Jacob Hilner can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than 40 seconds.
And while that is mind-boggling, it’s not the most amazing thing about the eighth-grader at Worley Middle School.
Jacob is color blind.
“I have to re-sticker the cube perfectly where I don’t get confused between yellow, green, and orange,” he said. “People generally think colorblindness is where you don’t see color. But the truth is that you can see everything in color, you just can’t tell what exact color you are seeing.”
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When Jacob gets a new cube, he completely disassembles it, readjusts the tension, and lubricates it so that it spins just the way he likes. Then, he takes off all the stickers and places new stickers on with brighter colors so that he can tell the difference in colors. He often uses a neon set, providing a larger distinction.
Jacob has mastered the Rubik’s Cube in a short time. He began speedcubing in December of 2015. He got attracted after hearing about and watching world-class speedcubers such as Lucas Etter and Feliks Zemdegs.
Etter had a world-record solving time of 4.90 seconds at age 14 in 2015. Zemdegs currently holds the world record of 4.73 seconds, set in December 2016.
“When Jacob came home from Christmas break he said he was going to teach himself how to do this before he went back to school,” recalled his mother, Tiffany Amil. “I gave the typical ‘okay, sure’ response most moms give, and when I saw how dedicated he was, I was happy to see him off of the X-box for a change.
“When he finally mastered it I was so proud.”
Jacob competes every couple of months. His next competition is in Dallas on Nov. 18.
“My greatest success is probably getting a 13 second (13.70) solve in Skewb my first time competing in that event,” he said.
A Skewb is similar to a Rubik’s Cube, but differs in that its axes of rotation pass through the corners of the cube rather than the centers of the faces. In other words, the solver is focusing on matching corners to the large center piece on each side.
Speedcubing is a growing activity/competition among young people, Jacob said. He offered a reason for the increased popularity.
“I think it’s probably the complexity of the cube,” he said. “I’ve talked to people that learned to solve it just to ease their frustration, and then they end up competing.”
Jacob is a member of Texas Speedcubing and Team USA. His favorite form of cubing is the standard 3x3, in which each side of the cube, when solved, has a face of nine squares all the same color.
“It is more well-known among non-cubers, so people actually realize how hard it is to solve, and it’s just really fun,” he said.
However, he is also adept at solving 2x2 faces (which he’s solved in as few as 6.95 seconds), along with Pyraminx (pyramid form), Skewb and Megaminx (a dodecahedron, or 12 flat faces). He’s also almost finished mastering 4x4 and is working on 5x5.
Jacob also in the robotics program at school. He said cubing helps with that.
“The cube helps me realize you can do nearly anything if you devote enough time to it,” he said.
That same concept is true of classwork, he said, adding with a laugh, “It does a lot of the time, but other times it distracts me because all I want to do in class is mess with it.”
Thinking long-term, Jacob wants to be an aerospace engineer. And yes, he believes cubing can help that become a reality, along with being a help once he begins his career.
“The cube shows dedication and problem solving, and companies like that,” he said.
His mother said another benefit is being a part of something that brings families together.
“The one thing that I always tell people is that the cubing community is the greatest group of people. You will never meet a more supportive, kind and well-mannered group of kids,” she said. “Even though they compete they are all very supportive of each other. They love to see people get a personal best, and they are good to pick each other up after a bad round.”
His friends like it also. While it may not match football in popularity, being able to do what he can is mesmerizing to watch.
Not only do they like watching him solve a cube, they offer encouragement and are anxious to see if this time will be his fastest yet.
“My friends love it. They push me to get faster and they congratulate me when I get new personal bests,” Jacob said.
“I think the most important thing this has given him is a way to connect with all types of people,” his mom said. “It has helped a very shy and introverted kid become someone who loves to have conversations and tell people all about his cubing.
“He always has a cube in his hand, and it definitely is a conversation starter when people watch him fidget with it. It’s given him confidence that he can figure out any problem if he truly puts time into it.”
And, like anything, he reaches those personal bests through practice and more practice.
“I know it sounds cliche but, I practice nearly everywhere I go, and I do it a lot,” he said. “It has taken me a long time to get this good, and I know I’ll get better in the near future.”
So far, Jacob is the only one in his family with this skill. He’s holding out hope, however, that it will become a family activity.
“I wish,” he said, chuckling. “I have tried to teach my mom, but it didn’t work.”