The clatter of 200 Rubik’s Cubes twisting in unison filled the ballroom at the Riviera hotel and casino here on Saturday as Riley Woo, 15, stepped to the stage. He took a few moments to study a jumbled cube, then pulled a blindfold over his eyes and started to twist. After many hurried flicks of the wrist, Riley lifted his blindfold and smiled. He had solved the puzzle, in a total time of just over 2 minutes, 34 seconds; not bad.
“I just memorised each colour, and then based on that, like, you already know how to solve it, based on where each colour is,” Riley said afterward. “Not a lot of math,” Riley agreed. “Just algorithms.” The difference, he said, was between formulas you can memorise and equations you have to figure out.
In the 38 years since the Hungarian architecture professor Erno Rubik invented his cube, it has been regarded as an object of fun, art, mathematics, and frustration. It “sets its own challenge,” Rubik said via email. “Anybody with the basic human senses can instantly ‘get it.”’
The cube’s revival is a many-sided tale involving nostalgia, the Internet and the actor Will Smith. Fifteen years ago, the cube “was in the closeout bin,” said Joe Sequino, a spokesman for cube-makers Winning Moves. Despite selling more than 350 million units in the early 1980s, the cube had long since passed into memory.
But with the advent of Web video, fans got an opportunity to share their solving strategies. Boosted by online resources, the cube proved less daunting for youngsters who made it into a schoolyard fad. In 2006, Hollywood delivered the final pop-culture push: Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happyness solves a Rubik’s Cube in less than two minutes after seeing the toy for the first time.
“That Rubik’s scene was in the trailer, and it blew up from there,” Sequino said in an email.
Sales of the cube, which were negligible in 2000 have risen to 15 million globally since 2008.
At the end of the day, a few records had been set, including by Deven Nadudvari, 16, of California. He solved five different 3-by-3 cubes with one hand in an average 14.86 seconds — a North American record. Asked what about the cube appealed to him, he said, “I just like it.”