Prairie Profiles: A Rubik’s wrangler

Published 9:20 pm Monday, September 9, 2019

Albert Lea student participates in speedcubing competitions


In the Youlden home, the soft, rapid click-click-click of small plastic squares sliding past each other has become a sort of white noise.

It’s where Ty Youlden, 12, sits — usually on the living room couch, his mother, Erika Youlden, said — when he practices with his puzzle cubes every day.

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He has solved them with one hand. He has solved them blindfolded. He has solved them when they’re not squares at all, but instead pyramids or dodecahedrons (the latter a cube that more than doubles the number of moveable pieces compared to a standard three-by-three cube).

Ty Youlden already owned a few cubes, but began practicing with the puzzles, recognized by their brand name, Rubik’s Cube, about 1 1/2 years ago after watching a video of someone breaking the world record for the time it took to solve a Rubik’s Cube.

“I thought that maybe I could do that,” Youlden said.

For the “regular” cube, the three-by-three, Youlden self-taught solved the first two layers, he said, after which he searched on YouTube for how to solve the third.

Now, he uses CFOP, a more advanced method utilized by speedcubers.

Though he can average a solve in 15 seconds, Youlden still has a need for speed.

“I’m still not mastered yet,” he said of the puzzle cube. He would like to move to other solving algorithms that can lead to a faster solve.

Ty Youlden began practicing with the puzzles about 1 1/2 years ago after watching a video of someone breaking the world record for the time it took to solve a Rubik’s Cube. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Youlden estimated he has between 45 and 50 of the puzzles in different variations, including some with magnetized pieces, one that shifts into other shapes as he solves it and cubes growing in size up from two-by-two to seven-by-seven.

One cube-making brand comes with detailed instructional packets that Youlden uses, in combination with YouTube, to figure out how to solve the different cubes, he said.

YouTube is also where Youlden found cubers participating in competitions. He uses the World Cube Association website to find them.

Some of them, he told his parents, were super close, father Eric Youlden said.

“Super close on a world map?” Eric Youlden asked.

If the competitions are within a couple hours’ drive, they will go, Erika Youlden said. They’ve been to some in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

There are 18 competition events, including solving a three-by-three cube with your feet. Ty Youlden’s favorite is to solve the three-by-three cube one-handed. He said the competitions are friendly and people often let you try out their cubes. It is an opportunity for him to test out other models, the cuber said.

“It’s fun to solve it with one hand while doing something else, like writing,” Youlden said.

His other favorites are the standard three-by-three, four-by-four and two-by-two, which Youlden said is his best event.

He has fun trying to beat his best times.

“It’s really fun just to keep doing,” he said.

In the meantime, he has also taught his sister, Olivia — who also competed in the most recent competition Ty Youlden attended — his mother, a friend and his grandfather, Ty Youlden said. He turned his learning efforts into a self-determined project for 4-H at the fair, creating a slide puzzle featuring different cube combinations that he could move around to make a picture: puzzles within a puzzle. He made the Twins logo, a pumpkin, an American flag. He got grand champion at the Freeborn County Fair.

“It’s his self-determination that got him where he is,” Erika Youlden said.

And while he does not always have a cube between his feet, he always has one in his pocket, Erika Youlden said.

He doesn’t get bored.

“Each scramble is different,” Youlden said.


Ty Youlden

Age: 12

Occupation: student

Address: Albert Lea

Family: Erika Youlden, mom; Eric Youlden, dad; Olivia Youlden, sister

Interesting fact: Youlden is working on solving the three-by-three blindfolded and has had a few successes, he said.

Ty Youlden times himself as he practices solving the different puzzles. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune



About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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