Hidden Talents: The Rubik’s Cube Master

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During our time at Columbia, most of us meet one or two group leaders, student government presidents, star athletes, and the like. But there are many Columbians whose profiles are lower, yet their talents are just as (or even more) awesome. Here’s our recurring feature devoted to those students: this time, it’s Tim Sun, who’s currently in Germany competing in the World Rubik’s Cube Championship.

About ten minutes into our conversation in Butler Café, I ask Tim Sun, SEAS ’13, about his technique for solving the Rubik’s Cube. He reaches into his pocket under the table and produces a standard 3x3x3, six-colored cube. He immediately begins spinning the layers of the puzzle around in a multicolored blur, outlining his strategy: using a mix of memorized algorithms and intuition, he solves two layers first (preferably those adjacent to the yellow or white base), then the opposite face, then the final layer. The entire process often takes less than 12 seconds. For the rest of the interview, the cube remains whirring above the table as Tim scrambles and solves it.

Tim is originally from New Jersey, but attended the Shanghai American School for all four years of high school. He first learned to solve the Rubik’s Cube his freshman year, when a friend brought a Cube to class and solved it in under a minute. “I thought that was really fast back then,” he said. He was immediately intrigued. He had been interested in other puzzles before, particularly Sudoku, but these paled in complexity next to the Rubik’s cube. He kept working to improve his speed.

“Right around when I started trying to do it for speed, I started looking online and seeing that there were competitions and I decided I wanted to make it to the World Championships.” There were not competitions near his school in Shanghai, though, so he didn’t get to compete until the summer before his junior year, when his parents agreed to fly him to Chicago for the 2007 US National Championships in exchange for touring some colleges in the area. Tim didn’t end up applying to any of the colleges, but he has been to about eight “speedcubing” events each year since then. He had the 12th fastest time in the world earlier this year at the Beijing Spring Open, and this year is his first time competing in the World Championships.

But Tim doesn’t just compete in the standard 3x3x3 cube. He also competes in 4x4x4, 5x5x5, Rubik’s Clock, and Megaminx, which is a dodecahedron-shaped ultra-complex Rubik’s Cube mutant. His favorite, however, is competing blindfolded, where the solver must memorize the configuration of the cube before putting the blindfold on, then is timed while solving the cube without looking at it again. He can also solve the Rubik’s Cube with his feet, which he says has become the best party trick on his (allegedly very social) floor in John Jay.


What advice does Tim has for us who struggle to solve the Rubik’s Cube even with the use of our hands and eyes? “It’s all about perserverance,” he says. “The hardest part is always finishing it.”

– Peter Krawczyk

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  1. Cool, but  

    I'd rather do the contortionist. That's what these posts are about, right?

  2. JJ10 alum  

    everyone knows JJ10 is the best!

  3. JJ10

    Though I have to say that the sex panther is a pretty damn good party trick too

  4. Varun  

    I'm not on JJ10, but still VERY impressed!

  5. JJ 10  

    Yay Tim! Way to represent the floor, and congrats on Germany.

  6. jj 10  

    TIIIIM SUNNNNN!!!! btw Peter, we're not just allegedly social

  7. what about  

    james ouyang?

  8. JJ9  


  9. former jj 10  

    WOOOW jj 10 always rocks :)

  10. @ #3  

    I don't know... this guy has magic fingers.

  11. James Ouyang  

    Can solve a rubix cube in 11 seconds while doing 3 derivatives at once...from BEHIND.

  12. Tim Sun  

    eats cuoobs like James Ouyang for breakfast.

  13. I never thought  

    the level of man-crushness for rubik cube masters could ever be so immense

  14. Kenny  

    Mad respect, even as a former JJ8er.

  15. JJ10  

    At least the author could've found some more recent videos... oh wait, they don't exist.

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