WILLIAMSTOWN -- Staring down four championship competitions, Kevin Costello III kept distracted by fussily fiddling with a Rubik's Cube.
The 15-year-old from Great Barrington was entered in a Rubik's Cube competition at Williams College on Saturday, and he was about to compete against "cubers" who traveled from across New England and some from even further away.
Costello practiced with the cube as he awaited his turn, but the practices don't last long. While some might pridefully thrust their chests for merely solving the puzzle, Costello only needed eight seconds in one practice, if that long.
"Once you get to eight seconds, the main thing you work on is being able to predict," said Costello, who says lightning-quick solvers are thinking about moves quicker than their fingers can fiddle.
Costello ended up having a big day against the 64 registered competitors in the first Rubik's competition sponsored by the World Cube Association. He won five of the seven competitions and set a new continental record in the process.
The Rubik's Cube, a handheld puzzle, has vexed generations since it was created in the 1970s. The 3-D puzzle, in the form of a plastic cube, is covered with multi-colored squares and requires players to twist and turn it so that all the squares on each face are the same color. There were competitions allowing people to solve the puzzle with a single hand, blindfolded or by tackling the more complex 4x4 or 5x5 Rubik's Cubes. The traditional cube is 3x3.
To win, competitors needed to average the best average time through five trials and in most cases advance through several rounds.
"My nerves have gotten better, but I still get nervous" said Costello, who has competed in 29 competitions.
The event brought out some Williams College students, but most of the competitors were middle school or early high school students. There was a large contingent of Mount Greylock Regional students and even some preteens.
Many who competed first picked up a Rubik's Cube out of boredom and then relied an online video to become the lightning-quick players.
"You get a sense of accomplishment for solving it," said Tim Reynolds, of the World Cube Association, which oversaw and tracked the competitions. "For most people here, the sense of accomplishment doesn't go away because you keep trying new things and techniques and feel a sense of accomplishment from solving it faster."
The competition was the resut of the unlikely ongoing communication between co-organizer Ric Donati, 15, of Wiliamstown, and Williams College mathematics professor Mihai Stoichiu. Donati had picked up a Rubik's Cube when he was 10 and by 14 he could complete it in 16 seconds. He was directed by a friend's father to talk to Stoichiu, who had taught two Williams College winter courses on the mathematics behind the Rubik's Cube.
Donati appreciated being able to talk to someone who understood the cube, and Stoichiu liked Donati's interest in the cube, which has applications to the math principle of group theory and ties into abstract algebra. They hosted a workshop for Williamstown Elementary students on how to solve the Rubik's cube.
"There were almost no local cubers but it was nice to talk to someone who understood what I was talking about and he was able to explain the math behind it," said Donati, who finished third in the 3x3 one-handed category.
On Saturday the pair shared their passion with others from Rhode Island, Maine, New Jersey, and even a Californian who was in Boston and made a special trip to the Berkshires.
To reach John Sakata:
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The winners ...
The winners of Saturday's Rubix competition sponsored by the World Cube Association and hosted at Williams College.
n 2x2 Rubik: Kevin Costello III, 2.84 seconds
n 3x3: Costello III, 9.59 seconds
n 4x4: Costello III, * 31.84 seconds
n 5x5: Costello III, 1 minute 12.15 seconds
n Pyraminix: Shane Harrington, 5.69 seconds
n 3x3 blind: Noah Arthurs, 36.46 seconds.
*Signifies a new continental record in 4x4 average time following five trials