Cubers to descend on Austin

Published 6:52 pm Friday, February 10, 2023

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Since being revealed internationally in 1980, the Rubik’s Cube has been an icon in the toy world for decades.

The 3D puzzles require solvers to group the cube’s colors into one of its many sides. Originally just the one puzzle, it has since exploded into a large variety of different puzzles to tease the minds of those playing them.

And now, some of those minds will be coming to Austin on March 18 for the first-ever SPAMtown Cubing 2023 event, which will be hosted at IJ Holton Intermediate School and consist of 100 “Cubers” solving puzzles in the fastest times possible on puzzles that include 3x3x3, 2x2x2, 5x5x5, megaminx and pyraminx.

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Registration starts at 8 a.m. with competition starting at 9:15 a.m. While the event is currently filled, there is a waiting list option and the event is open to the general public.

The event is organized by the Ekins family and the Midwest Cubing Association (MCA). The Ekins boys — 15-year-old James and seventh-grader Clark — are avid Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts along with family friend Jude Hovland.

It was through their love of the puzzle that the contest came about as well as the larger cubing world.

“As we got to know the community in Minnesota … we got to know the delegates and we were like, ‘hey, why don’t we do one in Austin?’” said Jayne Ekins, James’ and Clark’s mom. “There’s less access in rural spaces than there are in cities and metro areas. The (MCA) has been working with us since August of last year.”

Even though the event took some time to get organized, it took very little time at all for the competitors to flood early registration.

“We were testing whether the demand was strong in our area,” Jayne said. “It filled up quick.”

“Ninety percent in two hours, 10% in the next 24 hours,” Clark added.

While many often struggle with the idea of rearranging the pieces to line up so one color is on one of the many sides of the cube, Cubers put in some truly remarkable times to solve the puzzles.

James himself recently said a personal best, solving a 3x3x3 puzzle in 6.9 seconds. There’s also a complex methodology to solving puzzles including plenty of practice and a certain amount of planning two moves ahead.

“Some stuff you have to follow,” Hovland said. “You have to memorize some algorithms, but once you have that down and practice you’ll be able to solve it.”

All of that will be on display in March, with competitors solving randomly generated scrambles of the puzzle five times, with an average time being devised from those five attempts.

The puzzle itself is scrambled in a separate location and then a runner brings the puzzle over and sets it in front of the competitor. Each competitor gets a timed inspection period. Once the cube is placed down again the timed competition starts.

It becomes tricky when you throw in details such as how lighting can actually affect the cubes. It’s what makes IJ Holton so attractive to hold the competition — good lighting.

“It’s hard to tell colors when moving fast, especially on puzzles with more colors like the 12-sided puzzles where colors are harder to tell apart on the fly,” James said. “There are similar colors like beige and white and the lighting can have an effect on that.”

As excitement grows over the upcoming event, The Ekins are reserving thought on whether or not this could be a regular event, choosing a wait and see stance.

However, with a community like the Cuber community, there is always a chance it returns.

“It’s a community thing,” James aid. “Everyone else is there because they like it, not because they have to. It’s a nice environment.”

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