Students solve Rubik’s riddle at light speed

Buy Photo Tali Greener/Special to The Day Members of the Clark Lane Middle School Rubik's Cube Team, from right, Josh Martin, 11, Jason Kenniston, 11, Lucas Brennan-Almaraz, 11, and Christian Aledia, 12, (obscured), get pointers on solving the Rubik's Cube from teammate Thomas Pitasi, 11, left, before competing in the 3rd Annual New England Rubik's Cube Championship at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford. For a video, go to www.theday.com.

Waterford - If you're reading this, and all of a sudden it's yesterday, blame the students who competed in the New England regional "You CAN Do the Rubik's Cube" tournament held Saturday morning at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford.

Indeed, the participants - who ranged from seventh to ninth grade - are so brutally quick at solving the three-dimensional puzzle that, if they go much faster, time will reverse.

For those living in another solar system, the six facing sides of a Rubik's Cube each has nine squares - and each square is one of six solid colors. From a random and color-mixed start, and through the use of an internal spin mechanism, all the squares can be manipulated individually. The player must twist them so the nine squares on each side displays the same color. In competition, the idea is to do so faster than anyone else.

In addition to Clark Lane, participating teams also included Freetown-Lakeville Middle School in Lakeville, Mass., and Concord Middle School of Concord, Mass.

Held inside the Clark auditorium, with a generous supply of family members and fans from all three schools, the energy of the tournament was reminiscent of any scholastic athletic competition.

A morning scent of donuts and coffee from the concession area added to the charm and provided parents with energy as, prior to the start of the action, team members huddled with one another and listened to coaches for final bits of strategy.

Throughout the morning, almost every participant held a Rubik's cube in the connective fashion basketball players dribble around during a pregame shootaround - and the nonchalant ease and grace with which the cubes spun in the contestants' hands summoned the blurred wings of bees around a vernal blossom.

The tournament was broken into two sections. First, individual time trials were held, then the team competition followed.

Drew Sullivan, an eighth -grader at Freetown Lakeville., won the individual competition with a time of 34 seconds, and Freetown-Lakeville won the team event. Their eight members solved 25 Rubik's cubes in a time of 3:53.50.

That's, uh, minutes, by the way. Not hours.

Clark Lane finished second in the three-team field with a time of 5:19.18. Concord's time was a quite respectable 6:30.31.

Freetown-Lakeville is acknowledged in New England to be something of a powerhouse. Christian Aledia, a Clark Lane team member who posted his squad's second-fastest individual time, said he showed up early just to watch them warm up.

"They are a little intimidating, but I was mostly happy to try to see how they do it. They're amazing and were really cool people," he said.

When Sullivan was asked if Freetown-Lakeville might be thought of as the LSU or Alabama of New England Rubik's cube athletes, he smiled and said, "Well, yeah, I guess we're pretty good. But we work at it."

Sullivan said he was happy about his winning individual time, though it was nowhere near his best time of 22 seconds.

"I'd like to get to 20. I think if I'd worked more on my algorhythms I could've done better today," he said.

As a point of interest (and possibly disbelief), a fellow named Mats Valk of the Netherlands holds the individual world record for solving a Rubik's cube puzzle - in 5.55 seconds.

His time, by the way, was imprinted with Saturday's participants the way a baseball fan knows Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs.

While his team isn't yet on Freetown Lakeville's level, Clark Lane coach Jay Gionet, a math teacher at the school, was very proud of his students.

He said, "They've come a long way so quickly. In September, not one of our students had ever successfully done a Rubik's cube. And now they're very competitive."

Penny Driscoll, marketing manager for You CAN Do the Rubik's Cube, explained the classroom value of the Rubik's cube in a context beyond just having fun solving a puzzle.

"Learning a Rubik's cube supports 21st-century learning and teaching skills," Driscoll said. "Students learn perseverance, critical thinking, problem solving and decision making. Kids can't just memorize things. They need to understand how things work."

Gionet said, "To teach the kids how to simply solve the cube would be the easy way. The idea is for them to learn to analyze and think it through a little bit. This way, they learn perseverance and teamwork." He laughed. "Besides, I can't actually solve it, myself."

Todd Koscinski, whose son Ricky is on the Clark Lane team, said he thought the whole idea of a Rubik's cube tournament was fantastic.

"Ricky came home with one from math class, and I'll bet I hadn't thought of a Rubik's cube in 15 years. I could never solve that thing - and he's doing it in three minutes."

r.koster@theday.com

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