Great Barrington — Some evenings simply require ordering chicken and broccoli. Which is why I was doing just that the other night at the Great Wall restaurant when another customer pointed to a young boy at the counter and said to me, “Wow, check out what he’s doing!” There was indeed a young boy several feet away, although I wasn’t sure what was so exciting about him ordering sweet and sour pork and wonton soup with his mom.
Then I looked at his hands.
He was rotating a Rubik’s Cube — that retro toy from the early 1980s that’s popular again with youngsters and adult geeks — at a speed I hadn’t seen before.
A mere 35-seconds later, with what appeared to be minimal effort, this fourth grader at Undermountain Elementary School, an unassuming nine-year-old named Kaileb Florez-Silvernail, solved the Cube.
Whoa, what’s the secret? I asked. Without hesitation, he responded: “Algorithms.”
As any South County resident can tell you, we are a particularly smart and handsome bunch, and our kids are simply brilliant and always respectful of their parents. But a fourth-grader discussing algorithms remains a relatively unusual occurrence. This is a youngster who, I soon learn from his mother, walked out of the house one day with her car keys and started the family Jeep — at the tender age of 14 months. “I caught him just as he was trying to push it into gear,” says Nikki, head baker at Fuel. By age 3, Kaileb was able to master 200-plus moves on the popular game Bop It. Kaileb and Nikki are fairly confident that they both have a photographic memory, which helps in these matters. Nikki, for her part, is fond of memorizing maps and then driving cross-country without the need for one.
There’s some confusion between Kaileb and his mom as to when he solved his first Cube. Memories can be that way. Kaileb is certain he was three years old and that he did it by accident; Nikki insists he was seven and did it on purpose. Despite these alternate facts, mother and son can both agree that he was solving Cubes by age 7 after watching a YouTube video like this one and practicing all weekend:
Nearly two years later, Kaileb has 14 different Cubes of varying shapes, sizes, and levels of difficulty. At school, his classmates are unsurprisingly having difficulty solving the Cube. They’ve been known to resort to that ultimate of temptations — peeling the stickers and reapplying them in order, although pulling the Cube apart and reassembling it was always my preferred method.
“The only people in the school that can solve a Rubik’s Cube are me and the assistant principal,” Kaileb says. Indeed, forty years ago, Assistant Principal Jon Friedman was a speedcuber himself. “We used to take them apart, lube them up, and solve them as fast as we could,” Friedman recalls. “But Kaileb’s gone way beyond my skill level. My best time was 37 seconds. He’s already past that. And it’s like he’s not even really looking at it when he does. It’s impressive to watch him.”
South County is, of course, home to the legendary speedcubing god Kevin Costello, the North American Champ with the killer score of 5.74 seconds, and a senior at Monument Mountain. Not long ago at a local talent show, Kevin wowed residents by solving a row of Cubes in record time — imposing his great will upon the last one with just one hand. In his early years of Rubik mastery, Kevin was known to further tempt hubris, conquering the Cube while energetically bouncing on a trampoline.
Kaileb is fairly certain he wants to become an engineer. But for now, he’ll settle for becoming the world champion speedcuber. He’ll have to get that score down below 4.73 seconds to do so, but he’s clearly got the necessary patience, discipline, and iron willpower. Not only can he already solve a Cube in nearly 30 seconds, he can resist biting his lollipops, making them last for an hour or more.
Watch Kaileb master a Rubik’s Cube while he’s waiting for his sweet and sour pork to be ready: