Will Callan, an expert Rubiks Cube solver, shows off his skills as he prepares for a national tournament later this summer. (Karen Jackson / Baltimore Sun)
Will Callan has been solving the Rubik’s Cube since 2012, when he was in the fifth grade. He started competing against others gifted in the art of deciphering the puzzle not long after.
On Aug. 1, the recent Century High School graduate will be competing in the Rubik’s Cube National Tournament to be held in Baltimore.
“We had [a Rubik’s Cube] lying around the house but I didn’t really do much about it,” Callan, 18, recalled. “One of my friends had gotten one for Christmas or something and he had some solution guide. For some reason, I wanted to learn how to solve it. I don’t know why exactly but after about three weeks later, I just kept using like online resources and stuff and I figured out how to solve it.”
When he first started learning how to solve the cubes, he said he would take as long as 4 or 5 minutes to complete them, but says he got to under a minute fairly easily after a couple of weeks.
“To get faster from there, there’s a lot of resources online that I use but a lot of it’s just repetition too,” he said. “It’s a combination of your methods, how fast you’re turning and a lot of it is in muscle memory now, so I don’t have to think about it as much.”
When Callan first competed, he would solve the cube, on average, in about 40 seconds. These days, he can complete a cube in about 8 seconds, on average. To get to this point, Callan said, has taken a lot of training.
“I usually practice every day because it’s something that I enjoy,” he said. “I mean, it’s calming, kind of from just doing it casually, whether I’m watching TV or in between classes or something like that.”
His routine varies.
“I practice this a few different ways,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll just do a bunch of solves but you also have to do different things like learn algorithms. Just doing like 1,000 solves isn’t necessarily going to be the best means of practice but I usually practice about an hour or two a day or whenever I have time. I’m just doing solves whenever I can or learning new algorithms or just trying to perfect the methods that I know.”
Callan said he has competed in about 79 competitions since 2012, averaging one to two competitions per month. At this point, he has accumulated about 25 first-, second- and third-place prizes, totaling 75 appearances on podiums for making the top three.
Competitors generally get about 15 seconds to inspect the cube. This is when Callan said he looks for his first five or six moves and then proceeds to solve it normally. Usually, he has a general outline for the method he uses.
“There’s like 42 quintillion different combinations, so every time you solve it, it’s going to be completely different, which is one of the really fun things about it,” he said. “For the first, around like two-thirds of the cube, you have like the general plan where there’s no specific moves you need to make and then when you get towards the end of the cube, that’s when you have a lot of stuff already done. In order to, like, not mess it up, it’s really hard to do anything because any move you make is gonna move something around that you have already solved.
“So, at that point, I start using different algorithms that I’ve memorized,” he continued “And I know when I use a specific algorithm, it’s going to switch these three pieces, and everything else is going to remain in the same spot. And then that allows me to keep going when I’ve already had a majority of the cube solved so I don’t mess anything up but I can also keep progressing.”
Callan said he has collected close to 100 Rubik’s Cubes, including a variety of cubes that are different than the standard Rubik’s Cube. He has cubes that are 2-by-2 squares, 7-by-7 squares and different shapes.
Callan said he was able to qualify for 15 of the 18 events at nationals. The Baltimore event will have approximately 800 competitors who have qualified, according to Will’s father, Rick Callan.
“The organization is called the World Cube Association and they help host competitions throughout the year,” Will Callan said. “So you can go to any one of those competitions and qualify or set a record to get your personal best.”