Alexei Sinyavin learned to solve a standard Rubik’s Cube three years ago by studying a 10-minute YouTube video. Since then, the rising Scarsdale Middle School eighth-grader has become a master of that cube — and other variations — through daily practice.
What was once 2.5 minutes to solve the standard six-sided 3x3 scrambled cube became 14.48 seconds the first time he competed in 2016. Sinyavin’s fastest time in competition is 7.23 seconds, which is just shy of cracking the top 600 in the world.
“I didn’t do that great because I was nervous and it was my first time,” he said.
Though he competes roughly once each month, Sinyavin will bring his talents to the 15th CubingUSA Nationals Aug. 1-4 in Baltimore, Maryland, for the first time. There are no age divisions as international speedcubers will be competing for $25,050 in total prize money in 20 categories: 3x3x3, 2x2x2, 4x4x4, 5x5x5, 6x6x6, 7x7x7, 3x3x3 blindfolded, 3x3x3 fewest moves, 3x3x3 one-handed, 3x3x3 with feet, clock, megaminx, pyraminx, skewb, square-1, 4x4x4 blindfolded, 5x5x5 blindfolded, 3x3x3 multi-blind, magic and master magic.
Sinyavin has competed 25 times over the last few years and in 962 solves has four gold medals, seven silver, five bronze. The only event Sinyavin continues to struggle in is the blindfolded solve.
“I just practiced and I naturally became fast,” Sinyavin said. “I watch fast people and I talk and race with my friends. I never went to nationals before, so I’m going to experience it for the first time.”
Sinyavin’s crazy flippin’ fingers are a wonder to watch as he solves the various puzzle cubes and runs strategies and algorithms through his head.
“There’s a lot of tutorials, so it’s pretty simple to learn,” Sinyavin said. “When you get down to the hardcore level, there are a lot of tips and tricks you learn.”
Watching a speedcuber like Sinyavin whip through a cube like it’s nothing is surely a sight to see.
“They’re amazed when I solve it so quickly,” Sinyavin said of friends and family. “They barely see anyone do it or they do it in over a minute. At first I thought 2.5 minutes was really good and now I think that’s extremely bad.
“It took a month to get to 50 seconds, another month to 35, another to get to 20 because I practiced a lot in that month. Then I started getting it down from there.”
In megaminx, a 12-sided version, Sinyavin has the 11th fastest time in the world at 34.14 seconds. That’s fourth among Americans and 19.23 seconds faster than his score in 2018, when he competed in the event for the first time. The record-holder is Peru’s Juan Pablo Huanqui in 27.81 seconds.
When he first picked it up last year, the megaminx took Sinyavin about four minutes. It’s now his best event. “It took me a day to learn,” he said.
Online and at competitions, Sinyavin has made many friends through cubing. It’s a fun, competitive community pushing each other to shave off valuable fractions of seconds. “That keeps me motivated,” Sinyavin said.
Sinyavin practices an hour a day during the school year, two to three hours on summer days. He also swims year-round for the Stamford Sailfish and in the summer competes for the Scarsdale town pool team.
Sinyavin doesn’t play as many video games as he used to now that he’s into cubing and he said his newfound hand-eye coordination doesn’t translate over to holding a controller.
Though there are now competing cubes, professor Ernõ Rubik invented the Magic Cube in 1974 in Hungary as a teaching aid for his students. The Ideal Toy Company renamed it for Rubik in 1980. Two years later the first World Championships were held and Minh Thai of the United States won with a time of 22.95 seconds. The cube, and other puzzles, evolved over the years to allow for quicker solving with lighter weight and less friction.
The fastest 3x3x3 solve is 3.47 seconds by Yusheng Du. That time was bested only by a robot … in a mere .38 seconds.
“If you want to learn it, learn it,” Sinyavin said. “It’s not that hard and it’s really fun to show it off to people.”
Sinyavin got his start thanks to his older brother, Ivan, who bought two cubes. Sinyavin was bored on a vacation and picked up the cube. The rest is speedcubing history. “I was like, ‘I should learn this,’ and I learned it,” he said.