FORT WAYNE – You wanna race? asks 15-year-old Nathan Dwyer.
Sure, says the gullible visitor, who suggested the challenge.
The young man chuckled, ever so confidently.
Somebody then said go.
In about 13 seconds, Dwyer had his solved Rubik’s Cube sitting on the dining room table. All nine blue tiles were on one side, all the reds on another, the yellows and greens together, too. Perfect.
Meanwhile, the fumbling visitor was still trying to get three reds on the same side.
It was a pretty close race, Nathan says, his braces providing a steely, wry smile. You almost got it.
Not only is he a whiz with a Rubik’s Cube, but the kid’s got a sarcastic streak, too.
But of course the Snider High School sophomore would be confident in any kind of timed race that involves spinning and turning and matching the six-sided color puzzle that was all the rage in the 1980s. Last summer, he and his father, Ken, went to Las Vegas, where Nathan finished second in the world in the Square-1 (a variation of the traditional cube) competition.
Because the person who beat him was a 20-something man from China, Dwyer was therefore proclaimed the United States Square-1 champion.
More than 600 competitors from 37 countries converged at the Riviera Hotel and Casino on the Vegas Strip in late July.
By far, it was the biggest competition that’s ever been held, says Dwyer.
Although there are the occasional regional Rubik’s Cube competitions (the next one is in three weeks in Hillsdale, Mich.), Dwyer said the world event in Vegas was open to anyone who could come up with the $50 entry fee and a way to get to Vegas.
It was whoever wants to go can go, Dwyer says. They don’t break it down into age groups or anything. It’s just everyone competing against each other.
Several years ago he read a newspaper story about the Rubik’s Cube, became intrigued, and bought a puzzle at Walmart. He fiddled with it for a while, then put it away, only to regain interest five years ago, going online for video tips to solve the puzzle quicker, and to buy other variations of the traditional cube.
I was doing that all day, every day, for a couple days – how to figure it out, Dwyer says. Then once I had it down, I took off from there.
Did he ever.
Once he had mastered the pattern to solve the cubes, Dwyer practiced to get faster. In his first competitive event on June 18, 2011, he finished second at the Ohio Open in Columbus, Ohio.
Since then, he has won a stack of certificates and a pile of medals. He has roughly 40 cubes of various shapes and sizes – some purchased, some won. And now he’s No. 1 in the United States and No. 2 in the world with the Square-1 cube.
Of the five attempts to solve the cube, the competitors’ best and worst times are not counted, and the middle three times are averaged. Dwyer’s average in Vegas was 14.79 seconds – his best is a 12.641, and his worst a 27.737, during which he rolls his eyes and makes faces at his own fumbling. The other times were 12.757, 16.596 and 15.028.
Now that he’s No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the world, what’s the next challenge?
In the competitions, they have not only solving it in the fastest times, but they also have it doing it with one hand, and doing it blindfolded, Dwyer says.
They give you a mixed up cube, he explains. You can’t move it, but you can look at it and try to memorize it – where the pieces go – so you can get blindfolded and try to solve it. And they also have multiple blindfolds, where you memorize lots of them and put on the blindfold and solve them all. The world record for that is over 30 cubes. It’s crazy. I can’t get anywhere near that many. I’ve gotten two successfully.
While he hopes to form a Cube Club at Snider, Dwyer’s other passion is music. He plays cello in the school band, but also plays guitar, drums, harmonica, piano and ukulele.
But for now, he’s going to stay with the Rubik’s Cube and hope to get faster for competitions.
I’ve been going at it for three years, and I’m not tired yet, he says. I think it’ll always be something I’ll take out once in a while, even if I don’t compete.