China's Rubik's fanatics go crazy for cubing

Story highlights

  • Beijing's Asian Championship is world's biggest cubing competition

Beijing (CNN)Wang Qiang is six years old and can solve a standard Rubik's Cube in less than 30 seconds.

He started cubing when he was in kindergarten and attended his first competition this weekend. Almost 1,000 Rubik's fanatics gathered to test and showcase their skills at The Asian Championship in Beijing.
    But Wang wasn't the youngest competitor -- that honor went to a four-and-a-half year old.
    Wang is part of a new generation of cubers in China -- and globally.
    Wang Qiang, 6, practises ahead of his first tournament.
    The six-sided puzzle, which was invented by Hungarian designer Erno Rubik in 1974 and was once the world's top selling toy, has enjoyed a huge comeback in recent years.
    The World Cube Association (WCA) was founded in 2004 and holds dozens of competitions each month. Celebrities including Will Smith and Justin Bieber show off their cube-solving skills in YouTube videos.
    And in China, Rubik's Cube classes are thought to give young kids a competitive edge.
    Wang Jianfeng, Wang's mother, says cubing is his favorite after-school activity. There are 200 training schools in Beijing alone.
    "I think the cubing class is worth the money. He gets obsessed and the cube keeps him from the smart phone," she says.
    "We want to find something for my son to play and learn at the same time. I think cubing is a great tool to tap into brainpower."

    Explosive growth

    Cubers also compete blindfolded.
    Chris Krueger, a delegate of World Cube Association, says that the Chinese cubing community has exploded in recent years.
    Only 100 participants attended the first official WCA event in China, which he helped organize in 2007. The sport has also grown differently to the US, where he says there's also a huge number of players, but less opportunity for group training.
    "The community is big in the US," he says. "People watch YouTube videos and learn, get involved in the online community and they go to competitions. (But) there's nothing like taking a class."
    This weekend's Asian Championship in Beijing was the biggest ever cubing competition in the world, organizers said.
    Competitors took part in 18 different events, including solving different sized cubes. They also solved the puzzle one-handed, blind folded and using their toes.
    Many seek to emulate Sun Hongye, a professional cuber and winner of a popular reality TV show "The Brain." He's used his fame to launch a nationwide business.
    "We believe there is more potential for growth in the second, third or fourth-tier cities, since the cubes are cheap to get and people there tend to follow the trend," he says.
    On the blurb of his recently published book, Sun lists seven perks of playing the cube. He says the game can help with confidence, boosting power and focus, improving hand-eye coordination, enhancing your memory, improving your grit and making friends.
    Little Wang competed in four events at the tournament; the standard 3x3x3 cube, smaller 2x2x2 cube, the pyraminx -- a pyramid-shaped puzzle -- and the skewb, a skewed version of the cube.
    When CNN caught up with him, he was sat on a plastic stool next to 13 others from his cubing school.
    He was lining up all six colors, on all six sides of his cube, with dizzying speed. He'd practiced so much his fingers were sore.
    But it paid off -- he was the youngest to get through to the second round in the pyraminx event.
    "I love cubing. I love cubing classes," he says.