Alan Ranie… warming up his fingers and focusing his mind for the Australian speedcubing championships. Photo: Holly Treadaway

FOR Canberra’s Alan Ranie, there’s nothing quite like the click-clacking, slip-slapping sound of a Rubik’s cube switching into shape.

The fleet-fingered cubing extraordinaire can master the 3x3 rotating puzzle in an impressive 18 seconds.

“It’s a real brain teaser,” said Alan.

“When I look at the Rubik’s cube, I see patterns, and then it’s a race against myself to master a solution quickly… it’s so much fun.”

With one correct answer out of 43 quintillion possible combinations, it’s no wonder people try for days, if not months, to solve the Rubik's cube.

But don’t tell that to Alan.

“It took me under an hour to master my first 2x2 and it kind of blew up from there,” he said.

The Lake Tuggeranong college student is warming up his fingers and focusing his mind for the Australian speedcubing championships, on the Gold Coast in September, where he’ll join the best Rubik’s speedcubers across the country.

Alan, 16, who loves puzzles, took up speedcubing three years ago.

He is currently ranked in the top 200 in the world for his 18-second solve of the Rubik’s cube, a spot he claimed at the world championships in Adelaide in 2019.

But at the nationals, Alan hopes to reach his next goal, unscrambling the Rubik’s cube in less than 15 seconds. 

For this aspiring robotics technician, it’s all about algorithms and the recognition of patterns.

“I’ve got about 24 different Rubik’s cubes,” Alan said.

“I can spend hours in my room trying to figure it out, I just love it.”

Speedcubing events are a race against the clock to solve all the different types of Rubik’s puzzles, plus different categories for how the solving is done, for instance, solving several cubes, or doing it blindfolded, with one hand or with your feet.

The current record held for the fastest solve of the Rubik's cube is 3.47 seconds by Chinese speedcuber Yusheng Du, who beat the record of Australian Rubik's cube speedsolver Feliks Zemdegs by 0.75 seconds, in 2018.

Short-lived records are common in speedcubing.

At the first world tournament held in 1982, competitors took up to a minute to solve the cube. 

Speedcuber Alan Ranie. Photo: Holly Treadaway

By 2009, the quickest competitors were transfiguring cubes from scrambled to solved in a little over 10 seconds.

Today, the top 10 speedcubers on earth come in below six seconds.

“I’m certainly not the best, but I’m getting faster,” Alan said.

“For me, it’s a race against myself, no-one else.”

It was Alan’s mum, Tracy Waterson, who first encouraged her son to pick up a Rubik’s cube.

“Alan is not very good at maths, funnily enough, but he’s always loved patterns and he plays chess very well,” she said.

“Alan also has horrendous handwriting so we thought a Rubik’s cube might help develop his fine motor skills.”

It hasn’t, Tracy said, but Alan’s confidence has grown since taking up the hobby.

“As a parent of a kid that can be socially awkward, at times, and finds it difficult to maintain friendships, seeing Alan thrive in an environment where he feels comfortable, is just beautiful.”

What started out as a puzzle created by Hungarian professor Ern? Rubik to teach architectural students, has evolved into the world's most successful single toy, perceived globally as a symbol of intelligence.

Nearly half a billion Rubik’s cubes have been sold since being introduced to the world in 1980.

The most popular Rubik’s cube has nine (3×3) squares on each of its six sides, other cubes include 2×2, 4×4, 5×5, 6×6 and 7×7.

While Alan is hard at work honing his pattern-recognition skills, he’s also selling potted succulents, from mum’s garden, to help get him to nationals.

“Something I wanted to instil in him was you have to work for things you want, they don’t just get handed to you, it’s important to learn the value of money,” Tracy said.

Alan’s plants are for sale at the Queanbeyan markets, held in the Town Park, on Lowe Street, on the third Sunday of each month.

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