Matthew McMahon, 17, is a student at Sacred Heart High School with an interesting hobby – Rubik’s cubes. He is a certifiable cubing fanatic and it is rare to not see him fiddling with one of his cubes, wherever he may be.
He’s entered to compete in an official World Cube Association event, the Montreal Open Winter 2017, on Feb. 4. We caught up with him recently to chat about the hobby.
DEVYN BARRIE: How did you get started in cubing?
MATTHEW MCMAHON: I started around last year in November and I basically found a Rubik’s cube under my bed that was unsolved and I wanted it solved. And so, through looking on YouTube videos and stuff like that… you just sort of memorize the things they teach you. From there you just get faster at those teachings.
It’s not too hard. Memorizing algorithm sheets… creating acronyms in your head… remembering how your hands move. It only takes a month to be able to memorize all the algorithms required to solve it. So, it’s not that hard.
There’s 57 separate algorithms for one of the four stages of the [3×3] cube for orientating all of the yellow side… then there’s about 14 other ones for moving the pieces around. For the first couple of stages of the cube, it’s all intuitive. Practice will help you increase your spacial awareness.
DB: You take these to school a lot – any gawkers?
MM: Not typically. Sometimes there’s someone who’s kinda interested or a teacher… typically people will look but they won’t ever approach you and be ‘how do you solve it?’ all that kind of stuff.
DB: Are your friends jealous?
MM: Of me solving it? No, no, they think it’s annoying. Because it’s really noisy. I think that’s the general consensus for people who speed solve them at least, because it does make a little bit of noise. I know my family is very compliant and sort of tolerate my addiction.”
DB: How would you grade your skill level?
MM: Out of ten? Probably close to eight, I guess. I’m better than most of my friends, well I guess all of my friends. But I’m nowhere near world record or national level. I’m just doing it for fun.”
DB: How do you expect to do at the tournament?
MM: Not bad. I’m signed up currently for 2×2, 3×3 and 4×4. Two-by-two I should do pretty well. I’ve only been to one competition previously, so hopefully I’ll be able to get into at least second round or third round.
Three-by-three, I’m decent at, but obviously once you get up on stage nerves take over… I dunno, there’s a lot of competition in 3×3.
And then 4×4 I’m basically just trying to make the cutoff time. They stop letting you solve after a minute and 30 seconds and right now I average a minute and 20. So, with nerves, it might increase the time and I might go over the time cap.
DB: Have you been practicing?
MM: All the time. It’s exam time now [at high school], so whenever I’m trying to memorize things I like to fumble around with the cube, keep my fingers busy while I study. So I’ve had lots of practice so far.
DB: What’s your personal record?
MM: For 2×2, it’s something like two seconds. Three-by-three is eleven and 4×4 is 58 seconds.
DB: Are you hoping to go pro?
MM: No, no it’s just for fun. It’s basically just a hobby.
McMahon’s career goal is aerospace engineering and he’s hoping to get into Carleton University when he graduates Sacred Heart. He’s good at math, yes, but said there’s no connection between that and cubing. He said it is a misconception that only “smart” people can be good at it – it’s just a matter of practice and memory.
Good luck at Montreal!