Fourteen-year-old Lucas Etter dragged the world record for solving a 3x3 Rubik's Cube under 5 seconds at Saturday's River Hill Fall competition in Clarksville, Maryland, where he solved a cube in 4.904 seconds. The World Cube Association verified the achievement with a post on its website early this morning. Etter's performance shaved three-tenths of a second from the record fellow speedcuber Collin Burns set earlier this year, and Burns' record would've fallen over the weekend even if Etter had fallen short. Competitor Keaton Ellis posted a time of 5.09 seconds during the same event, but he was lapped by Etter before the day was through.
The speed and precision with which Etter's hands are moving while he's solving the cube are mind-boggling; after watching the video a few times, my fingers were feeling a little arthritic in comparison. Speedcubers — that's the name for people interested in solving these puzzles are quickly as possible — are given time to assess their cubes before taking a crack at them, but having a plan of attack doesn't make Etter's accomplishment any less impressive. (Check out the official WCA regulations for competitions like this — they're thorough.)
Let's set up a human-robot speedcubing competition
Of course, there's still a huge gap between the speeds humans can achieve and the solutions capable in a robot's "hands." The Lego-built Cubestormer 3 solved the same kind of 3x3 cube in 3.253 seconds last year, meaning there's more than a second and a half of separation between Etter's world record and the overall record. It's hard to imagine someone approaching that speed with our natural fingers, but the world record's kept on falling in recent years — we could be noting another new standard in a few months. I'm just waiting for the first official human-robot race.