Cool Cube Master
By Jane Kingsu-Cheng
Not known to many, the Rubik’s cube was developed by Hungarian professor and architect Ernő Rubik back in 1974. It’s a three dimensional combination puzzle meant to be an educational tool for his university students at that time. Licensed for selling in the 1980s, the Rubik’s cube was later on packaged as a toy and what many refer to as the “magic cube.”
Just looking at the 3x3x3 puzzle cube can bring anxiety to most people, but not for 2019 World Cube Association World Championship second placer Sean Patrick Villanueva who chanced upon a fellow school bus rider playing with this “toy” two years ago. His curiosity got the better of him, prompting him to ask his parents for a starter cube for him to test his puzzle-solving skills.
Unlike most kids his age who spend their time watching YouTube for edutainment purposes, 11-year-old Sean made use of his gadget time by learning how to solve this magic cube.
“I just focused on solving the puzzle, while learning and finding a method that I preferred,” he says. “It’s fun to learn the different methods and algorithms, and it’s quite easy once you get the hang of solving it.”
It gets even more exciting with every successful move, as he finds joy in being one step closer to solving each puzzle combination.
Sean’s interest quickly escalated. Growing more confident with all the research and practice he had been doing, he asked for his parents to buy him a better cube fit for competition. They accompanied him to his very first competition, the Philippine Championship in 2017. “He just wanted to experience how it is to compete, knowing that he is not fast enough to place. He actually ranked 201st then,” his parents say.
Opting to learn on his own, he has no coach. He tries to spend one or two hours a day practicing when he gets home from school, but only once he’s done with all his homework and chores, a prerequisite from his parents. When asked how he feels about this rule, this consistent first-honor student says, “It’s all right. I know (that) studies should come first.”
Weekends are a different story. This is when Sean gets to spend more time practicing, even filming them for uploads on his social media accounts, which the parents oversee. He’s also fortunate to have the support of other speedcubers around the world, “I do not have a coach, but I watch sample solves and tutorials by experienced cubers on YouTube. I am also grateful that one of the speedcubers I look up to, Kian Mansour of Canada, offered to critique some of my solves when I was just starting to learn. We use the same method, which is the Roux method, so he thought of critiquing my solutions, so I could be better and more efficient.”
He’s always on the lookout for competitions, and his parents make sure they are with him every step of the way. His mom Celeste adds,“We also try to get to know who he hangs out with during competitions and cube meets. It’s usually the same people who joins these competitions, so we really get to know them or their parents, especially the young speedcubers.” Not only do they bring him to these meetups, the parents are also constantly learning about Sean’s speedcubing world, even the lingo used so they can easily understand and connect with their son.
Aside from receiving numerous awards and certificates of excellence from his school, Sean has collected 11 gold medals, seven silver medals, and 11 bronze medals from the 20 competitions he has joined over the past two years. The family felt it was time for Sean to experience how it’s like to compete on a global scale. The 2019 World Cube Association World Championship held in Melbourne, Australia, is the very first global tournament he joined. This sixth grade student from Ateneo de Manila University competed against 800 older participants in the 3x3x3 cube competition, coming in second with an average solving time of 6.78 seconds. The overall champion, 21-year-old Philip Weyer from Germany, won by a difference of only .04 seconds. “We wanted him to experience, at least once, how it is to compete in a global arena and also to meet some of the speedcubers he looks up to. It was really just a bonus that he won second place in the main event,” says his mom.
Almost right after the win, Sean’s mom revealed that her inbox was full of inquiries and requests for interviews. Because Sean isn’t used to this attention, his parents reassures him. “We always tell him that it is also good, because that means he is able to inspire and be a role model to others. I have friends and colleagues whose kids are now learning to solve the Rubik’s cube because they were inspired by Sean,” beams Sean’s mom.
Sean’s dream is to be a record-holder, and has set his sights on competing in the Asian Championship in 2020 and World Championship in 2021. He also looks at competitions as a chance to beat his own personal time. For him, it doesn’t matter if he wins or loses. His mom further explains, “His opponent is his own self, and we really love that he looks at it that way.”