Problem Solver: St. Kevin student showcases skills at World Cube Championship in Australia

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WARWICK — With two hands on the cube, Addison Heffernan, 12, carefully calculates moves to find the shortest path to disentangle the problem. With a few fast flicks of the wrist, the colors come together and the puzzle is solved. It took these twists and turns for Heffernan to arrive at the World Cube Championship in Melbourne, Australia — more than 10,000 miles from his classroom at St. Kevin’s in Warwick.

This week, Heffernan joins “speed cubers” from around the globe for a few days of swift puzzle solving and intense competition. The annual event sponsored by Rubik’s, maker of the popular gamecube, is being held from July 11-14. Competitors meet to solve puzzles at lighting speed, all vying for titles, cash prizes and Rubik’s winners jackets.

Now going into 7th grade, Heffernan first found his love of cubing when he was in third grade.

“My friend’s brother solved cubes and I asked my mom if I could buy one,” he said. “I messed around with it for a while and I was looking at tutorials. Eventually I found one that I liked and that I could understand it and solve it. And then I just found ways that I could get better and improve. It’s fun to learn weird ways to do stuff. Just to figure out that this may be what the tutorial says but that you can find other ways that saves moves and is quicker.”

Since then, he has competed more than 15 times across New England, New Mexico, France, Ireland and now in Australia. Through his travels, Heffernan shares that he has made strong friendships and formed common bonds through cubing.

“It’s really nice because there aren’t many people around here who get it,” he said. “Going to a cubing competition is like a nice breath of fresh air to be around people who have the same interests. It’s actually helped my social skills a lot. At cubing competitions you can go up to someone you’ve never met before and you have this tie. It’s almost guaranteed.”

He has also combined his passion for cubing with school activities. For a recent science project, Heffernan tested which lubricant, applied to the cube to adjust the speed, was best for solving the puzzle.

“There is a lot of data and reviews out there to say which one is the best, but nobody has really gone and taken a range of lubricants and actually tested them on the same cube. So that’s what I did.”

St. Kevin School Principal David Irving said that when he witnesses Heffernan solve a puzzle, he can’t believe his eyes.

“I’m still shocked to see it in person,” he said. “It’s remarkable to see the speed. “It’s so good to see he has such a passion for this. It’s a reminder that everyone has such special and different talents. God make us all so uniquely with different gifts — it’s amazing.”

Heffernan said he is grateful for his parents who have been very supportive, always encouraging him to practice. His parents explained that they are happy he has found a unique skill that he just loves.

“He works very hard to improve his cubing times with hours of practice and learning new algorithms,” said his mother Bronwyn Head. “Both his dad and I have always valued hard work ...so we appreciate seeing this work ethic when it comes to cubing.”

“It’s also rewarding to us that he’s found something that he loves that teaches him how to handle disappointment — a 20-second Rubik’s cube solve in competition can bring a cuber to tears — and how to be a gracious winner. It also means a lot that he can show up at these competitions, see all of these kids with Go Pros on their heads and can pull out his cube and just bond with what we call ‘his tribe.’”

Heffernan is grateful that this activity that he loves has brought him to new places around the world, and much like any professional athlete, the next thing to do is to monetize it.

“I’ve started a YouTube channel and if I can start doing more videos then hopefully I can pick up a sponsor.”

And he is only a second away from his next goal — to finish a 3x3 in under 10 seconds.

“That’s when you know you’ve really made it.”