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My perception of the cubing community over the last 10 years

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Author: Chris Hardwick
Originally posted on this Speedsolving thread on June 24, 2010.

Yahoo! Speedcubing Group’s 10th anniversary

Hi everyone,

Stefan Pochmann brought it to our attention recently that the Yahoo! Speed Solving Rubik’s Cube Group recently turned 10 years old. I created this group on June 19th, 2000 while sitting in my living room over Summer vacation between my sophomore and junior years of high school. At the time cubers were mostly communicating via e-mail, and I wanted a place where we could all talk about cubing more easily, rather than through e-mails in small groups.

The speedsolving.com forum has certainly become The place to hang out for cubers and cubing discussion, and I myself spend lots of time here nearly every day as well! So many thanks to Patrick for creating this forum, as I think it is an integral part of the level of communication cubers now enjoy today.

At the suggestion of Stefan I wrote up something about my thoughts on the speedcubing community from then to now, and I wanted to post it where others can read it. If you also have something to share about how the speedcubing community has progressed over the last 10 years, then I invite you to please feel free to make your own comments in this thread, or post your own write-up here as well.

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My perception of the cubing community over the last 10 years

Now that it is the 10 year anniversary of the creation of the Yahoo! Speedsolving Rubik’s Cube group, it’s incredible to think about how much cubing has changed from then to now. I consider myself a second generation cuber, seeing as how I started during the dark ages of cubing, after the Rubik’s cube craze died, and before the revival. I can’t imagine the change as experienced by the first generation cubers, who started in the 80’s when the cube first came out. Even from my perspective it is absolutely amazing what people have accomplished in cubing in the last 10 years.

Seeing as how it was 10 years ago, here is a brief history of the starting of the Speedsolving Rubik’s cube group as I remember it:

I began cubing mid-June of 1998, which was the summer between middle school and high school for me. I learned to cube from Mark Jeays’ website, which was the clearest and easiest to understand solution for me at the time. I have since e-mailed Mark thanking him for introducing me to the world of cubing, and speedcubing. I learned both of Mark’s solutions and used them for about one month. At this stage I was simply fascinated by the fact that I could even solve the cube at all. After a month of cubing and idly searching the web for sites related to cubing I found Jessica Fridrich’s site, which showed her method for how to average, yes average 17 seconds when solving the cube. This was so mind numbingly, incomprehensibly fast at the time that I was spellbound and simply had to learn how to solve a cube that quickly.

The first truly big milestone that brought cubers together was the CD game Rubik’s Games. The game was released Jan. 1st 1999, and I got a copy right around this time. It was through Rubik’s Games that I met Ron van Bruchem, Ton Dennenbroek, Jaap Scherphuis, Dan Knights, and Matt Wilder. Later, some other big names to cubing started joining in, and a list of avid Rubik’s Games players would include many recognizable speedcubers.

For about a year and a half, cubers mostly communicated occasionally through e-mail in the states. Dan Knights was a huge inspiration to us all, and was considered the fastest modern speedcuber of the second generation. He was the first well known person of the second generation to average 17 seconds. Ron van Bruchem quickly caught up and surpassed Dan in his at home averages, but Dan was the Rock Star, and the person to beat for quite some time. There were stories of the fast guys from the first generation, with some big names being Marc Waterman, Guiseppe Romeo, Jessica Fridrich, Anthony Snyder. All of these people claimed averages around 17 seconds, or just under in the high 16’s. At the time, these were the fastest averages anyone had ever heard of. Anthony Snyder claimed faster averages, but it was later discovered that he practiced using 13 move scrambles, which would lend him a slight advantage over others using longer scrambles. I don’t say this to invalidate his times, he was still a very fast speedcuber, but even at the time we did not quite consider his times comparable to the others because of that slight advantage from his scrambles. There was not really a set standard at this time, although some people were using 25 turns for the scramble length, and this was definitely catching on as the most popular.

In June of 2000 I started the Yahoo! Speed Solving Rubik’s Cube Club, they were not yet called groups, to try to gather cubers together. Keep in mind that most of the active cubers at that time already knew each other via Rubik’s Games or via e-mail. My intention was only to gather us all together into one place where we could all communicate with each other effectively. Of course, I had already heard of the original Cube Lovers mailing list, and my intention was not really to copy this or revive it, just to gather all of the currently active cubers together.

Cubing pretty much took off year after year after this point. In 2003 there was the second World Championships, which really jump started it all. Every year around Christmas and New Years our community would expand by quite a lot, presumably because people were receiving either the CD of Rubik’s Games, or a Rubik’s cube, or similar Rubik’s puzzles. A lot of the influx cubers would drop off after 6 months or so, but many of them stayed on and became what we would consider today to be big name, or very well known cubers. Eventually the cubing scene started to look like a smaller version of what it is today, with lots of competitions and communication online. The only difference is that the averages were not as fast as they are today and the size and scope of competitions was a good bit smaller than it is today.

Back to the year 2000 and 2001, here is a glimpse of what the cubing world was like through my eyes. Basically there was cubing on the internet, and there was the view of cubing in the real world. Cubing on the internet pretty much is what it sounds. We were the community of speedcubers communicating over the Yahoo Group or via e-mail about our shared hobby. We called ourselves speed cubists at the time (no joke!), and we were discovering what it took to average 17 seconds. We knew that some of the first generation cubers had already done it, but this was still the holy grail of cubing for us. Slowly but surely the averages dropped down to 16 seconds (madness!), then 15 seconds (almost unbelievable!), and they hovered around the low 15’s for quite some time. This was the era of Ron van Bruchem, Dan Knights, and Jess Bonde. These were the big names of the time. At the time we thought that sub-15 averages would be possible, but it seemed almost impossibly fast. We knew Jessica’s theoretical prediction of 10-12 second averages, but this was viewed almost as a dream that would only come true if a person’s career was to live, breath, eat, drink, and sleep cubing. Of course, today we know that these averages, and faster, are possible with just determination and practice, but at the time we thought it was just impossibly fast.

The perception of cubists and cubing at the time, in popular culture from my experience, was that it was an extremely nerdy hobby. We were considered people who just never let the craze go. In fact, during the years 1998-2000 not a single one of my friends knew I was a speedcuber. Not only that, but in those three years I only mentioned to them once, in passing, that I could even solve a cube at all. Keep in mind that I was in high school, and at the time it would have definitely had a negative effect on my social life to even hint at the fact that not only could I solve a Rubik’s Cube, but that I did it over and over every day. I can’t vouch for the European reaction, or the European community, but this is how I experienced my first years of cubing in the states. I don’t want to make it out to sound all bad. The community of speed cubers was extremely friendly, and there was a sort of solidarity of us sticking it out with each other. I think that the public’s reaction toward us, and the way we sort of stuck it out with each other, is partly a reason why us second generation cubers have such a friendly and tight knit community with each other.

Again, I don’t want to make the cubing scene out to sound so horrible, in fact it was amazingly fun and, for me, a life changing experience. Speedcubing is part of my identity, and it really has changed my life so much so for the better. The community of speedcubers was, and is, full of so many great people that it makes it such a wonderful group of people to be a part of. Again, I don’t want my portrayal of the public’s reaction to cubing to sound like we walked uphill in the snow both ways everyday, blah blah blah, but that is how I experienced it, and how I remember it, in those early years.

Ok, now onto the light hearted stuff. Here are some little things that more modern cubers might find funny or interesting about us cubists in the years 2000-2002.

– We did not use the Stackmat at the time, and for the most part we didn’t even know of the existence of Sport Stacking. I started out timing myself with a stopwatch, up until Ron wrote his timing program on speedcubing.com.

– Dan Knights and Matt Wilder pioneered the use of the average 10 of 12 times method. Jessica Fridrich had done something similar during her years, and Dan pioneered us making it the standard method for calculating our average times.

– We only timed our solves, and did our averages, out to the hundredth of a second about half the time. The other half the time we only timed our solves accurate to the second. To calculate the average solve time accurately we averaged those times using the usual 10 of 12 method, and then added 0.5 to the average time to account for the fact that we did not time to the tenths or hundredths of a second.

– We actually had a debate about where to solve the cross and F2L. At the time, some of us, myself included, actually did F2L on top. Dan Knights started the trend of solving cross on bottom, and many of us had to actively relearn F2L on bottom to do this. Lars Vandenbergh and others pioneered cross on left.

– The Unofficial world records page was the premier competition scene for us. The holder of the fastest average time on the UWR page was the premier Rock Star status cuber of the time, just like the WR holders are today.

– Blindfold cubing was not so much a timed event during this period, moreso an achievement event. The people doing 3x3x3 blindfolded were working on their times, but they were in the 2 or 3 minute range at this point. Really, at this time people were going for larger cubes, or large relays mixes of various cubes. Stefan Pochmann, Richard Carr, and Dror Vomberg were the blindfold cubing giants at this time.

– The Eastsheen 5x5x5 cubes came out shortly before the 2003 World Championship, and for the time, they were so smooth turning and fast that they were almost banned simply for that reason. There was also a big debate about their legality, but in the end they were allowed during the competition. This was our first issue related to the knock-off cube debate we had experienced at the time.

– Sub-20 averages were considered elite for the time, and sub-17 was super-elite. It was comparable to sub-13 and sub-10 today, respectively.

This was the early cubing world as I experienced it. If I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything. The cubing community is filled with so many amazing people, and I can’t imagine not having the speedcuber friends that I do, because of this hobby of mine. I really don’t see myself getting tired of cubing. My hope is that I will still be cubing in another ten years, and still attending competitions and meeting new people.

Happy cubing everyone!
Chris Hardwick