“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them. ”-Erno Rubik
“I need a donut.” -Me, while trying to solve a puzzle cube
It was 1974 when Hungarian architect Ernő Rubik introduced his “Magic Cube.” He never meant for it to become the cultural phenomenon that it is today, instead thinking that it was a just a way to explain 3D geometry.
Forty years after his inital experiment, there are International speed cubing competitions, hundreds of variations of the puzzle cube sold, and TheCubicle, an online cubing specialty store.
Phil Yu is the co-founder of the popular store, a World Ranked cuber, and an advocate for teaching cube solving to people like myself, who have zero experience (or interest) in cubing. The Cubicle's dedicated youtube channel is mostly cube related videos, but the most popular is the tutorial for beginners that has over a million views. Yu is the narrator and and cube sensei.
Here is a little more about Phil and The Cubicle.
UP: What is your cube story?
My cube story began senior year of high school, so I was 18. I had finished college applications and wanted a new hobby to enjoy in my last free semester of high school. A friend of mine was already casually cubing, and so I got into the hobby as well. It started as a way to pass time and to be playfully competitive with my friends in an outlandish and silly way. But, I’m naturally very competitive, and so that period of being silly didn’t last long. I found myself practicing for hours and hours a day and then eventually going to competitions. I peaked in the summer of 2012, where I held a national record and was ranked No. 2 in the world. I’ve since retired from competing seriously, but I still get very excited about cubes and helping people get better.
My company, TheCubicle, was founded in 2011 between myself and a partner, James. I met James in a history class in college. The material was a little dry, and so we found ourselves cubing in the back of the lecture hall. Our mutual interest in puzzles and business led us to launch our business first in our dorm room. Over the years, we’ve grown to become the largest cubing specialty store in North America. Right now, our company’s focus is to provide both for the customer and the community, and to constantly innovate in the realm of speedcubing.
UP: What makes the cube such an international phenomenon?
I think part of the reason for this is the cube is very easy to understand conceptually, but difficult to solve without help. The objective is very clear: you turn each of the six sides to match all six colors. It’s just not easy. That level of simplicity makes the cube very easy to grasp, and transcends all language barriers. There’s also something really cool about seeing all the colors magically align when a cuber is solving very quickly. It’s something just about anybody can appreciate and respect.
UP: When did you know that you had a business based on puzzles and cubes?
We launched our store because we felt there was an opportunity for a more professional business dedicated to the community and to customizing items for customers. These were both growing fields, and we felt we had the correct backgrounds to dive into the industry. From the start, we were very aware that we wanted to be a puzzle specialty store. James and I were both members of the speedcubing community, and we knew from the beginning that it was a community we’d like to serve.
UP: Tell me a little about these tutorial videos you guys have made.
In February, we released a tutorial video on how to solve the 3×3. We noticed a good opportunity to present a professionally shot tutorial on a subject many were probably very interested in learning about. At this point in time, over a million people have seen the video, and I think it’s safe to assume that many have learned how to solve the cube with our help. It feels really cool to teach something to someone — especially if the thing is something they once thought was near impossible.
Aside from the 3×3 tutorial, we regularly make videos on puzzles, events, and people in our industry. A lot of our videos showcase new puzzle releases, and aim to inform people about up-and-coming stuff they may be interested in trying.
UP: Who is the fastest cuber in the office? Do you guys have competitions? I picture people walking around the office just constantly solving hand puzzles, is that correct?
I think that’s a tie between Jabari Nuruddin and Rowe Hessler. Jabari is one of our software developers. He’s ranked top 20 globally in a variety of events, and is widely recognized as one of the most gifted cubers in the world. Rowe manages custom puzzle production and was a two-time US champion, a world champion and a world record holder. He’s also held numerous national and continental records — so many that I personally can’t recall the exact number. These two guys would be the fastest in the office for sure.
Sometimes we compete for fun in the office, and over the summer, we livestream some of these competitions. It’s a great way for people at home to interact with our cubing staff members. Aside from this, almost all of us compete in World Cube Association sanctioned events. We frequent local competitions and travel to some of the bigger ones like US Nationals and World Championships.
And yes, people routinely walk around with puzzles. Sometimes you’ll hear one person issuing a silly challenge to another person. Work’s pretty fun.
UP: I recently saw a video of a guy solving 3 cubes while underwater, what is the craziest cube video or story that you have seen?
Ah, I think that might have been Kevin Hays. He was a collegiate swimmer and he’s a professional speedcuber. Our company has been working with Kevin for a few years now. In 2015, he solved 8 cubes underwater, which is the standing Guinness world record. The video is available here. That’s a pretty crazy one.
The craziest story I’ve seen is Rowe’s 24-hour marathon. For some odd reason, Rowe felt it was a good idea to try to break the Guinness world record for most cubes solved in a 24-hour period. We went to help support him and scramble cubes for him, and many stayed for the entire marathon. Rowe ended up solving 6,680 cubes, which beat the old record of 5,800 by a pretty large margin. What’s crazier is that I’ve heard him say on multiple occasions that he might want to do it again!
UP: UberPrints has a Rubik’s cube shirt in our templates section. What would your shirt say?
I had no idea! This is a cube that normally we don’t ever see in real life. Usually, cubes don’t have two yellow centers or two white stickers on the same piece. Even so, it’s very obvious it’s a cube. To me, it adds a level of sophistication and mystery.
UP: What kind of products have you ordered from UberPrints and what seems to be the most popular?
We’ve ordered a number of t-shirts and hoodies from UberPrints. I’d say both are very popular. The shirts are well-fitted, sized accurately, and consistently high quality. The hoodies are warm and comfy. As cubers, we take color pretty seriously, and UberPrints has a very nice selection.