ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A University of Michigan student is one of the world’s foremost “speedcubers,” a person capable of quickly solving a Rubik’s Cube. He also is an accomplished violinist.
Stanley Chapel says the two fields go hand in hand.
Not only does Chapel say he has equal interest in both, but the 21-year-old says the violin has aided in his speedcubing success.
“Repetition, breaking things down into their smallest fundamental elements, all of these different things that we use to improve at an instrument, and being able to take these into the world of cubing has certainly been a huge help to my progression,” said Chapel, a junior majoring in violin performance at the university's school of music, theater and dance.
Chapel, who grew up in Ann Arbor not far from the Michigan campus, solved his first 3x3 Rubik’s Cube as a 14-year-old. Five weeks later, Chapel entered his first competition, solving the cube in an average of 22 seconds.
Fast-forward a year to 2017 in Paris, with Chapel placing fifth in both the 4x4 blindfolded and 5x5 blindfolded categories at the World Cube Association World Championship.
At the 2019 world championship in Melbourne, Australia, the recent high school graduate won both events.
Factoring in the time it takes for him to review the cube before placing the blindfold over his eyes, Chapel can solve one in around 17 seconds.
“The deeper I go into the realm of cubing technique, the more I find interest in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible there,” he said.
Chapel has certain inherent abilities: He is capable of remembering and applying thousands of algorithms to solve a Rubik’s Cube and performing one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin sonatas from memory.
But he also spends hours upon hours honing his craft, including doing regular hand stretches that help Chapel avoid the kinds of aches and pains that come with the frequent and frenetic turning of the cube’s sides.
Chapel says years of playing the violin also has contributed to him having “very, very fine motor control already built up.”
Later this year, Chapel intends to defend his world titles in South Korea. Since the 2021 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chapel is the reigning champion in both heading into the 2023 event in Seoul.
Once he's done with school, though, Chapel isn't sure how speedcubing fits into his future plans.
“I guess it’s cool to know that nobody is able to do this,” he said. “But, at the same time, giving myself a little bit of a reality check, it’s like, ‘How much does that actually matter?’”
“It’s not going to pay the bills when I’m older,” Chapel said, laughing.