Sitka teen’s ‘need for speed’ gives her rubric for solving Rubik’s Cubes

a Rubik's Cube enthusiast
Sitka High School student Rianna Bergman poses with three Rubik’s Cubes in varying designs. (Katherine Rose/KCAW)

Sitka High School student Rianna Bergman is showing me her collection of Rubik’s Cubes. She has a few.

“The move that I’m doing…the official cubing term for these moves…is called a “Sexy Move,” Bergman said as she turned the cube and its many faces over and over in her hands. “It’s just six of them, and it always returns the puzzle to its solved state.”

Moments after she starts demonstrating the move, she solves the puzzle. That’s because Bergman is a speedcuber.

“I solve Rubik’s Cubes really fast,” she said. “An average of about 15 seconds, give or take.”

Bergman says she solved her first cube, more than anything out of spite.

“We had an exchange student staying with us from Austria, who could solve a Rubik’s Cube. And he was staying at our house for just a weekend while his host family was out of town,” Bergman said. “And my brother had this Rubik’s Cube that he would scramble up and leave all over the house. And then the exchange student would just solve it. And then one day, the exchange student left, and my brother just left an unsolved Rubik’s Cube on the counter, in just plain view, and it bothered me so much that I grabbed it.”

She took the cube to school and convinced a friend to teach her how to solve one side. Then she took it home and watched a tutorial. She solved her first cube in about an hour. That’s when Bergman realized she wanted to “go fast.”

“My brain was like, ‘You could probably do that in less time. And probably without the video. Let’s try that again,’” Bergman said. She started carrying the cube with her everywhere she went.

“I would go on walks with my mom or I’d go on errands around town. I had this little notepad with these algorithms written down in case I forgot them,” Bergman said. “We walked through Totem Park one day, and I was just with my one little notebook just cubing as we walked.”

That was five years ago. Today, she owns 15 cubes and can solve a variety of types. Bergman is competitive, but with herself – it’s all about shaving off seconds to lower her average solve time.

“The more advanced you get, and the faster you get, usually the more algorithms you learn. So right now, I probably know around 30 [or] 40 algorithms,” Bergman said. “But I’m planning to learn another 50 to get through this one portion, and that should take me down to about 12 seconds average, hopefully.”

Like a race car, cubes have to be maintained, and tailored to the cuber’s preferences.

“There’s tons of different speed cubes. The one that I use is called the X-Man Tornado V3. It has adjustable magnets, an adjustable spring system, and a ton of cool stuff like that,” Bergman said. “Yes, there is there a speed cube lube. That is a thing that exists. The one I use is called ‘Martian’ and helps my cube go faster, [but] there’s different ones that slow the cube down.”

At the beginning of April, Bergman traveled to Anchorage for her first ever speed cubing competition. Nearly 80 cubers from Alaska, the Lower 48 and some international cubers competed in several events.

Bergman recalls that only three or four of the competitors were women. Speedcubing is a male-dominated sport.

“I definitely had a lot of stress going into the competition,” Bergman said. “I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t really want to talk to them. But then, I kind of realized these are speedcubers. These are ‘cuber’ people. So it’s not like I’m going up to someone who I don’t know, and we’re not going to have something in common. We’re all there because we have something in common.”

Bergman found the environment to be very welcoming and supportive. She hoped to make it to the second round of competition in the 3×3 cube division. It’s one of the most competitive categories that nearly every cuber entered. 

“My little secret was…I had a hoodie on, and for all of my events I had some hand warmers in my pockets,” Bergman said. “Those hand warmers lasted 12 hours, and I was very proud of them. And before all my solves, I just stuck my hands in my pocket, warmed them up a little bit. And then I solved.” 

Bergman exceeded her expectations: she made it to the final round of 3×3 and placed 12th overall.  

She’ll keep working on her solves, but she’s not sure if she sees professional cubing in her future. But she plans to keep cubing through college and maybe even start a cubing club, and she hopes to encourage people to find joy in the puzzle she’s so enthralled with. 

“The inventor of the puzzle himself was an architect. His name was Erno Rubik. It took him a couple months to figure out how to solve the puzzle, because there’s 43 quintillion possible different permutations it can be in,” Bergman said.

“It’s a difficult puzzle,” she continued. “But it’s not as scary as it looks.”

At the end of the day, for Bergman, it’s not just about “going fast” or solving the puzzle. 

“If you find something you like, that you enjoy, keep doing it,” Bergman said. “Even if you don’t think you’re as good as other people or where you want to be, still do your best and try, because you’re probably going to have a fun time either way.”

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