Skill, Interest, & Circumstance


Skill, Interest, & Circumstance

Jenn Pilotti


On June 14th, Max Park, a 21 year old with autism spectrum disorder who, at age nine, couldn’t open a water bottle because his hands were so weak, solved a 3x3x3 Rubik’s cube in 3.13 seconds. He set a new world record, breaking the previous record of 3.47 seconds that was set almost 5 years ago.


On August 27th, 26 year old Simone Biles won her 8th all around gymnastics title. She is the first gymnast, male or female, to take home 8 national titles. She is also the oldest gymnast ever to take home the all around title. Biles withdrew from several events during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. This was considered by many a major comeback.


At first glance, setting the Rubik’s cube speed title and winning a national gymnastics title for the 8th time look like two different things.


A Rubik’s cube is a small object with colored squares. It’s a puzzle invented in 1974 by a Hungarian design teacher and puzzler.


What we think of as modern day gymnastics equipment was first introduced in the 1800s by a German secondary teacher who was passionate about physical education.


When you look more closely, you realize the Rubik’s cube and gymnastics actually have a lot of similarities. When Max Park was nine, he became interested in the Rubik’s cube that was lying around the house. With his mother’s help, he learned to solve it a few days later and began competing in speed competitions a year later.


His interest continued. The Rubik’s cube became more than a puzzle; it became a way to grow his social skills as he began competing (and winning).


During a field trip to a gymnastics center with her day care center when she was six, Simone Biles began successfully imitating the other gymnasts. The coach noticed, and sent a letter home, requesting that she join either tumbling or gymnastics.


Gymnastics gave Biles, who has ADHD, an outlet for her boundless energy. She excelled, competing on the junior national circuit before making her international debut in 2013, ten years after the day care trip that changed her life.


Both the Rubik’s cube and gymnastics require motor control, spatial awareness, and pattern recognition. Both involve high degrees of speed and accuracy in order to compete at a high level.


It’s the similarities that interest me. How does one get good at the Rubik’s cube? How does one get good at gymnastics? Is the act of skill acquisition really that different for a puzzle with colored squares versus a balance beam?



Jenn’s newsletter/ substack that hosts all her projects can be found here.



[Feature photo by aaron boris on Unsplash]


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