The Rubik’s Cube — the puzzle that 99% of people abandoned after a few minutes of frustration when it was first released in the 1980s — has undergone a revival amongst younger generations thanks to the internet. Today, it’s easy to learn how to solve the cube through video tutorials on YouTube, which, along with online forums, has facilitated the emergence of a community of Rubik’s Cube solving enthusiasts: speedcubers (or simply, cubers), who learn advanced solving methods, buy specially designed speedcubes from underground Chinese suppliers, and adjust the tensions and lubrication of their cubes to match their turning styles.
As much of the discussion amongst cubers is online, it’s at World Cube Association (WCA) competitions that the real action happens. The WCA is the official body that oversees, governs, and organises speedcubing competitions all around the world. As stated on its website, it strives to
“have more competitions in more countries with more people and more fun, under fair and equal conditions.”
The last part of that statement about “fair and equal conditions” means that official records can be set only in competition. The WCA hosts hundreds every year, but new Rubik’s Cube world records are rare — in the past they have held for over two years. The graph below maps the progression of WCA world records over the past decade:
This is why last Saturday caused so much commotion. Before the weekend, the world record stood at 5.25 seconds, set by Collin Burns. At a competition in Clarksville, Maryland, on November 21, 2015, Keaton Ellis stopped the timer at 5.09 seconds.
But on the same day, at the same competition, 14-year old Lucas Etter did this:
This freakish occurrence of two world records in a single competition prompted former world record holder and long-time champion Feliks Zemdegs of Australia to call last Saturday “the craziest ever day in cubing history.” As extraordinary as that is, November 21 will probably be remembered in the cubing world for other reasons. Lucas Etter is the first person to break the sub-5 second barrier in competition — a milestone that has taken humankind 35 years to reach. Even to the average cuber like myself, 4.90 seconds is mind-bogglingly fast. But whether you consider yourself a Rubik’s Cube enthusiast or not, Lucas’s record marks the beginning of a new chapter for speedcubing, and the unceasing efforts of cubers around the globe to push the boundaries of competitive Rubik’s Cube solving.