The Yellowknife family who believed their 13-year-old had been offered sponsorship by a leading Rubik’s Cube website say they have been tricked.
Owen Wilkes and his family believed he had been approached by Team Cubicle, which brands itself “the world’s leading speedcubing team,” following impressive performances in a range of online events.
“It’s people who solve Rubik’s Cubes really fast in competitions,” Owen told Cabin Radio last week. “People can make a living out of this but it’s very difficult, and getting sponsored by Team Cubicle is one of the first steps to going pro.”
Owen’s mother, Cherish Winsor, initially confirmed receipt of a sponsorship offer from the team. However, Winsor now says she discovered early this week that the offer was a scam targeted at Owen as a young Rubik’s Cube enthusiast.
“Owen is obviously quite disappointed but we are now in contact with their sponsorship coordinator to talk about future opportunities,” Winsor said by email.
“He hasn’t given up and plans to travel to Vancouver in December to compete at an event in person.”
Team Cubicle did not respond to a request for comment.
While the sponsorship offer proved fake, Owen’s family and the teacher who introduced him to the cube maintain his talent is real.
“He almost always has a cube in his hands and spends hours every day learning algorithms and practising his skills, always trying to beat his own records,” Winsor said last week.
Stephen Richardson, an École St Joseph School music teacher, described algorithms as the patterns you must follow to solve any scrambled, or unsolved, cube.
“Growing up during the ’80s and ’90s, my mother was the only person I knew who could solve the cube. It would be sitting on a shelf, solved, and she never told me how she did it,” Richardson said, describing how he embraced the cube as an adult.
“It took me a week of practising. After a week, I could solve it. I wrote down all the algorithms on a sheet and practised them at recess.
“I would always have the cube in my hand walking around the halls and it developed into this kind-of ’80s culture of cubing at school. Kids were bringing them in all the time. I would come into any class and there would be 10 of them on my desk to solve.”
At least one other student had already travelled to a cubing competition in Vancouver – only to see it cancelled by the onset of Covid-19 – by the time Owen’s interest grew.
“I told Owen and a few others: You guys have the time. You’re in Grade 7, Grade 8, you don’t have families, this is the time to go after this hobby,” said Richardson.
“He went and memorized the whole sheet. He went way past me. He put in a lot of work.”
Owen said: “Getting good, to me, was like: I could beat my music teacher some day. I just wanted to get faster and faster to the point where nobody could beat me.”
Owen awaits his first opportunity to compete in person once the pandemic recedes. Until then, he is competing online. Tournament organizers send instructions to scramble the cube, which Owen does before placing it under a cover. He then has 15 seconds, on camera, to lift the cover and inspect the cube before beginning.
Richardson, as a music teacher, draws parallels between the cube and learning an instrument in explaining how being a cuber can help students.
“I compare it to music and learning guitar solos,” he said, grouping the cube in with video games as hobbies that require transferable skills.
“A lot of the patterns in games like Fortnite, The Witcher, and Zelda are so much more complicated than pressing a few buttons down on a trumpet.
“With the cube, a lot of adults think they can either solve it or they can’t. But the beginner method is very, very basic. It’s no different than learning any other skill. The kids don’t have that block right away, they just look at the sheet and keep practising.”
Owen is now planning his own cubing club, “not only to teach new cubers but also as a space for people to hang out and solve cubes together.”
Seeing young Yellowknifers embrace an ’80s icon warms Richardson’s heart.
“My mother passed away the first year I moved up here, and I have her Rubik’s Cube – it has the wrong colours, it has pink on one side – in the glove compartment of my Jeep,” he said.
“Those ones from the ’80s are so hard to turn, it’s like there’s sand in them. New cubes connect to Bluetooth so you can go through the movements with the students – as they turn them, it turns on the screen.
“It’s so weird to walk around the school and see all these kids carrying cubes. It’s neat to see it coming back.”