It’s hip to be square, I mean cubed

Isaac Rubik's cube

A question. What puzzle has 26 moving pieces, six colours and can be solved in under five seconds – although it has been frustrating me for 35 years?

The answer is, of course, Rubik’s cube, the fiendish 3x3x3 puzzle that has been confounding children (and adults) for the best part of four decades.

I was ten years old when Erno Rubik’s ‘toy’ hit the UK and started a craze in schools up and down the country. Pretty much every kid in my class had one, although hardly anyone could solve it by means other than (a) dismantling it and reassembling it or (b) peeling off and reapplying the coloured stickers on each piece. I could do two of the three layers, although the final, most tricky one continues to elude me at the age of 45.

Isaac, however, picked up a Rubik’s cube for the first time a month ago, was given one of his own for Christmas and completed it this week with a little help from the gamers’ font of knowledge, YouTube.

I timed him several times on Saturday, when he solved it regularly in under five minutes and achieved a best time of 3 minutes 22 seconds. By Sunday he had lowered his benchmark time to 2:42.

He’s eight years old.

I hate him.

Okay, I don’t really. I am bursting with pride, just as I was the first time I realised he was better than me at something. Even as a father who is fiercely competitive at any game I play, knowing that one of my children has surpassed me is one of the best feelings in the world. What right-thinking mum or dad wouldn’t want their kids to be better than the sum of their parents?

Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from challenging him to races to complete the first layer. I’m actually a little faster than him to get to this point and, while he needs to work on dealing with setbacks and frustration more gracefully, I’m also pleased to see his disappointment at being beaten and his determination to overtake me.

Fast as he is, he has a little way to go until he can challenge the world record of 4.90 seconds set by 14-year-old Lucas Etter last November.

If you think that was just a lucky one-off, the world record for average time based on a set of five solves is 6.54 seconds. And the world record for a one-handed solve is 6.88 seconds. (Seriously? I can barely hold it one-handed, much less manipulate it.)

Most impressively – or should that be bizarrely? – the world record time for a solution using only one’s feet is 20.57 seconds. Yes, really.

So, in the words of the old Huey Lewis and the News song, it really is hip to be square cubed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a bit more practice in.

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