Joshua Clarington ’15 recently broke the daunting 10-second threshold for the Rubik’s Cube, solving the colorful puzzle in 9.84 seconds. Some regard his accomplishment with awe, but he dismisses their accolades.
“Saying that you ‘could never do that’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy because inevitably you’re not going to try and you’re not going to be able to do it,” Clarington said. “You have to have the right mindset. You will be able to do it; it’s just a matter of time.”
Clarington was first introduced to Rubik’s Cubes in high school. Soon enough, he was hooked. He consulted the internet, applying useful tips found in YouTube tutorials. Then, he broke the 1-minute threshold and fell in love with speed solving.
“The real beauty is the fact that you can pick it up every day and learn something new about it,” Clarington said. “I’m always thinking about what I can do differently. I experiment. Of course, you have instances when you’re frustrated. You want to throw the cube.”
Today, he is the president of the College of William and Mary’s Rubik’s Cube Society. He helped found the group during freshman orientation last year. Clarington also participates in speed solving tournaments around the globe, traveling as far as Berlin to compete against other people.
Inspired by similar functions at MIT and Cal-Tech, Clarington hopes one day his club will sponsor tournaments at the College. Society Secretary Faraz Rahman ’15 explained that mastering speed solving requires intense dedication. Some competitive cube-solvers practice upwards of 100 solves daily. He also notes that cubing culture fosters casual socialization and fun.
“Solving puzzles is a way for me to relax,” Rahman said. “After being stuck in the thought processes of ‘memorize this’ or ‘answer this’ or ‘read this,’ it allows me to slow down and think in a more creative way. Although Rubik’s Cubes are definitely mathematical in nature, the spatial reasoning involved lets me work my mind in way that’s not really challenged in the majority of my coursework.”
Society PR Chair Tim Putnam ’16 was introduced to Rubik’s Cubes when he was 12 years old. He struggled at first; eventually resorting to destroying the cube and piecing it back together solved. He truly solved his first cube at a meeting of the Society, with the assistance of his fellow members.
After practicing for a month, he whittled his solving record of 10 minutes down to around 3 minutes. Putnam notes that it is a far easier skill to master than popular perception indicates.
“Solving a Rubik’s Cube while sitting around looks a lot better than twiddling your thumbs,” Putnam said. “This winter, while on a College trip to Washington D.C., I saw a Rubik’s Cube on a congressman’s desk. I asked if I could play with the cube, and ended up solving it in a couple of minutes. The congressman’s staff was impressed and actually asked if I had a resume available for them. So it’s not just in movies like ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ where puzzle-solving skills come in handy.”
The Rubik’s Cube is just one type of speed-solving puzzle; varieties include the 2×2 cube and the Megaminx. In tournaments, some events require the participants to wear blindfolds. Clarington’s favorite is the classic Rubik’s Cube. He recommends that beginners remember that the cube is a three-dimensional object and solve it layer by layer, rather than one side at a time.
He noted that there are a finite amount of moves to be performed on the cube and that taking breaks should be encouraged, not avoided. Clarington also addressed the stereotype that Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts are all math-loving computer nerds, describing his meeting with Germany’s Cornelius Dieckmann, an internationally ranked solver, at one conference.
“I asked him what he was going to major in,” Clarington said. “I was assuming math or computer science or engineering. Guess what his major was? Music and English. I could not believe it. The stereotype isn’t always true. Cubing is for everyone who’s willing to learn.”
Competitions provide cube solvers with a way to meet other people who share their interest. Clarington has met the best solver in the world for blindfolded 4x4x4 cube. Their backgrounds are diverse. One solver worked for The Economist as a translator.
While the Society prides itself on cultivating a laid-back, collaborative environment, hosting meetings at Jones and allowing all puzzle solvers to progress at their own speed, the competitive side of cubing is a draw for some. Society Vice President Logan Scharen ’15 was introduced to cubing by a dorm mate during his freshman year. It took him some time to master, but he was ultimately attracted to speed solving.
“It’s a competition to me, something to strive for,” Scharen said. “In high school I ran track at a pretty competitive level, eventually running a two-mile in 9:55, but I was unable to pursue running as avidly as I had in high school due to an injury that limited my running ability. I think that cubing took the place of a competitive outlet for me. I get to compete against a clock to further improve on what I have already done.”
Clarington encourages both aficionados and novices to join the Society, whether they are interested in socializing or intense competition. Clarington believes more people would be able to solve Rubik’s Cubes if they simply tried it. He cited his experience teaching the 10-year-old son of a College alumnus how to solve Rubik’s Cubes. The child mastered the skill in only three lessons.
Whether he’s unconsciously cubing while watching a movie or solving before an exam to relieve stress, Clarington enjoys the sense of community provided by the activity.
“The best part is knowing that there are more cubers all over the world,” Clarington said. “It’s kind of an underground culture. When someone comes up and cubes, people just watch. On average, people don’t think they need to learn it. I’d rather have more people get involved. It really is a lifestyle, for some people. It is for me. The most important thing is spreading the culture. It’s part of my identity.”