The world of cubing we have today is a large, expanding, and vibrant community present in all corners of the world. There is a central regulatory organisation in the World Cube Association (WCA) and solid infrastructure upon which every official event runs. To explore how the community exists in its current state and its development over time, we should first go back to the beginning: the invention of the Rubik’s Cube.
When and Who Invented Speedcubing?
The first prototype of the Rubik’s Cube was invented in 1974, by a Hungarian professor of architecture named Erno Rubik in Budapest.
Why was Speedcubing Invented?
The invention of the Rubik’s Cube came about by a mixture of ingenuity and total accident, like most great inventions or discoveries. In 1974, while trying to figure out a good task to give his students, he came up with the earliest prototype of what would eventually become the Rubik’s Cube using just rubber bands and wooden blocks to make sure the entire structure would not fall apart.
Only after showing it to his students did he realize the potential of his invention: it was easily manufacturable and could have mass appeal. So, he applied for a patent and with some difficulty, was able to get a plastic manufacturer to produce the first batch of what were then called “Magic Cubes”. By 1980, the model had been improved and was being produced globally by Ideal Toys under the new name of “Rubik's’ Cube”. This took a lot of hassle, since Hungary was cut off globally because of the ongoing Cold War. These hurdles sidestepped, it became an instant success, and the rest was history.
Original Rubik's cube prototype
Erno Rubik had invented the puzzle, but what about its solution? It took the inventor about a month himself to figure out how to bring it back to its 6 face 6 colour original state. After its widespread release, people began developing specific methods to solve the cube: corners first and layer by layer being the most prominent among them. These methods were then published as short books or in magazines, from which others would learn the puzzle’s solution. One such cuber was 16 year old Jessica Fridrich, who would later go on to develop and popularise the most popular 3x3 method today: CFOP (Cross, First 2 Layers, Orientation, Permutation).
1982 World Championship
Given the explosive success and sales of the puzzle, it was inevitable that competitions would pop up as to who could solve it the fastest. On June 5th 1982, the first Rubik’s Cube World Championship was held in Budapest. People were chosen from various national-level competitions and flown it for the first ever major event. Among them were now-famous names such as Jessica Fridrich, Minh Thai, and Lars Petrus, competitors from 19 countries took part in this pioneering event. Unlike today’s competitions where each competitor gets 5 solves and the average of the three in-between solves is taken, back then it was decided upon the best of 3 format. The first place award was a gold-plated Rubik’s Cube! The cubes used were paltry and hard to turn compared to today’s models, but they were functional and for the time, pretty good, according to some of the competitors. However, hardware issues were still present. Sandqivst, who was a cuber from Finland, had his second attempt disqualified because the cube broke twice during the solve. There was a clear winner though. Minh Thai, the US competitor, won the competition with a single time of 22.41 seconds, and was crowned the first Rubik’s Cube World Championship.
Winners of 1982 World Championship
As mentioned before, Jessica Fridrich took part in the 1982 World Championship and placed 10th with a time of 29.11 seconds. Originally from Czechoslovakia, her name is prevalent among the community for being the person to popularise CFOP. She developed the first, basic algorithms for OLL and PLL cases and spread the method of Cross -> F2L -> OLL -> PLL that is now the most commonly used speedsolving structure. She wasn’t the only one, however. Lars Petrus, who also participated in the 1982 competition, invented the Petrus method. Petrus used to be very popular back then along with CFOP, but it slowly lost its relevance as the big three methods: CFOP, ZZ, and Roux took over later. In Petrus, blockbuilding is the central focus. F2L is solved intuitively and freely by joining blocks, then edge orientation is done and the last layer is solved using any LL method. It lost traction once speedcubing became very competitive due to its difficulty of optimization and not having consistently executable finger tricks compared to the other methods.
If you go now to the World Cube Association website and look up past World Championships, you will see something peculiar. The next one after the 1982 competition was held in 2003. That’s more than 20 years of no official championships or competitions! This is because cubing fell back into relative obscurity after the initial buzz in the 1980s. It only reemerged as a serious, regular, and more connected community under a group of enthusiastic cubers in the early 2000s, who would go on to found what is now the World Cube Association. The 1982 competition was actually retroactively added as an official World Championship after the WCA’s creation in 2004. The next blog will discuss these influential events in speedcubing history, with the formation and development of the World Cube Association.
The World Cube Association
The World Cube Association is the global regulatory organization for all official speedcubing competitions and events. It standardizes a set of rules and regulations to be followed that give competitions their legitimacy and keeps a record of all solves and records along with resolving any disputes that arise in these events. The origins of the WCA, however, are probably a lot more humble than you might imagine. What it has grown into over these years is a feat to be astonished at.
The 1982 World Championship won by Minh Thai was the first and only competition in around two decades. Once the Internet came into being, cubers living in different regions could communicate on online forums and discuss what had once been a solitary activity. In 1999, speedcubing.com was founded by Ron van Bruchem and his friend, and a cubing Yahoo group was created by Chris Hardwick, two people who would go on to become integral to the WCA’s early running.
Ron van Bruchem (left) and Dan Gosbee (right)
This renewed interest led to the next World Championship, which was held in 2003 in Toronto under Dan Gosbee, and it was at this event that the idea of the WCA was created. The event was a success and Dan Knights won the competition with an average of 20.00 seconds, but many people were dissatisfied with the lack of proper regulations and haphazard organization of the event.
After the World Championship Ron van Bruchem and Tyson Mao began organizing their own competitions in the Netherlands, Germany, and California. They then decided to create a body that would regulate the structure and create foundations for future events, founding the World Cube Association in 2004. The mission adopted was to have “more competitions in more countries with more people and more fun, under fair conditions.”
World Champion Dan Knights
While it was a small gathering of friends with a mutual goal at first, the group slowly expanded into a proper organization. More local competitions began to be organized and it was decided that a proper World Championship would be conducted every 2 years. The 2005 World Championship was held in the US and won by Jean Pons with an average of 15.10 seconds. More cubers began to join the community once regularity and structure was introduced, and the world of speedcubing expanded.
Now, the WCA is a registered non-profit organization consisting of a central Board overseeing multiple committees. The Disciplinary Committee advises the board and deals with regulation violations, the Communication Team oversees interactions between the WCA and the cubing community and public, the Ethics Committee ensures that the organization follows its Code of Ethics properly, and many more. Each competition requires the presence and supervision of an appointed local delegate, and there are also larger regional delegates responsible for competitions in a group of countries like South Asia.
Events and Changes
The WCA currently offers 17 events, but this list has changed over the years. Rubik’s Magic and Master Magic, for example, used to be events that were later removed. Magic is a mechanical twisty puzzle. Since the fastest solution was repetitive and it did not exactly classify as a “cube-like” event, it was removed in 2012. There have also been notable additions. Skewb was actually an event added much later than the other ones. It was officially introduced into competitions only in 2013. A more recent example of event changes was the removal of 3x3 with feet in 2019. There were many intense discussions both in the WCA and the general community about the event’s status and the conflicted decision to remove its official status and reduce the number of events from 18 to 17 was made.
As the WCA expanded from 2004 to the current time, so did the cubing community. Hardware developed, people got faster, methods became more refined. The growth of the governing body that lent speedcubing some much needed structure and regulation created a foundation for future achievements, which is what the next part will discuss: contemporary speedcubing and its evolution over these years.
Contemporary Speedcubing and its Evolution
Having discussed the origins of cubing, championships, and the WCA, this part will focus on the current state of the cubing community and how it has evolved over the years with various figures and competitions.
Once the World Cube Association created a framework and set of regulations that would legitimize and standardize competitions, they started popping up around the world. In a competition organized in New Zealand, there appeared a standout performer who won the event with a 3x3 average of 13.74 seconds in 2009. He later would go on to smash world records in his long career. I’m sure everyone has heard of Feliks Zemdegs, one of the most well-known cubers in the last two decades.
In his next competition, Melbourne Summer Open 2010, he broke his first world record with an average of 9.21 seconds, the first ever sub-10 3x3 average. He would also go on to be the first person to break both the sub-9 and sub-8 barriers. Besides 3x3, Zemdegs also excelled at events like 4x4, 5x5, 6x6, 7x7, and one handed, in which he also held multiple world records. There was a time in 2011 where he brought down the 3x3 single record multiple times from 7.03 to 5.66. It was a sensation in the community and he made many appearances in general media shows that increased the spread of cubing. The world record before him was a 7.08 second single solve by Erik Akkersdijk.
2013 World Championship
While Feliks remained unbeaten on a different level during those years, he had a friendly rivalry with his fellow competitor, Mats Valk, a Dutch cuber. Mats Valk is most famous for breaking Feliks’ long standing record of 5.66 with a 5.55 second 3x3 solve in 2013. As a result, the 2013 World Championship in Las Vegas was filled with an atmosphere of excited tension from the audience as the last two finalists took their seats to begin their solves: Mats Valk and Feliks Zemdegs. Who would win? The cuber who appeared to break world records at will or the recent and upcoming challenger?
Rubik’s World Championship 2013 winners
The final was a close and tense encounter. Each solve was met with cheers and frantic calculations as to what each competitor needed to win. For Mat’s last solve, he got a 7.76 which would have made the difference between first and second place a hair apart. Unfortunately, the solve was penalized with a +2 because of misalignment, and Feliks won the 2013 World Championship with an average of 8.18 seconds. Like is common in the cubing community, Mats and Feliks remained friends in spite of their cubing rivalry. In fact, Feliks later set the 4.22 3x3 single world record while competing besides Mats Valk. Feliks went on to win the next World Championship in 2015 as well, making him the only speedcuber in history to ever win two 3x3 world titles, that too in subsequence championships.
Expansion and Other Events
But cubing record achievements were not restricted to these few for long. A group of new speedcubers including those like Collin Burns, Lucas Etter, the Weyer brothers, and many more were the up and coming faces. The 3x3 single world record went below the sub-5 barrier with Etter’s 4.90 and a succession of others, though Feliks and Mats remained in the competition. Till date, Feliks Zemdegs is regarded as the greatest speedcuber of all time.
Juan Pablo Huanqui
Of course, 3x3 is not the only event offered by the WCA, and it would be unfair to not talk about at least some of the other events. Kevin Hays was known as the big cube expert by the community, one of the top level cubers who competed in 5x5, 6x6, and 7x7, breaking many records in the process. Juan Pablo Huanqui is the unanimous expert in megaminx, single handedly bringing the world record down to an impossible 27.22 seconds (though as of writing this, he has broken his own record with a 25.24 single). 3BLD has had drastic drops in speed as methods improved. Multiple Blindfolded has reached unbelievable limits with cubers solving close to 50 cubes blindfolded in an hour. Shivam Bansal, for example, solved 48/48 cubes in 59 minutes to break the MBLD world record in 2018. Graham Siggins surpassed that a year later with 59/60 cubes under an hour.
Shivam Bansal solving 3x3 Multi-Blind (MBLD)
The Next Generation
Feliks Zemdegs enjoyed a stretch of close to 8 years almost completely unbeaten, even holding 12 separate world records concurrently at a point. But others rising up to the same level and even overtaking him was inevitable. As the community has grown, so has the number of people competing for top spot. Methods have become more refined, hardware has advanced exponentially, and people can improve much faster. In the last few years, this is exactly what has happened. Max Park is one of the most famous examples.
Max Park initially began his cubing journey when his parents hoped that the uniqueness of a Rubik’s Cube’s design would improve his dexterity and as therapy for his autism diagnosis. He took to speedcubing like a fish to water, and soon was competing at the top level. He smashed previous records of events like 3x3, 4x4, 5x5, 6x6, and 7x7. He won the 2017 World Championship in Paris, set the former 3x3 world record average at 5.32 seconds, and is the only speedcuber besides Feliks Zemdegs to have set records in 5x5 since 2012. His inspiring tale of his cubing journey to improve his social and motor skills has been the focus of certain short films and even a Netflix documentary about him and Feliks Zemdegs’ friendship.
Max Park solving a 3x3 cube
There are still more speedcubers to be talked about. Tymon Kolasinski, a Polish cuber, recently broke the 3x3 world record average with a 5.09 average. Leo Borromeo, a speedcuber from the Philippines, came to public attention with his insane speed at such a young age. With the growing popularity of Roux, pioneers like Kian Mansour and the young Sean Patrick Villanueva, have proven that it is a viable method at the top level, with the latter placing second at the 2019 World Championship in Melbourne. Innovations are occurring at the hardware level, and stores and manufacturers sponsor many cubers with certain outreach. Speedcubing seems to be in good hands and a bright future ahead.
Pranav Prabhu is the current 3x3 Fewest Moves (Single) National record holder from Chennai. He started cubing when he was 14 and has 5 years of cubing experience. Besides cubing, Pranav enjoys reading books, writing, and playing the piano. He has participated in 36 competitions and won 30 podiums including 8 gold medals and 1 National record.