The World Cube Association (WCA) governs competitions for mechanical puzzles that are operated by twisting groups of pieces, commonly known as “twisty puzzles.” The most famous of these puzzles is, of course, the Rubik's Cube, invented by Professor Erno Rubik of Hungary. A selection of these puzzles is chosen; these puzzles are offered as official events in competitions of the WCA. In addition to traditional puzzle solving, competitors can opt to participate in events involving solving puzzles blindfolded or using only their feet.
Every two years, WCA sanctions the competition that ultimately determines the world champion. These events require extremely careful planning by a number of volunteers, as well as a large financial commitment to reserve the venue and make necessary preparations.
Sports Destination Management: How often does the World Cube Association hold its events in the USA?
Lauren Clement: The WCA holds many competitions in the USA every weekend. In 2019, we had 273 competitions in the USA which is more than double the amount of competitions held in any other country!
SDM: Where have events been held?
Clement: We have held competitions in 109 countries and in all 50 states in the past. Every year, we grow to new areas and in 2019, we held competitions in eight new countries and three new states for the first time.
SDM: Do you see participation going up or down, or remaining steady?
Clement: Since the inception of the WCA, the community has continued to grow every year (in 2019, we had over 27,750 new competitors). New technology continues to be developed in puzzle design and people learn how to solve these puzzles throughout the years, so there is certainly motivation for new competitors to join us. We expect to see participation continue to grow, at least over the next few years.
SDM: What is the demographic of participants (male, female, youth, adults, etc.)?
Clement: The demographics of competitors varies between different areas of the world. In the USA, the most common competitors are males between the ages of 12 to 17.
SDM: Do you think there is an increased interest in puzzles? If so, what do you think contributes to that?
Clement: I think a large contributor to people becoming more interested in puzzles is the development of new designs and technologies that make the equipment better. In the past few years, there has been a movement to incorporate magnets into the pieces of the puzzles so that moves will snap more accurately into place. There has also been more development by puzzle manufacturers to make well-designed puzzles that are budget-friendly, so even people who would like to get into cubing without breaking the bank have good options.
There has also been an increase of media coverage about cubing over the past few years through YouTube videos of world record solves and robots solving cubes faster than humanly possible! When this kind of coverage is done, you never know who might see it and be inspired to pick up a cube for themselves!
SDM: Have you made any changes to the event recently (introduced new puzzles, etc.)
Clement: We release changes to our regulations every year that help to refine the intricacies of competitions and the events within them. Our largest change for 2020 was actually the removal of an event, 3x3 with Feet, after much discussion within the organization over the past year. We hope to make more developments in the next year to introduce more unofficial events into our competitions and add events that gain popularity through this exposure.
SDM: You recently hosted an event at Rocky Top Sports World, and you’ll be returning there in 2020. What do you look for in a potential host site?
Clement: We look for venues that are large enough to host the amount of competitors in that area (and any friends or family they bring with them), have good lighting in the competition space, are easily accessible, and are able to manage a full competition layout of tables and the other equipment necessary. It is an added bonus if the competition venue is close to restaurants or other food locations and if there is extra space in the room or building for competitors and their spectators to hang out during the day.
SDM: Any idea how many participants, room nights, etc.?
Clement: There were 82 competitors at the Rocky Top 2019 competition, but we do not have any data to determine where they stayed or where they spent money after the competition. Many competitors usually stay nearby the venue area the night before (and potentially the night after) a competition in a hotel or Airbnb. Many participants travel from surrounding states by car or plane as well, but we do not typically collect this information from competitors.
SDM: So many people today are involved in a screen culture, between social media, texting, e-mail, etc. Do you think puzzles like this provide an opportunity to detach from computers and relax?
Clement: Puzzle solving does allow people to disconnect, especially while practicing or competing. For competitors in the same local area, they may even coordinate meetups outside of official events to hang out and cube together. To this point, many of our competitors connect with each other via the Internet because they live in different places within the same country or around the world, so forums, Reddit, Facebook Groups, or Discord groups are important for keeping our community together. Additionally, there has been a wave of new technology development for "smart" cubes that will connect with phone apps via Bluetooth and allow people to play games or compete against others within the app. Even though this may not be disconnecting from screens, this does encourage the engagement in a physical activity that still involves some active thinking to solve, so there may be some benefits to the technology.
SDM: Do kids get involved in cube puzzles because other family members do, or because schools promote them – or is there another reason?
Clement: There are many reasons that kids get involved with puzzles. Sometimes, parents or older family members may gift Rubik's Cubes or other puzzles to kids and spark a determination to solve it. Other kids may have a cube club at their school organized by students or may have friends who encourage them to try it out. Kids tend to be very curious and it is easy to find solutions to all puzzles online, so just getting one into their hands in one way or another is enough to get many of them hooked on solving it!
SDM: What do most people not realize about the World Cube Association, its events or its participants?
Clement: The WCA is run entirely by volunteers. Everyone who holds a position in our organization as a committee/team member, delegate, or organizer does so in their own free time and for no financial benefit to themselves. We would not be able to have success without the support of our community and we can never thank them enough for the commitment they have for our organization.