Kevin Hays, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis and a Rubik’s Cube champion, will attempt to break a Guinness World Record at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 19, at the annual Thurtene Carnival, the nation’s oldest and largest student-run carnival.
Spectators are invited to cheer as Hays, from the bottom of a see-through dunk tank, will attempt to break the world record for most Rubik’s Cubes solved underwater. He predicts he will solve at least seven standard 3×3 Rubik’s Cubes in one breath. The current record, set in August 2014, is five cubes.
“I’m going to blow it out of the water,” Hays said. “I have no doubt I can do this.”
Hays is confident for two reasons. First, Hays, a member of the Washington University swim team, can hold his breath for a long time — 150 seconds or more. Secondly, Hays is widely considered one of the world’s top two Rubik’s Cube competitors. He holds the current world record for fastest 6×6 solve – 1.40.86 seconds – and is a master at the 5×5 and 7×7 Rubik’s Cube.
Hays made a splash last year when a video of him solving three Rubik’s Cubes in the Washington University swimming pool went viral. For this attempt, Hays will attempt to solve one cube every 15 seconds, a glacial pace compared to his above-water average of 9 seconds.
“But you really want to relax under water,” Hays said. “There’s a little water resistance so it’s better to go slow but be controlled. You don’t want to waste any energy.”
Hays’ performance is just one of the highlights at Thurtene, a campus tradition featuring thrill rides, carnival games, unique foods such as deep-fried ice cream sandwiches, samosas and Mexican churros and “facades,” temporary theaters where fraternity and sorority members stage whimsical musicals.
Organizers expect the event to draw thousands of students and St. Louisans, as well as hundreds of Washington University alumni who will be in town for Reunion Weekend. Founded in 1908, Thurtene Carnival is staged by the Thurtene Junior Honorary.
‘Cubing is cool’
Hays, who is majoring in computer science in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and mathematics in Arts & Sciences, got serious about the Rubik’s Cube as a high school freshman in Renton, Wash. He would practice three hours a night, perfecting speed-cubing techniques and memorizing algorithms.
It didn’t take long for Hays to emerge as the undisputed “big cube” king at national and world championship competitions. At the 2012 U.S. Nationals competition, he won the 4×4, 5×5, 6×6 and 7×7 events. And at the 2013 World Rubik’s Cube Championship, he placed first in the 5×5, 6×6 and 7×7 competitions. Unlike the standard Rubik’s Cube, which has nine squares per side, big cubes are exponentially larger — 294 squares for the 7×7 – and take considerably longer to solve.
Hays says he loves the Rubik’s Cube community for the same reason he joined the swim team – both are nurturing communities that reward individual excellence.
“You’re not dependent on anyone for your success,” Hays said. “Your abilities are very tangible. With cubing and swimming, it’s about your time. You are either better or worse than the next guy.”
But that’s where the similarities end. At meets, the harder you push, the faster you swim. Not so at Rubik’s Cube competitions.
“You want to relax and pretend that you’re just at home doing normal solves,” Hays said. “But it’s hard. My hands start shaking a lot.”
The diet also is different. Hays is all about lean protein and leafy greens during the long swim season. But at Rubik’s Cube competitions, his breakfast of champions is two Sausage, Egg & Cheese McMuffins and two Mountain Dews.
This summer, his sponsor, online store The Cubicle – yes, Rubik’s Cube “celebrities” sign with sponsors – will send him to Hilton Head, S.C., and Sao Paulo, Brazil to compete, respectively, in U.S. National and World Championships.
The summer competitions will be Hays’ swan song; he plans to “retire” from the sport so he can focus on his future as a software developer. The events will offer him a chance to finish his career on top and say goodbye to fans. At a recent competition, Hays signed 100 autographs in one day. He is amused such a “nerdy” pursuit has brought him such popularity.
“It was nerdy when I started, but now it’s like, ‘Kevin is making some money and has all of these viral videos, so cubing is cool,’” Hays said. “I’m still the dork I was in high school. But I’m the dork with world records.”