SAN FRANCISCO – A 20-year-old California Institute of Technology student set a new world's record for solving the popular Rubik's Cube puzzle, turning the tiled brain-twister from scrambled to solved in 11.13 seconds.
Leyan Lo is part of Caltech's Rubik's Cube Club, a brainy clutch of students that hosted the competition at the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco. Lo's record-setting time came early in the day, among his first five tries in the preliminary rounds.
The record-setting solve caught competitors and Lo himself by surprise.
"It's kind of scary now that I set it, because I have two more [attempts] to go," Lo said humbly afterward. His time of 11.13 seconds broke the previous record of 11.75 seconds, set by Frenchman Jean Pons at the Dutch Open competition last year.
Still, the world record alone wouldn't gain Lo the overall champion's title at the event, which is determined by averaging three of five solution times in the final round. For that title, Lo went up against the teenager widely considered the fastest Rubik's Cube solver on the planet — Shotaro "Macky" Makisumi, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Pasadena.
Makisumi prevailed, clocking in with an average time of 14.91 seconds in the final round to take first place.
Besides blindingly fast fingers and a head for memorizing algorithms used by most top competitors to solve the cube, what is Makisumi's secret?
"I don't know. Faster first two layers," he surmised, referring to solving the first two layers of the cube's colored tiles before moving on to the last. For his victory, Makisumi won a Rubik's Snake puzzle, one of several variations on the basic cube model which has sold more than 100 million worldwide, according to the manufacturer.
Contestants brought their own cubes to the competition, and a computer program was used to scramble the cubes in the same fashion for each round to give the contestants equal footing.
One of the crowd favorites was Casey Pernsteiner, 14, who traveled to the event from her hometown of Gonzales, Texas, with her mother. Pernsteiner logged a 21.59 second average in the preliminary round to move on to the finals.
The crowd erupted with applause as she threw the cube down time after time, slapping an electronic timing mat and consistently clocking times well under 30 seconds.
"My previous best time in competition was 25 [seconds] and I beat that, like all ten solves, so I was really happy with that," Pernsteiner said. She finished among the top 16 finalists.