Sunday, November 14, 2010

Alternative Nerd Event-- 2010 MIT Rubik's Cube Tournament

There are lots of games to distract nerds from playing chess. One that interested me starting this summer was the classic puzzle, the Rubik's Cube. It comes in many forms, incuding a monstrous 11x11x11 cube!

My brain hurts just looking at this thing.

But the classic tournament event is known as speedcubing. The goal is simple-- solve the 3x3x3 cube from a random position as quickly as possible. When I saw there was a competition at MIT this weekend, I had to give it a try.

Let me start by comparing the Rubik's Cube event to a chess tournament. There are some key differences. First and foremost is that the Cube events are more introspective than a chess tournament. In a chess tournament, you are playing against other people in a direct competition. In some ways, your performance in chess is dictated not only by the quality of your play but other over the board factors that you do not 100% control. For example, even very poor chessplayers have a somewhat reasonable hope of beating much stronger competition. How many players under 2000 do you know who have scalped strong IMs or GMs after their opponents have blundered or fallen into a bad position? I personally have lost to players rated more than 1000 rating points below me because of errors. When I sit down across from a GM or a player rated 1000, I have in the back of my mind the possibility that I could win or lose if the stars are aligned.

In the Rubik's Cube events, you have ZERO delusions about where you stand, because the event is more like a race. I have many friends who can run marathons, but none of them have any hope of winning. Winning a marathon for most people is not the point-- personal achievement, gaining a personal best, maybe even just finishing the race and earning an official time is the goal. Because the goal is not really to beat the other person, in a race like the Rubik's Cube tournament, the goals are more aimed inward at beating your own goals, setting new best times.

One way a chess tournament and the Cube tournament are similar: they bring together people with a common interest to share in that interest. I learned about new types of puzzles. Some families brought storage tubs filled with Rubik's cubes, pyramids, tetrahedrons, and snakes. It was really a lot of fun.

So, how did I do? My personal best time is around 36 seconds, but I average much closer to 1 minute. My personal goal at this event was therefore to average 1 minute.

Here I am solving my first of five cubes. At 23.34 seconds, I am already off the pace to make the 2nd round.

And here I am after my first official time: 1:36:43. In fact, my cube is off by one row, so I got a 2 second penalty added for a first official time of 1:38:43.
The little boy judge says, "That was good!" I'm laughing because solving the cube in front of a room full of other people put me some 30 seconds off my normal pace! I didn't anticipate that this would matter so much.

On my 3rd try, I did hit sub-one minute (58:42), which gives me a World Ranking of 9072. My average time was a slow 1:19:79, which puts me in 8635th place in the world, and 61st out of 70 in this event! Funny how in chess, my world ranking is much lower than this (by absolute number, not by percentile). How do I compare with the best? This weekend, the USA single 3x3x3 record was set by Rowe Hessler at 6.94 seconds! The World Record is 6.77 seconds:

There is some comfort in knowing that my aged muscle synapses will never let me get even close to threatening the world record. But next time, I am going to average below 1 minute!

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