On a good day, he’ll wrap one of those bad cubes in 13-and-a-half seconds. The bar, the world record, is 5.25 seconds, set in April by a young man named Collin Burns.
“I think the things that I need in order to be good at Rubik’s Cube helps me think on my feet and remember things a little better in football,” Rice offensive lineman Calvin Anderson explained. “Especially when you’re studying plays and you can look at a play and kind of take a mental picture of it and remember it in a game situation … in the past, that’s kind of translated, with the way I would solve it and ways I handle a play, I would say the thinking behind it is parallel to what I use to try to be good at football.”
So he’ll twist and twist and twist again — usually for one, maybe two hours per day. Between classes, click, clack, click. Pregame meals, click, clack, click. Hotel rooms. Team bus. Anderson first picked up the Rubik’s bug six years ago on a lark, a curious seventh grader jumping down a square rabbit hole.
“I had a friend who had pointed out how to do it on the Internet,” said the redshirt freshman offensive tackle, whose Owls (4-5, 2-3 Conference USA) play to host Southern Mississippi (6-3, 4-1) Saturday on ASN at 3:30 p.m. ET. “He was actually a football player at the time, too. And he would always do it. So after a while, I said, ‘I’ve got to figure out how to do this.’ So he taught me how to do it.”
Slowly, at first. But Anderson fiddled. And fiddled. And fiddled.
“Something about it just stuck with me, and I kept messing with it,” he said. “Over the years, I developed my own way of solving it.”
“I’ve told people, ‘It’s like solving a Sudoku, the same intuitive thinking,’” he said.
A 3-inch-by-3-inch cube, your standard size, features 43 quintillion possible permutations. Anderson says he can solve one in roughly 30 seconds, at the worst; a 4-by-4 cube in a minute to a 1 1/2 minutes; and a 5-by-5 in 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.
The 6-5 lineman has just about tried them all. He keeps 20 or so around his room, a haul of all shapes and sizes. The newest in the collection is a picture cube that requires Anderson to solve the thing in a way that produces the right image on a particular face (or faces).
“And I also have a shape-shifting cube,” said Anderson, a double major in mathematical economics and managerial studies, “which is probably one of the more difficult ones I have.”
Dude walks to class trying to solve them, walks to football meetings trying to solve them, walks home trying to solve them. Which begs the question: Nervous habit? Unhealthy obsession? Comfort zone?
“I think it’s a combination,” Anderson said. “I really, really like puzzles in general.”
So much so, in fact, that they’ve even worked their way into his pregame routine. Some guys listen to music. Some guys get their game on. Calvin? Calvin cubes.
“I’ll solve (one) a couple of times before the game, just because it helps me focus my mind toward the game,” Anderson said. “Also, it’s a brain-teaser. So it’s all those things.”
What’s the next challenge? Blindfolds? One-handed? Underwater? Would he ever think about taking the next step — jumping from friendly, informal competitions to a few of the organized ones? Can he roll with the cubing elite?
“I know my times would qualify for some of them,” Anderson said, chuckling softly. Mischievously. “I think if I really wanted to be serious and go to competitions — I think the best in the world is like 5.3 seconds, so I have a while to go. But I keep getting (closer) every year, so who knows?”
Above: Video courtesy of Rice SID channel via YouTube