When a CTY classmate challenged Ian Scheffler to solve Rubik's Cube in fewer than 20 seconds, he dismissed the task as impossible. But years later when a writing assignment lead him to the 2012 Rubik's Cube US National Championship—and a reunion with Toby Mao, his erstwhile CTY friend—Scheffler was drawn into the world of competitive Rubik's Cube solving.
According to Google's supercomputers, the maximum number of moves required to solve any of the 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible configurations of Rubik's Cube is 20—otherwise known as God’s Number. "You can spend a lot of time solving the Cube, there’s an elegance to it, like a math proof," explains Scheffler.
Scheffler, a Columbia University graduate and writer living in New York City, set out to solve the puzzle in under 20 seconds, a barrier not unlike the four-minute mile—while documenting his experience in his new book, "Cracking The Cube: Going Slow to Go Fast and Other Unexpected Turns in the World of Competitive Rubik's Cube Solving" (Touchstone, October 2016).
The book also details Scheffler's quest to capture the untold history of the Cube. After two years of trying, he managed to interview Ernő Rubik, its inventor, a reclusive Hungarian who charmingly refers to his creation as, "My cube," and views it almost as his child.
On the playground at CTY Los Angeles, Scheffler "cubed" for fun. "It was something we could all bond over," he says. But now, in competition, there were higher stakes, and he had to overcome obstacles like the stress of solving on stage and injury. After revamping some of what he honed at CTY, he has now solved the puzzle roughly 15,000 times.
Cubing and writing at the same time proved a challenge, Scheffler says. "While writing the book, I knew I couldn't finish until I knew I would succeed. But not getting to under-20 seconds didn't mean I could move the deadline." Luckily for Scheffler, the persistence paid off—he's officially solved the Cube in 16 seconds. - Mandie Boardman