The world of speed cubing — where people solve Rubik’s Cubes really, really fast — was shaken up last year when Lucas Etter, a 15-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky, broke the world record. At a Maryland competition, he twisted the cube into perfect color blocks in 4.9 seconds, before jumping to his feet and getting swarmed with hugs from fellow Cubers (only in a sport like Speed Cubing do opponents high-five your win with true joy in their hearts).
After reigning supreme for a full year, his record on the traditional three-by-three cube was just broken a few weeks ago, with a new benchmark time of 4.74 seconds. But Etter assures us he’ll get it back — gauntlet thrown and received — as he redoubles his resolve to get even faster (clarinet practice be damned). He still holds the title for the fastest two-by-two cube, at 1.51 seconds.
We asked the high-school sophomore about how he got so fast, and if he has some tips the rest of us can use to solve a cube, if not in five seconds, at least in, like, five months.
When was the first time you picked up a Rubik’s Cube? Did you know you had a talent right away?
I was 7. I remember I was able to solve it when I was 8. I’d been working step-by-step, so I never did a full solve, but I cracked each step. It took me four minutes, but it was pretty cool. I knew most people couldn’t solve a cube, but I didn’t think I was too fast, just that it was cool that I could do it at all. Once I got down to ten seconds, I started winning some competitions, and that’s when I knew.
How much do you practice?
On weekends, I practice for several hours because that’s when I have the most time. On weekdays, I still practice close to an hour a day. I used to also do baseball and clarinet, but now this takes up most of my time.
How many cubes do you own?
I have my main speed cubes, the ones I use for each event. You can compete in 2 x 2, 3 x 3, 4 x 4, or even 13 x 13. That one takes every bit of two hours. I struggle with holding it in my hands because it’s so massive that it’s hard to turn. I have a collection of 100 or so cubes. I know people who have close to 300. It’s pretty crazy. Some are interested in speed-cubing; some are collectors. I keep them all solved. It kind of bugs me to leave a cube unsolved.
Even though you’re a pro, do you ever get stuck on one and have to put it aside?
I can solve the cube from any scrambled position, but some solves take a little longer. One might take me around 60 moves, but others can take up to 80, depending on how the scramble is. A slower solve for me would mean maybe 10 seconds.
What are your tips for people who want to get better at cubing, or even solve their first one?
Watch YouTube tutorials. I didn’t get very far on my own, honestly. One misconception is you have to solve the cube side by side, thinking it’s good to get three sides done. But the best method is to go layer by layer, so you solve bottom layer, then the middle, then the top. That’s what I do. You still have to learn some algorithms; they’re online. I really don’t think it’s difficult. I also do tutorials [Lucascube on YouTube], but they’re more for speed cubers who want to get faster.
The key is to practice and just stay motivated. I remember when I was in the process of transitioning to a different speed-cubing method, and my solves were slower than before. That was a bit frustrating, but I kept working at it, and eventually it paid off. It might be strange at first, but if you stay dedicated, you’ll get faster.