Saturday, May 14, 2016

My first official cube competition.

You would think that someone that's been cubing for 30 or so years would have been to a cubing competition by now, but I hadn't. Part of me had realized that the world had largely passed me by, and my usual standby, the ancient corners first solution that hasn't been viable since 1986 or so isn't going to win me any awards. So, when events started popping up here and there in my home state, it was easy to say that having kids at home and bigger stuff to worry about was a good reason not to go. But, as more time went on, I realized that it wasn't about winning, but maybe about learning things, and also about meeting other cubers. Under normal circumstances, I only run into new people that I haven't met before that can solve a cube once every couple of years or so. So, I decided to go to an event last weekend (Central Florida Summer 2016) and just see how I did, and meet some of the other people cubing in Florida.

The drive was a couple of hours, and thankfully uneventful. I actually didn't practice 3x3x3 in the car at all. I started with 4x4x4, went up to 5x5x5, and did a 6x6x6, and then I hoped that I would have a chance to finish a 7x7x7 solve in the car. Since I'm still using old solution methods, I'm well over 20 minutes on the 7x7x7 still. My first attempt at 7x7x7 got interrupted by the location of a rest stop on the highway, and the second attempt got interrupted by having to navigate once we got off of the interstate. So, I never did manage to finish one that day. Once we were there, I thought it best to just take my 2x2x2 and 3x3x3 with me since those were the only events I was competing in, and my notebook that I use just for cubing. I took my stickerless DaYan 2x2x2, which is sort of important later. The 3x3x3 I brought is a Yulong stickerless which I got fairly cheap on Amazon and it's pretty fast.

Since my wife wanted to explore a nearby nature area with our younger child, I got dropped off. Getting dropped off in a parking lot of an unfamiliar school was just like going to a high school math tournament. I waited in line, realizing that there were a lot of fairly young kids practicing 2x2x2 in line. I got to registration, filled out a piece of paper with my name and the events I was participating in, paid my $20, and tried to relax. The big upside to this whole operation was that I was meeting the guitarist from the band that I play in and his son (who had just recently gotten into cubing) at the event. It gave me something else to fill my brain with instead of just filling it with nervousness about the event and not knowing anybody there. 

Once I sat down, I practiced a little bit of 2x2x2 with my guitarist's son and a friend of his that he met at a previous tournament. I was able to finish easily before either of them, but I had to focus pretty hard on turning slowly so I could make sure I wasn't making mistakes. Eventually I got called for my heat in 2x2x2.

What happens at this point is that the person running that heat puts down a bunch of slips of paper with a competitor's name and space for times to be written in. Each competitor puts their own cube down on their piece of paper, and then the official grabs up all the cubes for that heat and takes them to the main table to be inspected and scrambled. Once your cube is scrambled, the piece of paper with your name on it and your cube go into a paper bucket and is taken to a table where there's a Stackmat timer and a judge. The paper goes to the judge, and the bucket is turned over on to the table, covering your cube. What's supposed to happen at that point is that the judge asks you if you're ready, and you have 15 seconds to inspect your cube and then arm the timer and start. The judge will let you know when 8 seconds have transpired, and then 12. At that point you really need to start arming the timer by putting your fingertips on the two contacts and waiting for the green light, because it takes a second or two.

I had used a Stackmat timer before, as I had one for a few years before it lost its mind. I use TwistyTimer to practice with on my phone now, but I think I need to get another Stackmat at some point if I'm going to do more of these events.

Event 1 - 2x2x2

14.65/DNF/12.64/14.49/13.89 (14.34 avg)  52nd out of 73

That's around 6 times as slow as the winners who averaged between 2-1/2 and 3 seconds , and not nearly as good as my usual average of closer to 12 seconds.

My first solve of my first heat almost got me a DNF because the timer hadn't been reset by the judge beforehand. I couldn't remember if the new Stackmats reset on their own if it's been long enough since a previous solve or not, so it didn't occur to me to ask. The judge realized the mistake and took my cube up to be rescrambled and I got to solve again, but I was more than a little rattled. It didn't help that I was at a table at the front where all the cube moms were spectating. My second attempt was a DNF, because I opted to use that DaYan 2x2x2 that was a little bit looser and had a preferable color scheme. When a puzzle pops, you're allowed to put the pieces back in and finish the solve, but the DaYan 2x2x2 has three or four little mini edge pieces that pop out when a corner piece pops out, and it didn't seem realistic that I could just put it back together quick enough. The last time I put it back together took me a couple of minutes, and all I wanted to do at that second is take a second by myself and reassemble it away from the spectators. Had I used my Cyclone Boys 2x2x2, I might have finished all five solves, but probably a little slower. The first time I ever popped a piece on the DaYan 2x2x2, it was at a stoplight on the way to picking up my wife from work. I had to wait until I got home to try and get it back together. I think that it only tends to pop when it's comedically inconvenient. My guitarist's son had me spooked thinking I had made the cut for the second round, but it turns out it was just an anomaly of how the solves were displayed on where he was looking at the scores.

Event 2 - 3x3x3

31.69/36.56/32.26/32.84/37.35 (33.89 avg) 40th out of 71

That's a little less than four times as slow as the winner, on average, and maybe only a second slower than my average when practicing. I was a little less rattled, but not enough for me to pull out any solves under 30 seconds. The last judge that I had was amused by my ancient solving technique since they mostly only see CFOP. Oddly, some of the younger cubers think that Corners First is RedKB's method (an early Youtube cuber) instead of Minh Thai's (the method I use) or Jeff Varasano's.

While I was waiting between solves, I asked a couple of the 10-year olds standing around to show me how they do the Z permutation (M2 U M2 U M' U2 M2 U2 M' U2) and it was just frightening how fast they could whip through the move, and it was also very interesting to watch each of them watch the other do the move, because their execution varied a little bit. One of them was more crisp and staccato, the other one was just as fast but smoother. All of the M slice moves were done with the ring or middle finger of their left hand from behind the cube, where the U layer moves were done with their index and middle fingers of their right hand. It reminded me of drum rudiments.

Best single time in both of those events and everything else went to Daniel Wannamaker, currently ranked 31st in the world in regular 3x3x3 as of the other day and in the top 100 on all the events from 2x2x2 through 7x7x7. I actually talked to him briefly about something I saw other people doing on 4x4x4, and he walked me through the algorithm that he uses for doing an edge pair flip during the last layer. (Lw2 B2 U2 Rw' U2 Lw U2 Lw' U2 F2 Lw' F2 Rw B2 Lw2) As it turns out, he didn't win 2x2x2 and Pyraminx because his average wasn't as low. Daniel better watch out for Katie Hull, though. She won Pyraminx and was close behind on a lot of the other events. Dawson Wellman won 2x2x2 by putting up some great times in the last round.

I only ended up talking to a few of the cubers. I talked to Jeff Stinson briefly, as I surmised early on that we were the oldest two people competing, and we had a good laugh about being the only old men there. I also talked to someone that had only been cubing for a few months that was almost as fast as I was already, a programmer fond of making rather tall towers of cubes, and hard luck case that had a few too many DNF's. I also got to see a Mixup Cube in person for the first time, and my guitarist looked very oddly at a Mirror Cube which he had not seen before.

It was a little odd that the guitarist from my band and I both opted for superhero shirts. I almost wore a cube shirt, but since we were at a cubing competition I saw absolutely no need to identify myself to others as a cuber. So, if you can't be yourself, be Batman. (My guitarist wore a Spiderman shirt that I think is the somewhat obscure Spiderman 2099 logo.)

I think that I achieved all of my intended objectives - I got to participate in a real competition, I got to be in a room where my cubing was not any sort of an oddity, I got to hang out with my guitarist and his son outside of a music venue, and I made an effort to talk to some of the other cubers - both experienced and new.

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