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Puzzling it Out

By Sean Sullivan

Natick’s Daniel Garofolo set out on a quest last month to solve one of life’s great mysteries — Rubik’s Cube. 
Dubbed “Roc the Cube 2022,” the competition took that name from its host city of Rochester, New York. It was held June 4th at St. John Fisher College. The tourney is part of a constellation of events in cube culture, many of which entail commercial sponsorship, prize money, and world-recognized Rubik’s rankings. 
The classic Rubik’s Cube is a 3x3x3 puzzle, with nine colored facets on each of its six sides. I dabbled in cubery (briefly) in grade school when the device first became popular.
The cube has evolved in the decades since its inception, and its popularity has been a constant. At the Rochester tournament, competitors were obliged to solve the 3x3x3, and a 4x4x4 and 5x5x5 version of the cube. The latter has 25 facets on each of its six sides, and a trevigintillion (1072) possible combinations. That value is any number followed by 72 zeroes. For some dizzying context, a trillion is any number followed by a mere dozen zeroes.
Not long before it became hip to be square, the Rubik’s Cube was the ultimate talisman of nerd culture. But the mere possession of the cube meant little if one could not wield it, solve it. I fell into this category. Like a “squib” in the Harry Potter novels, I was a poser - all potential and no prowess. I could hold it, elicit the telltale clicks as I swiveled it sides, yet no magic would come of my efforts.
Lacking the patience and discipline required to make progress, wary of the ridicule of my peers, I soon quit. Space LEGO sets were more my speed.
Not so with Daniel Garofolo. I’d recently witnessed him twisting the Rubik’s, and struck up a conversation about it. Its sides swiveled in a single hand, his attention on the changing color patterns almost fleeting, as if the real calculations were happening inside his head.
Such single-handed manipulation of the Rubik’s can reveal an advanced cuber. Last month, Columbia’s Angel Alvarado broke the world record when he solved three classic cubes while juggling them. The feat took four-and-a-half minutes for the 19-year-old. Watching the video in slow motion reveals Alvarado’s fingers swiveling the facets of each cube during the brief instant it lands in each hand.
Algorithms have been created for cube devotees, systems that can be memorized and drawn upon to faster solve the Rubik’s.                
Garofolo said much of his practice for the tourney, as one might expect, meant putting in the raw requisite hours with the Rubik’s.   
“I was just doing a lot of solves,” said the 15-year-old. “There are some people who can do it blindfolded.” He has been practicing the Rubik’s for about four years, which in elite cubing circles makes him a late starter.
The victor of Roc the Cube this year was Canadian speedsolver Ryan Wu, a very young competitor who won the best times in the 3x3x3, 4x4x4, and 5x5x5 categories. Participants solve each of the cubes five times, and an average is gleaned from the grouping. Wu’s fastest solve for the 3x3x3 was 4.8 seconds, with an average of 7.36 seconds overall.
For his efforts, Garofolo placed 69th in Roc the Cube - eliminated in the first round of competition. He said he enters the tourneys knowing full well what he’s up against. 
“I didn’t get to do much because I’m not fast enough. A lot of it is these 9-year-olds just beating you because they’re really fast. But I still had fun.”
Garofolo’s family made an extended trip of the tournament, driving to Niagara Falls for some sightseeing after Roc the Cube. They are new to Natick, having moved here from New Jersey about two months ago.