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Remember Rubik's Cube? This 11-year-old solves in seconds

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Zach Munding: Rubik's Cube wiiz

Zach Munding, a fifth-grader at St. Joseph School in Missoula, practices his skills with a Rubik's Cube.

For those of us who spent way too much time in the 1980s trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube, we present … Zach Munding.

The 11-year-old fifth-grader at St. Joseph Catholic School is proof we were born at least 40 years too soon.

Yep, those darned 3-D puzzles are still a thing, bigger and faster and more diverse than ever.

Even with a camera trained on him after school the other day and a local newspaperman watching his every move alongside his mom and seventh-grade sister, Munding solved the cube three times, each in under 45 seconds.

That’s about his average these days, 40 to 50 seconds.

“If I’m not turning right, maybe a minute,” he said humbly.

When he is turning right, and even when he’s not, Munding’s hands move with sure-fingered flicks. It’s far cry from the clunky beginner’s thumb-and-finger grasp and turn.

Eyes cast downward, shoulders and jaw relaxed, right wrist a whirling dervish, Munding alternately bit his lower lip and licked the upper one.

The puzzle solved, solid colors on all six sides, he plopped the cube on the table in front of him and looked up with a smile.

“He started watching some videos of some of these pros and how they move, then he started practicing using more than one hand to turn it,” Zach's mother, Liz Suh, said. “I remember he was starting to flick using both hands to do it. You and me, we never did that.”

It recalled another Missoula youth, a seventh-grader at Valley Christian School named Glenn Kauffman, who was on his way to mastering the Rubik’s Cube at the crest of its initial surge in 1981. Missoulian reporter Mea Andrews wrote about him, his schoolmates, and the addicting new craze. Her story on Dec. 19 was preceded by an editor’s note: “The writing of this story was delayed for several days as the author — and other reporters — unsuccessfully attempted to master the cube.”

Munding wishes he had recorded one of his previous attempts. He was at home in Florence last fall. It was cold outside, he said, and he had opted to stay inside and “do my cube.” Magic struck.

“I would have had the world record. I was really lucky. I got 3.43 seconds,” he said.

He used a timer downloaded onto his iPad and specifically geared for cubers.

In November 2018, Yusheng Du of China stunned the cubing world with a 3.47-second solve at the Wuhu Open in China. It eclipsed by most of a second the record of Munding’s hero, Feliks Zemdegs of Australia, who at age 24 is known as the Usain Bolt of speed cubing.

Munding reconstructed his own amazing moment.

“When I’d solved the first cross on the set, I solved the two layers, and then I solved the white layer. Then I did an algorithm, which took like one second,” he said. “That was pretty much it.”

Algorithms aren’t on the minds of most fifth-graders, but Zach can’t get them out of his head.

“You just need memory and muscle memory," he said. "Because, like, the algorithms, you have to memorize those and then you’ve got to memorize how they feel so it’s easier and faster.”

His is a vocabulary and a passion picked up from YouTube, ones his mom is trying mightily to learn.

“He doesn’t let me advance to the third layer to solve it, because he doesn’t think I have the first two layers down fast enough and well enough,” Suh said. “Because I’m always going, like, over … down … over … right … left.”

Suh said Zach was in first grade when she and her husband, Matt Munding, gave him and big sister Elise their first Rubik's Cubes. (Zach has 20 or 30 cubes now, several that come to school each day in his backpack.)

Classmates and schoolmates at St. Joseph have become aficionados this school year, and Munding offers classroom tuneups for their cubes. Vaseline works, he said, but he prefers a silicon lube made especially for modern "speed cubes."

 Another first-grader just last year lit the fire for him. He watched as his friend Cheyenne solved a cube at a school talent show.

"I was already kind of starting to play around with it, but I got kind of frustrated at myself because I couldn’t solve it, so I just went back and forth to it maybe once a day," Zach said. "Then when she solved it, I thought, 'OK, I need to do this. It looks so fun.'"

These aren't your cubes of the mullet and Spandex '80s, but the Gan 354 M's and Dayan Zhanchis of whatever fashion era we're in now.

Of the 35 world records kept by, yes, the World Cube Association, all but two were set in the past two years, at competitions ranging from Poland, Denmark and Sydney, Australia, to the Bay Area Speedcubin' 21 in California.

The diversity is one of the attractions for Munding. You can concentrate on the traditional 3x3x3 cube, or try the 2x2x2s, 4x4x4s, 5x5x5s, "and etcetera," he said.

Some don't use square cubes at all. Zach has tried his hand at the pyramid puzzles.

"It’s pretty easy but it looks pretty hard," Munding said.

"And there's Blindfold, where you put a blindfold on and solve it," he said. "I'm trying to learn that right now but I'm not so good at it."

Here's how the blindfold contest works: "You look at the cube and you memorize how many turns you’ve got to do and you’ve gotta make sure the cube stays in the same spot." 

The clock starts when the memorizing does. Then the blindfold is slapped on and the fun begins.

The first record for Blindfold cubing was established in 2001 by a German in 5 minutes, 42 seconds. An American, Max Hilliard, refreshed it for the 41st time last August at the CubingUSA Nationals in Maryland. His time? 15.5 seconds.

Munding is a good student, and an X-Box aficionado. He left his interview for tennis practice at the Peak.

But his mark, for now, is as a speed cubing wunderkind.

At a table in Mrs. Eichner's fifth-grade classroom, Munding slowed down to show and tell why.

"You solve the first cross, line these pieces with the centers, then you insert the corners so they all match up, then you insert the edge pieces, then you do, like, a couple of algorithms to make the yellow faces completely solved, and then these pieces might be switched around a little bit so that takes like two algorithms. These pieces around here might be unsolved, but the yellow layer might be solved …"

Just like that.

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Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian

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