India’s cubing enthusiasts are slowly making their mark and nursing hopes of government support

From a club at IIT Bombay to conducting international tournaments, Indian cubers are finding new ways to chase their passion

Updated - June 14, 2024 08:43 pm IST

Published - June 14, 2024 11:15 am IST

Speedcuber Shivam Bansal, 24, is the Asian champion in 5x5 blindfolded and multi-blindfolded.

Speedcuber Shivam Bansal, 24, is the Asian champion in 5x5 blindfolded and multi-blindfolded. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Last month, on the 50th anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube, Mitsubishi Electric’s TOKUFASTbot set a new Guinness World Record by solving a 3x3 puzzle in just 0.305 seconds — the time it takes a human eye to blink. The human record for solving a 3x3 Cube stands at 3.13 seconds (USA’s Max Park, 2023). According to the World Cube Association (WCA), there are 2,21,713 cubers in the world and 17,610 in India, the fastest of them being Aryan Chhabra who averages 6.53 seconds.

Since its invention five decades ago, lovers of the Cube have found new ways to take this game of twists and turns to the next level. While India’s representation on the global cubing stage leaves much to be desired, there is enough brewing in pockets around the country to pave the way for international glory.

In 2011, buoyed by the enthusiasm of its students passionate about solving the puzzle, IIT Bombay (IIT-B) formed a Rubik’s Cube Club. The very next year, the institute broke the world record for the most number of people solving the Cube simultaneously with 937 cubers cracking the puzzle in less than 30 minutes. Since then, the interest in the largely male-dominated game has grown manifold. In fact, a post-dinner Rubik’s Cube workshop is conducted as an icebreaker for freshers in July. This year, the club is trying to conduct a WCA tournament, says Yash Kulkarni, a third-year student of Metallurgy Engineering and Materials Science and manager of the club.

Students at the Rubik’s Cube Club in IIT-Bombay.

Students at the Rubik’s Cube Club in IIT-Bombay. | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

Cuber Abhijeet Ghodgaonkar, who was a research fellow at IIT-B from 2021 to 2023, and is currently a scientific officer at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, is a WCA trainee delegate from India West region and Advisory Council Member since 2019. He has participated in and organised many cubing contests in India, and has been to 89 WCA competitions in four different countries. The 28-year-old is the current Asian champion in 4x4 blindfolded and national record holder in 4x4 blindfolded and 5x5 blindfolded. “We want to encourage more people to take up the Cube,” he says. “All the cubers who participate or organise do it out of personal interest as there is no sponsorship or recognition for this as a sport by the government.”

Cuber Abhijeet Ghodgaonkar

Cuber Abhijeet Ghodgaonkar

Broad appeal

Software professional Shivam Bansal, 24, from Agra, has been cubing since 2010. A former world record holder in 3x3 multi-blindfolded (MBLD), he is currently ranked fourth in the category, and is the Asian champion in 5x5 blindfolded and MBLD. He is the no.1 Indian in Kinch ranks, which is the overall ranking in Rubik’s Cube. He also holds two Guinness World Records in MBLD 48/48 and most cubes solved in an hour by a team. “The inspiration runs in the family as my sister, Saumya, is also a cuber,” says Bansal. “She is the only Indian female cuber to participate in two world championships. She is also the former female national record holder in Pyraminx, Skewb.”

Shivam Bansal

Shivam Bansal

A cuber from the age of 10, Bansal has his sights set on the upcoming Rubik’s WCA Asian Championship 2024 to be held in Malaysia in November, and the WCA World Championship 2025 in Washington.

Scope for women

That a mere hobby taken up during the COVID-19 lockdown would open the doors to fame and national records is not something 12-year-old Prisha Aggarwal expected. In February 2023, she made a new national record (female category) at the Skewb Indian National Championship in the 5x5 and 6x6 cube category, by becoming the fastest child to solve the 5x5 cube. In December that year, Aggarwal participated in the Indian Nationals Cubing Championships held at the North-Eastern Hill University campus in Shillong, where she made additional records in 5x5, 6x6 and the Skewb event. “It all started with the pandemic when I would watch YouTube tutorials to try and solve the Rubik’s Cube. Seeing me engrossed in it, my mother enrolled me in an online class,” says Aggarwal, a class VII student from New Delhi.

No sport is gender-centric today. But, in cubing, women still have a long way to go as their participation is hardly 10% at WCA events, says Aggarwal. “I also think that there is a feeling among people that cubing is only for boys. If we encourage girls too, we will see more participation from them at all level.”

Behind a competition

Soham Adarkar, co-founder of Cubenama, an online store for cubing supplies, has been competing and organising Rubik’s Cube events since 2015. So far, he has participated in 42 competitions and organised and supported over 30 official competitions and several unofficial cubing events across Maharashtra, Kerala, New Delhi, Punjab, Goa, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. To organise a Rubik’s Cube competition, he says, one just needs a sound understanding of the game, a venue and a good team. “Once the pre-requisites are met, you send a request to WCA, which regulates all official speed cubing competitions across the world,” he adds.

For a country that churns out chess grandmasters by the dozen, it comes as a surprise that the Rubik’s Cube is still considered a mere toy, continues Adarkar. “Although the competitions are self-funded and the organisers don’t make any money from a competition since the WCA is a recognised non-profit, we do it for the community.”

purnima.sah@thehindu.co.in

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