Cubing competitions put teenager’s puzzle solving skills on display

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Daniel Goodman competing in the Pyraminx event.

Most people cannot solve Rubik’s Cube, let alone use the challenging puzzle to gain admission to an Ivy League university. Daniel Goodman, 18, of Howell, will attend Princeton University this year and he credits his hobby of competitive cubing with helping him to earn acceptance to his dream school.

Goodman learned how to solve Rubik’s Cube in April 2012 and participated in his first cubing competition in January 2013.

“I was always kind of interested in competing, but I was kind of scared to do it. Then I saw there was a competition at the (Monmouth County Library Headquarters) in Manalapan, which is 15 minutes away from me, so I figured what better chance would there be than now, so I decided to compete,” he said.

In May 2013, Goodman started his own YouTube channel, DGCubes, which is devoted to his hobby. In five years his channel has almost 47,000 subscribers, people who regularly view the channel, but who do not have to pay to view the nearly 400 videos Goodman has posted.

“You can define cubing as solving Rubik’s Cube for speed, (but) that is more speed cubing and not just Rubik’s Cube, but other puzzles as well,” he said. “So I guess cubing is just the act of solving Rubik’s Cube, but more for speed, not just trying to figure it out.”

The World Cube Association is the governing body for the hobby. There are 18 events that include different cube puzzles and tests such as solving cube puzzles while blindfolded.

“So (cubing) is time based. There is an event called ‘fewest moves’ where you are given an hour and … you need to come up with your most efficient solution. It is not based on time, but that is just one of the 18 events; all the other ones are focused on speed,” Goodman said.

Cubers also solve puzzles that are more complex than Rubik’s Cube.

“The regular (Rubik’s Cube) is a 3x3x3 cube with nine squares on each side. The World Cube Association goes up to 7×7 with 49 squares on each side, but (some) companies have produced up to 17×17 cubes and one person invented a 33×33 cube.

“So there are large cubes like that, but they also come in different shapes, such as pyramids and tetrahedrons,” said Goodman, who is a graduate of the Monmouth County Vocational School District’s High Technology High School, Lincroft.

He said his personal best and favorite event is the Pyraminx, which is a pyramid shaped puzzle.

“I got a Pyraminx pretty early on and I always really liked it. The first time I competed in Pyraminx, I actually got a pretty good time,” Goodman said. “I put a lot of practice into it and it became my best event over time.”

Goodman said his experiences with cubing were a significant part of his application to Princeton University.

“My entire essay was about cubing and how the entire cubing community and everything about it has impacted me and basically made me a much happier and, I feel, a much better person. So that was a big part of my application, and also the achievements I have gotten through cubing like my YouTube channel and my world rankings,” he said.

Goodman said he and a friend who will attend the University of Chicago conducted a seminar at the cubing nationals to explain to other competitors how cubing helped them gain admission to  college.

He said one of the positive aspects of cubing is the sense of community it provides.

“Cubing has really helped me come out of my shell. I used to be a really shy 12-year-old kid and then I got into cubing and it really made me a lot more social and confident.

“The community is very supportive, people are not really competing against each other and at each other’s throats or anything like that.

“It is very much like everybody is rooting for each other and that is what I really love about it,” said Goodman, who plans to study computer science at Princeton.