When it comes to Tim Reynolds' and Patricia Li's favorite toy, speed is key.
"You're not really thinking. It's all muscle memory," said Li, 21, whose fastest speed cubing average is around 11 seconds. "I first learned when I was in eighth grade. I didn't really get into solving it for speed until a summer program, and a lot of my classmates were really fast. At the time it was totally beyond me that they could do it in 15 or 20 seconds. I thought it was just incredible."
Li decided to challenge herself, and went online to research solving methods.
"There are a series of formulaic steps," she said. "But I don't know how to get from fast to world-class fast. It involves practice and ironing out all the little hiccups."
Reynolds, 22, a software engineer at Google in Cambridge, takes his cubing seriously. Not only is he a member of the World Cube Association board, he's also on the organizing team for the championships. His best average is 11.84 seconds, and he holds the North American record for solving the Rubik's Cube in the fewest number of moves: 24 turns.
"You have to be able to look ahead at what the next thing you want to solve is," said Reynolds. "And you have to turn it fast if you want to win; about three times faster than I can. I’m not improving very much anymore."
"I don’t think I really have a chance to win at all. There is a group of maybe 20 to 30 people who are at that level. ... I know that I’ll be able to pull out an 11- or 12-second average, but it will probably take a 7- or 8-second average to win," said Reynolds. "I'm basically just going to have a good time."
About 570 competitors are expected to travel from 40 countries for this weekend's championship. It is the first time since 2005 that the biannual championship will take place in the U.S.
The current world record for speed solving the cube stands at 5.55 seconds. In addition to the traditional 3x3 cube event, the contest will feature blindfolded competitions and rounds where competitors use their feet.