Squaring off: Rubik’s Cube makes a comeback with competitions and viral videos
These days, if you are not a cuber, you are a square.
The Rubik’s Cube scene here is booming after more people picked up the retro puzzle to keep their fingers busy during pandemic lockdowns. Clips of nimble-fingered teens solving a cube in mere seconds or even while blindfolded have gone viral on social media.
“During the pandemic, people were stuck at home with nothing to do. The cube is cheap and you can kill time by solving it. It is unlike most sports, where one has to go to a sports hall or outdoors to do them,” said Singapore’s top cubing aficionado Wong Chong Wen, 25.
The master’s student in chemical instrumentation at Nanyang Technological University is ranked first nationally in the category for fewest moves to solve the puzzle. Globally, he is tied in fifth place in the same category.
The classic puzzle, which features six sides in six colours, was invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor-architect Erno Rubik and took the world by storm in 1980.
Mr Wong, who first picked up a cube when he was 11 years old, added: “Social media plays a part as well. Videos of celebrities and children solving the cube go viral, and maybe some people decide they want to try it as well.”
During the pandemic, American basketball star Stephen Curry shared a video (str.sg/iS3t) of what he did to stave off boredom to his 1.7 million subscribers on YouTube, which included learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube.
Also during the pandemic, Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014 to 2023) actor Chris Pratt flaunted his new skill of solving a cube in under a minute on Instagram. His post (str.sg/iS3v) has more than 4.6 million views.
On TikTok, videos with the hashtag #cubing have amassed over 2.1 billion views. The hashtag #speedcubing has been used in more than 246,000 posts on Instagram.
In Singapore, Cubewerkz Cubing Academy, a home-grown dedicated cube store founded in 2012, said there was an increase in demand for cubing lessons after the pandemic. Mr Wong is one of nine part-time cubing trainers in the academy.
To promote speed-cubing, the company conducted lessons in tuition centres in 2016.
Due to greater demand, it began offering cubing lessons on a private tutoring basis in 2018. In the same year, it also expanded beyond its training centre in Katong Plaza to run lessons in bigger groups of 10 to 40 people in primary schools, student care centres and voluntary welfare organisations.
Cubewerkz Cubing Academy declined to reveal how much its fees are.
Since 2020, it has conducted over 2,000 training sessions for more than 800 students. These enthusiasts are mainly students aged five to 14, but include seniors in their 60s. Most of its students are male.
The increase in interest is evident in the growing number of hopefuls joining cubing competitions.
According to the World Cube Association (WCA), the international governing body of the Rubik’s Cube which regulates competitions for the puzzle, there were 18 competitions based in Singapore from 2009 to 2019.
The same number of competitions was held from June 2022 to July 2023.
Mr Wong, a veteran of the scene, said competitions in the past would not reach their limit of 200 participants. Now, they hit full capacity within 20 minutes of registrations opening.
Although the puzzle has been around for more than 40 years, local cubing organisations like Mofunland are coming up with new modes of engagement to pique public interest.
On top of offering hour-long group lessons for $60, it has organised cube-themed birthday parties and even cruises.
Ms Vivian Xie, chief executive of Mofunland, said: “As June and December tend to be quieter periods due to families going on vacation, we compensate by hosting engaging events, such as the inaugural 2023 Mofunland Cruise.”
In June, about 320 guests, who signed up via Mofunland, packed their cubes and went on board the Genting Dream cruise ship to Phuket for four days. While on the cruise, they took part in workshops to learn cubing techniques and flaunted their sharpened skills in a WCA-recognised competition.
Mofunland declined to divulge how many lessons it has conducted and the number of students it has taught since it started in March 2022. Business appears to be booming, as it is planning a third outlet, following its first in Marina Square in September 2022 and its second in West Coast Plaza this April.
Another factor contributing to the expanding sphere of cubing is the development of flashy new cubes and merchandise.
Modern cubes like Moyu’s Super RS3M V2 Ball Core, released earlier in 2023, and the Gan Maglev 13, released in 2022, apply magnets along the core edges and corners of the cube to produce smoother turns.
Merchandise like branded bags from popular cubing brands such as Moyu and Qiyi Mofangge also attract youth to give the puzzle a go.
While there has been an influx of rookies and increased competition, top cuber Wong remains unfazed. He said: “I enjoy a challenge, so if they want to come, then come. There’s nothing you can do to stop newcomers, you just have to defend your title.”