Cool cuber

Words by:
Kate Chapman
Featured in:
January 2024

Kate Chapman meets leading Rubik’s Cube speed competitor and enthusiast Sam Spendla.

IT WAS billed as the toy that took “a minute to learn – a lifetime to master” and speed cuber Sam Spendla would agree wholeheartedly after becoming hooked on the Rubik’s Cube as a teenager.

Sam entered his first speed cubing competition in 2015 and has since placed in numerous events in the UK and overseas. He held the national record in the Clock discipline, setting a time of 5.33 seconds in February 2018, before it was broken a few months later. He reclaimed the record the following July with a time of 3.98 seconds, which was the fourth fastest in Europe and 12th in the world at the time.

In 2018, he qualified for the final of the European Championships, held in Madrid, in fourth place, before finishing 11th and was UK national champion in 2018 and runner-up in 2017.

As well as competing, Sam, a data analyst, is president of the UK Cube Association and organises speed cubing competitions across the country, helping to get as many people involved in the hobby as possible.

“Cubing really isn’t as hard as people think. For me, I love the fact that it’s different every time. It’s something that even if I have done it a million times over, it’s never going to be the same twice!” said Sam, who grew up in Long Sutton, near Spalding, and now lives in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire. “I know I’m never going to get as fast as the world record holders, the thing is about trying to beat yourself, that’s always there at the back of my mind.

“There are some fast cubers; some have raw speed while others are deliberately slower, as they try to think several moves ahead. I’m a mix – I try to slow down, but then just end up going as fast as I can!

“You don’t need to be good at maths to be a cuber, it’s down to muscle memory. People who yo-yo are probably good at cubing, as they have good co-ordination.

“We have children as young as four competing, up to those in their eighties, all side by side, encouraging one another. Cubing is one of those things where age doesn’t come into it. There’s such an inclusive atmosphere, regardless of nationality, we are all coming together to have fun.”

Speedy solutions
Sam first took up the hobby after buying a Rubik’s Cube with his birthday money back in 2011 and admits he soon became addicted after watching a YouTube tutorial on how to solve it.

“I picked it up quite quickly and soon learned how to solve it,” he recalls. “Then I bought a proper speed cube and started looking up other videos and that’s when I saw how much there was to learn!

“A good time to solve one tends to be about 40 seconds for beginners. When you first learn, that’s pretty much an average speed most people can get down to. I started learning other methods, but then I was doing my GCSEs, so I had to leave it to concentrate on my exams.

“It sat on my shelf and solving it became my party trick. My maths teacher’s son had a cube too, and she would bring it in and ask me to solve it for him!”

After completing A-levels at Spalding Grammar School, Sam returned to his hobby and spent the months before university learning new cubing tricks. He threw himself into practice after seeing cube magician Steven Brundage online and by the end of summer was clocking his fastest times.

“I signed up to my first competition in 2015, which was the UK Championships taking place near my university, in Stevenage,” says Sam, who studied Air Transport at Buckinghamshire New University, High Wycombe.

“I loved my first competition experience, although I was less than impressed with my own performance! Because it was my first time, I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was such an enjoyable atmosphere. People weren’t there to win, they were there to have fun – that was the mentality, and I loved that.”

Growing popularity
Sam entered more UK and overseas competitions, including the 2017 World Championships in Paris, which attracted around 1,000 competitors. All UK cubing competitions are overseen by the UK Cube Association, and Sam began volunteering in 2018.

He was part of the quality assurance committee and results teams for the World Cube Association before becoming a delegate referee, where he made sure everything was solved to regulation.

By 2019, the team was putting on bigger competitions, but Covid lockdown put everything on hold. When events restarted, the organisation saw a huge increase in the popularity of the activity and increased the number of delegates from three to nine, meaning they can now host competitions every weekend.

“I can’t explain how much bigger the entire hobby has become,” says Sam. “During those two years people had a lot more time. Before the pandemic the average age of a cuber was around 15, but now it’s 12 or 13, which means we have fewer competitors as we have to allow for parents in our venues.”

Cubing challenges
There are 17 different speed cubing disciplines including fastest time for solving cubes ranging from 2×2 in size up to 7×7. Others are solving a cube blindfolded – where competitors have to memorise their cube – one-handed, and then specialist cubes such as the pyramid-shaped Pyramix; the Skewb, a cube where each corner turns rather than each face; and Clock – this features nine clock faces on each side, which can all be rotated by twisting four gears on the side of the puzzle.

“I really got into Rubik’s Clock towards the end of 2018,” says Sam, “and set the national record in 2019. I think my times have peaked now, but I still enjoy competing. I’m not going for world records – I’m competing against myself. I always want to try and break one of my records. I’ve been trying to beat my 3×3 average for five years.

“I don’t have so much time to practice now, as I have work and other things going on.

“I tell anyone interested in having a go, buy yourself a cheap cube, find a tutorial online that you like the look of, sit down, watch it and you’ll soon be able to solve it using algorithms – a specific set of moves – it’s not as hard as you think.

“It’s such a fun, inclusive hobby, and thanks to cubing I’ve made some great friends for life.”

For more information about the world of speed cubing visit www.ukca.org



Never miss a copy!

Big savings when you take out a subscription.

March ISSUE OUT NOW!Out now and available in 450 good quality outlets throughout Lincolnshire, including Local Co-op village stores. LIKE and SHARE to spread the word!Packed full of features including:• Batemans Brewery - Celebrating 150 years• yellowbellykitchen - Spice up your life!• The Inkpot - Working with nature• Life visits Lincoln, Horncastle and Caistor• Downtown Spring 2024 (8-page guide)• Fashion - Spring/summer collections• My Lincolnshire Wedding - Inspiration for your big day• Dining Out - Tower Hotel No.THIRTY8• County People - Cycling UK LincolnshireAnd lots more.Download today at www.lincolnshirelife.co.uk/product/lincolnshire-life-march-2024-digital-copy/ ... See MoreSee Less