Washington University in St. Louis incoming sophomore Kevin Hays busted his own Rubik’s Cube world record Aug. 3 at the Vancouver Open in Surrey, British Columbia.
Hays solved the “6×6” Rubik’s Cube in 1 minute, 40 seconds — 9 seconds faster than his previous record. The 6×6 cube has 36 squares per side; that’s a total of 216 squares Hays twisted and turned into perfect alignment. Most of us grew up trying (and failing) to solve the standard 3×3 cube, which has nine squares per side.
Recognized as one of the globe’s best solvers, Hays said he has memorized some 80 algorithms to master the 6×6 cube. He started playing as a high school freshman and, at one point, trained three hours a day. These days, he only practices before big competitions.
“It’s not as much math as you might think,” Hays said. “It’s more pattern recognition and muscle memory execution. You need the kind of mind that can see something and then immediately associate it with what you have to do.”
Hays said he never expected to break the world record.
“In competition, I’m pretty nervous,” Hays said. “To get 1:40 was nuts. It will be a long time before I get a time that good again.”
Hays came close to breaking the world record two years ago, but then the cube literally fell apart in his hands.
Hays also won first place in the 5×5, 6×6 and 7×7 events at the World Rubik’s Cube Championship 2013, which took place in July in Las Vegas.
Hays, 19, of Renton, Wash., is studying math, in Arts & Sciences, and computer science.
And he’s not the only Rubik’s Cube master on campus. As a teenager, Provost Holden Thorp, PhD, competed against fellow champions on the television show That’s Incredible. He won the first round, solving the standard 3×3 cube in 48 seconds. Impressive … for the 1980s. Today, the best competitors can solve the cube in less than 10 seconds.
“What Kevin has done is an extraordinary challenge,” Thorp said. “To be able to solve it at all is a herculean effort, and to do be able to do it in 1:40 is almost otherworldly.”
Thorp himself still plays the Rubik’s Cube.
“I haven’t had a chance to unpack mine yet, but I usually keep one in my office,” Thorp said. “If you just need to clear the decks in your brain, spending two minutes putting the cube together is a great way to go to a place where you’re not thinking about anything else but that.”
So would Thorp accept a Rubik’s Cube throwdown against Hays?
“So long as he does the 6×6 and I still get to do the 3×3,” Thorp said.