Students square off at competitive Rubik’s cube solving


Izabella Manning

Landon Jones is seen sitting in the school hallway solving a Rubik’s cube, which is how he spends much of his downtime at school.

by Izabella Manning and Nicholas Killaway

“I got a world record, oh my god!”

These were the words of Keaton Ellis at the 2015 River Hill Fall competition. This was the moment in the competition in which he achieved the world record in speed cubing.

So, what is speed cubing?

Speed cubing is the art of solving a Rubik’s cube as fast as possible, and it has become a “mind sport” played around the world.

The first referencces to speed cubing date from 1980, when a mailing list titled “MIT Cube Lovers” was created. People in this group would discuss different techniques on increasing efficiency in Rubik’s cube solving.

Speed cubing has grown into much more since then.

The first official speed cubing record was set by Minh Thai in 1982, with the time of 22.95 seconds. Currently, the world record is held by Yusheng Du with a time of 3.47 seconds, nearly 8 times faster than the initial record.

Prior to Yusheng Du, there were many world record holders. One of these world record holders was Ellis himself with a time of 5.09 seconds. 

“I first learned to cube back in 2009. The main reason I got into it was because I was bored one summer before eighth grade, and I could make a lot of friends in the cubing club that was at my high school,” said Ellis.

In this club, Ellis developed his skills exponentially. He became experienced enough that he decided to enter a competition. 

“My first competition was at my high school, River Hill, on January 21, 2012– that was the original venue. The competition was on a Saturday, and it had snowed 4-5 inches and a layer of ice formed as well, so the school district canceled all events that day … the competition had to be moved last minute to a local community center that was much smaller than the amount of people in the competition. You would go down into a basement to compete and wait in the lobby when you weren’t competing,” said Ellis.

Ellis did not even make it to the second round in his first competition, but this did not stop him. He continued to persevere and work hard at improving his skills.

“One of the nice things about the cubing community is that people don’t particularly care about who wins most of the time. They care about improving their time. Whoever else is solving at the competition doesn’t really matter,” said Ellis.

His continuous effort paid off: a few years later, he got his first win at the 2014 Spring Virginia Open. The year later, Ellis won the 2015 National 3×3 one handed competition. And then came his biggest cubing accomplishment of them all, the 2015 River Hill Fall competition.

Ellis was just a regular competitor at a normal competition. But in the middle of competing, he set the world record for 3×3 with 5.09 seconds. 

“[Winning was] probably the best feeling that I had up until that point … I think the first thing I said was ‘I got a world record, oh my god!’ It felt great. A full culmination of the effort I had put in the past six years. It was an absolute pleasure, and I was on top of the world. I don’t think I’ve ever had another experience like that before when I knew I was undoubtedly the best at what I was doing,” said Ellis.

Funnily enough, his world record was beaten at the same competition by another competitor, Lucas Etter. While he no longer has the record, this does not sadden Ellis. 

“Once you have your own crown and glory moment, eventually other people will get faster, but you always have that kind of thing to hold on to,” said Ellis.

At the time of the interview, Ellis was preparing for the Slow n’ Steady Fall 2022 competition. At the time of publishing the competition concluded with Ellis finishing eighth out of two hundred competitors in the 3×3 competition.

Going into competition, a beginner cuber might be nervous; however, as an experienced cuber, Ellis was prepared.

“I no longer really feel nervous, and I think that simply comes down to the fact I don’t have the same types of ambitions with cubing that I’ve had in the past. I’m very happy maintaining the same sort of speed I’ve had for a while,” said Ellis.

Ellis may be happy with the speed he is at, but there are a few Linganore High School students striving to improve their times and constantly trying to learn.

Two of these Linganore cubers are Landon Jones and Avatar San Juan.

“I saw a lot of people doing it and I picked it up as a hobby,” said Jones. In Jone’s two years of cubing, he has achieved a personal record of 13 seconds.

San Juan on the other hand, had a friend from theater that introduced the hobby to him. They would cube together at school as a way to pass time before class ended. He has achieved a personal record of 12 seconds.

There are many challenges to the hobby of cubing, but Jones and San Juan persist in their endeavors. 

“The hardest part of cubing is getting it down that first time,” San Juan said.

San Juan reported that “people say it’s easy once you get it” but cubing does not come naturally to many. From an outside perspective it is hard to understand the complexity that goes into mastering the puzzle.

Jones had a different answer. “Getting faster and recognizing cases [cube patterns cubers try to memorize visually and learn to solve]; that recognition and realizing what you’re getting is really hard,” Jones said.

Improving speed and memorizing takes commitment and a lot of routine practice. Jones, for example, spends six hours every week with a Rubik’s cube. While it may seem like a lot of dedication, all of this work pays off when he gets to compete and show what he can do. 

“[I’ve been to] three [competitions], and I am going to a fourth at the end of October. It’s pretty nerve racking, but you get used to it after the second or third,” said Jones.

Due to the extreme dedication cubing takes, many student cubers will bring their Rubik’s cubes to school to occasionally practice with them throughout the day.

Special Ed teacher Kat Kenderdine comments on what students cubing in the classroom looks like to her, “I think it’s similarly used as to what the fidgeters used to be a couple years ago.” Kenderdine continues, “I think that it’s about … the puzzle. The mental aspect of trying to see if [the cubers] can complete this puzzle, see how fast [they] can complete this puzzle. I think that’s the drive.”

If anyone is interested in seeing speed cubing in action, there is an upcoming competition on November 19, 2022. This happens to be hosted at the same high school Ellis first gained his passion for cubing, River Hill.

Anyone can spectate, and if someone were interested in competing, they could join the waitlist.

Read more about speedcubing from the World Cube Association.

Filmed by Nick Killway and edited by Izzy Manning. Video of Keaton Ellis solving Rubik's cube filmed by himself