2, Pyraminx, and Skewb. Jerry and I went with him.

His best times are with the 2x2x2 cube (which is much harder than you would think it is!). He averages about 4 seconds at home, with a personal best of 1.8 seconds.

The first event was for the 3x3x3 cube, which he's good at. Well, *I* consider it good, but "good" is all relative when it comes to cubing. (It's like running; a 10-minute mile might be a personal best for one runner, but another runner might be super disappointed with that if they are used to getting 7-minute miles.)

Eli solves the 3x3x3 (that's the original cube that became uber popular in the 80's) in about 25 seconds. In my eyes, that's "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!"-amazing, but in a competition, it's on the slower side.

Anyway, Eli wasn't expecting to win--he was just going for the experience of it.

I don't know what I expected of the competition, but it was much more relaxed than I imagined. I thought it would be dead silent and all eyes on a group of competitors. It was nothing like that, however!

Jerry went up on the balcony to take a panoramic picture from above:

Here's how the competition works:

There are three groups of tables set up, and each participant has an assigned number to represent the group of tables they'll need to go to for each event (the order is completely random--they just do it to keep everything organized into waves).

When their wave is called, the competitor brings their cube to a table and sets it on a card with their name on it. Then they sit in a little waiting area and wait to be called to a table.

At the table, there are four chairs--two for judges and two for the competitors (so there is one judge for each competitor). There is a timing mat and timer display for each competitor. The competitor sits down at the table next to their judge, and in front of them is their cube, which has been scrambled by a "scrambler" (a person who uses randomized algorithms on a computer in order to scramble the cubes fairly). The cube is covered with a box so that the competitor can't see it yet.

When they are ready, the judge removes the box and the competitor has 15 seconds to inspect the cube and then start solving. (The timing mats have little sensor buttons for your hands--you set the cube on the mat, then place your hands on the buttons. When you're ready to start, you remove your hands, which starts the timer. When you're finished, you set the cube on the mat and then touch the buttons again to stop the timer.) Eli got a mat for Christmas, so he's been using it to practice.

After the solve, the competitor has to sign their slip of paper after the judge writes their time on it. Then their cube is taken away in the little box to have it scrambled again. The competitor is called back to a table, maybe with the same judge or maybe with another) and they repeat the whole thing. They get five attempts for each event.

Out of the five attempts, the best time and the worst time are thrown out. Then, the middle three are averaged together, and that is the number that is used for competition.

Don't worry, I won't recap all 20 of Eli's solves ;)  We got there about 45 minutes before his first event, so he spent the whole time practicing (as were all of the other competitors).

His first event was the 3x3x3. I was super excited and nervous for him. I could see he was nervous, but I don't think he wanted to show it. Everything happened so fast once his name was called. I took a video of each of his solves, so every time I heard his name, I had to rush over to his table before he started.

Here is a video of his first ever solve for competition:

His finish time was good! (Relatively, of course)

It wasn't good enough to make the second round, though. The top 64 competitors move to Round 2; the person in 64th place had an average solve time of 18.62 seconds--so the competition was tough! Eli's average ended up being 25.62, with a best time of 21.62.

The day moved so quickly! After the 3x3x3 was the Pyraminx (shaped like a pyramid). And then we headed outside for lunch. We walked a few blocks to Chipotle (Eli's favorite) for lunch and then went back to the competition.

The Skewb was next, and finally, the 2x2x2 (which Eli was most looking forward to, because his 4-second average at home would certainly get him to the next round in competition). Unfortunately, it didn't go so well. He was most nervous for that event, probably because he was expecting it to be his best. His times were slower than he was used to, and then on his fourth attempt, he got a two-second penalty.

He had the cube solved, but when he dropped it to the mat to finish, the layer turned enough to cause a penalty. I had no idea that the two seconds would end up being such a big deal, but if he hadn't gotten that penalty, he likely would have made it to the second round. He finished in 61st place out of 119, so basically right in the middle.

I was disappointed about the 2x2x2 because I knew he was hoping to do really well and he said he was disappointed. However, he said the day was one of the "funnest days of his life", so he obviously enjoyed the whole experience!

He started looking up other upcoming competitions so he can do another. (Again, it's like running... once you do your first race, you start signing up for all sorts of them.) I told him that, like running, he can just focus on competing with himself and bettering his own times.

I loved getting to spend the day with him, watching him do something he loves to do. And honestly, the competition itself was really interesting! Watching people solve the cubes super fast or one-handed was fun.


  1. What a fun day! He is the cutest kid and damn, those are some skills! I've never been able to solve a cube lol. I always give up! He should be very proud!!

  2. Well, I'm super impressed with Eli!

  3. That's just awesome! Thank you for sharing - I'm always amazed by people who can do a rubiks cube so fast! Great job Eli!

  4. Wow, I didn't know there was such a thing. That's so cool!

  5. My goodness....that seems lightning fast to me! Awesome job Eli!

  6. How did he learn to solve them? I'm guessing online/google? Then does he just practice? Super cool!

  7. Wow, that's just amazing to watch the video. I've NEVER been able to solve the Rubik's cube...so to see him do it in under 25 second....wow!

  8. What a cool thing. I had no idea whatsoever that they have Rubik cubes tournaments!


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