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Mastering the Rubik’s Cube: One Scholar’s Story of Perseverance

Elijah Mayers got his first Rubik’s Cube from his aunt. “I thought it was cool, and I liked puzzles a lot. I always wanted to try it because it seemed so hard, and I wanted to be able to do it,” says Elijah, a sixth-grader at Success Academy Bed-Stuy Middle School. “I got really into it. I did a lot of research online.” And what followed was a process and a lesson at the heart of SA’s creed of joyful rigor.

Solving the classic puzzle, which sold its first unit 40 years ago, didn’t come easy for Elijah. “There’s an entire notation and a bunch codes. It’s really crazy. I wrote down some codes I found — like a language.” And, he says, he labeled certain moves as “r” or “r prime” for the right or “l” for the left, for instance. He learned a naming method and “wrote it down and would always keep practicing and doing it over. I practiced a lot.”

“It took a long time to solve it,” Elijah says emphatically. “Months, actually! I would look up a cool trick, and I would try it, and it would take me two hours to solve it. Now it doesn’t even matter. I could mess it up, and I would just know how to solve it.”

His best time to date: one minute and two seconds.

His best time to date: one minute and two seconds.

From months to a minute? No small achievement — and a testament to Elijah’s work ethic: “To be able to do something that people thought was insane and extremely hard — like a pro skill level. There’s so much to it. There’s so much required, and it’s so complex. And it just appealed to me.”

You might think speedcuber, common parlance for a Rubik’s Cube expert, would be synonymous with math genius. Not so, says Elijah, who likes art, science, and writing. “It’s not like math, as people think. [It’s algorithms.] I guess algorithms are kind of math. But it could really be anything. I guess you could be quick with your hands — so PE! It’s just maneuvering and being able to memorize,” says Elijah, who aspires to be a scientist, a traveling photographer, or an apothecary.

“And honestly, anyone could learn this,” he adds. “It’s not like you need to be great at math or literature or art. If you just put your mind to it, you can always do anything. You shouldn’t learn how to fake solve something, when you could really just put the time and effort into learning how to do it. You feel better about yourself. And you feel on top, like a master.”

Which is just what Elijah is now: a master at the top of his game.

We shared the incredible video of Elijah solving the Rubik’s Cube on Facebook — and it turns out the world thought it was pretty great, too. The video was shared by the Facebook Page “United States of Awesome” — and earned over 50,000 views!

Written by Paul Silverman March 7, 2017

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