First published in The Record on June 9, 2019
Teen Sets new Rubik’s record, with his feet
Daniel Rose-Levine has world champion feet. His feet are pale and hairless, thick at the heel, tapered in the middle and wide at the toes. In appearance they could be the feet of any 15 year-old boy, being smooth, devoid of scars, and not uncommonly dexterous.
Yet despite the banal appearance of his lower extremities, Daniel does things with his feet that many would think impossible. For the last three months, that has meant setting records for solving Rubik’s Cubes with his feet.
Did I say “setting”? I’m sorry, that’s not quite right. Rose-Levine clobbers world records. Destroys them. Sets them on fire.
“Daniel is extremely skilled from a technical standpoint,” said Anthony Michael Brooks, who holds the Guinness world record for the most Rubik’s Cubes solved in a single breath, underwater. “His current world record for feet solving would have been absolutely unfathomable not long ago.”
On Saturday, at a competition held inside a church in Rutherford, he did it again. Using his feet, Daniel solved three Rubik’s Cubes with an average time of 22.761 seconds, breaking his old record by nearly nine-tenths of a second.
He thinks he can go faster.
“I’m shooting for a sub-20 average,” said Daniel, who traveled with his father, David Levine, from their home in Red Hook, in Dutchess County, New York, to defend his title. “My personal best is 16:96.”
No one else comes close. Daniel's latest record beats Thomas Cherry, the second fastest in the world, by three and a half seconds.
“Usually when I compete with feet, it’s a blowout. It’s not really a competition. I always win,” said Raymond Goslow, currently America’s third-fastest Rubik’s Cube foot solver, who flew from his home in Marietta, Georgia. “That’s why I came to this competition, because Daniel is here. He’s No. 1.”
In most arenas, humans evolve slowly. The transition from scrawling bulls across the walls of caves in France to capturing the eerie light of the Danish coast, arguably the pinnacle of painting as a skilled craft, took 35,000 years. Pheidippides, the original marathoner, ran 150 miles in two days; 2,508 years later, elite runners manage to shave just 12 hours off his time.
Daniel Rose-Levine’s progress follows a somewhat steeper trajectory. He is to the Rubik’s Cube and feet what Gordon Moore was to transistors and semiconductors, what Jeff Bezos is to corporate profits.
He is killing it.
“When I started in 2005, the fastest people solved foot in two three minutes” said Bob Burton, a Belleville resident and a board member of the World Cubing Association who has competed with Rubik’s Cubes since 2005, and who served Saturday as the event’s lead judge. “That’s nowhere near the times that are being achieved now. Daniel is very impressive.”
Burton’s memories fail to do Daniel Rose-Levine justice. In fact, the fastest person at solving a Rubik’s Cube with his feet in 2005 was Will Arnold, who set the world record with a time of 4 minutes and 25 seconds, according to World Cubing Association records.
Forget shaving seconds off a marathon time, or millimeters off the size of a semiconductor. After a little more than a decade, modern Rubik’s Cube foot solvers are beating historical records by a factor of 20. Top competitors like Daniel Rose-Levine are doing it by practicing four to eight hours a day, said Chris Tran, a World Cubing Association delegate who also traveled from Georgia to judge the event in Rutherford.
But it’s not entirely about the work.
“People were obsessed then, people are obsessed now,” Burton said. “The difference is technology.”
Four technologies, to be precise. When Burton started in 2005, YouTube occupied a tiny space above a pizzeria in San Mateo, California. When Rose-Levine started, nearly a decade later, YouTube was the primary method for young cubers to steal ideas from world record holders.
“YouTube is super beneficial,” said Eva Kato, 16, of Closter, who set the female world record for cube solving in 2015. Her YouTube channel, “Hashtag Cuber,” had 45,264 subscribers as of Saturday afternoon. “You can learn a lot from it.”
The other technologies changing the speed of Rubik’s Cube competitions involve the cube itself. In the last three years, several manufacturers introduced cubes that spin faster than the original, Tran and Burton said.
Other companies developed a new generation of lubricants that get inserted into the guts of the toy.
“For years, people were using old-fashioned automobile lubricants,” said Jules Manalang, 26, sponsorship coordinator for The Cubicle, a company based in Westchester County that began selling new types of synthetic lubricants for Rubik’s Cubes two years ago.
Its product line includes Angstrom Gravitas, described on the company’s website as “a high viscosity silicone lube that utilizes micro-friction of two nanoscale compounds to achieve unparalleled levels of smoothness and controlability.”
The Cubicle also makes tiny magnets, about the size of an ant’s head. When glued to the inside walls of a Rubik’s Cube, the magnets’ subtle tug informs competitors that their spins are complete, and the sides of the cube are perfectly aligned.
“Two years ago, nobody was using magnets,” said Tran, who develops new products for The Cubicle. “Now 90 percent of the people on the playing field are using engineered lubes and magnets.”
Around the same time that magnets came into vogue among competitive cubers, Daniel Rose-Levine got serious about cubing. He got so serious he won a sponsorship from The Cubicle, which covers his travel expenses to competitions, whether in Rutherford or Paris.
He got so serious, in fact, he nearly ended his nascent cube career.
“I started doing it with my feet because my hands were hurting from cubing too much,” he said.
At first it seemed easy to win, since most people found competing with their toes distasteful.
“Nobody was doing it. Everyone thinks it’s gross,” Daniel said. “A year ago, if you averaged under one minute you’d be in the Top 10 in North America.”
His success may be changing that. In American culture, we have come to knew a few top athletes by initials. LeBron James is LBJ, Odell Beckham Jr. is OBJ.
In the last few months, the world of Rubik’s Cubers has become obsessed with DRL.
“Feet is getting bigger worldwide because of DRL,” said Manalang, whose opinion may not be unbiased because it’s his job to coordinate The Cubicle's sponsored competitors, including Daniel. “He excelled at feet-solving, and now everybody wants to do it.”
In Rutherford on Saturday, "everybody" consisted of 25 teenagers. They sat in a row of metal folding chairs against the west wall of the Rutherford Congregational Church, their bare feet exposed.
The feet competition started at 8:16 a.m.
“We do the feet competition first, before people have spent all day wearing shoes,” said Kyle Steppe, an organizer. “We try to keep things hygienic.”
Most of the competitors were lucky to finish in under a minute. And most kept their distance from Rose-Levine. The only one who approached DRL was Goslow, who darted over to Rose-Levine’s chair after every solve to check the record holder’s time.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to beat him,” Goslow said. “But I’d love to.”
It was not to be. Each competitor got five chances. The fastest and slowest were set aside, with the official time determined by averaging the middle three. DRL completed his third try in 23.6 seconds.
“That’s below his world record average,” his father said.
“Only by point oh-one,” Daniel said.
“Yeah. So we won’t count our chickens until they’re hatched,” David Levine said. “As a side note, I’m shaking like a leaf.”