I didn't know what this thing was called, but I didn't want to reveal myself as a geekdom outsider as I mingled with the contestants and organizers. "Mind if I get a close up of that?" Holding the cube was one of the few women associated with the International Rubik's Cube Competition at the Exploratorium. Three out of four of them were Asian American. Just an observation.
Well, many of the male contestants were also Asian American. As I wandered amongst the contestants and reporters, I overheard many players mention that they were math majors. Most were of college age, though there were some young'uns that received wide audience support.
There were many categories. 3x3x3 one-handed, 3x3x3 blindfolded (How? I wondered too. The player observes the cube for 15 seconds without moving anything, then when s/he's ready, the blindfold is pulled over the eyes and timer started. The player has to have all his/her moves planned and memorized ahead of time - and some actually managed this!!) pyramid, 4x4x4, 3x3x3 speed solve (the fastest I witnessed was 10 seconds).
Players are presented with a pre-messed up cube. Backstage, I watched competition organizers twisting and turning cubes, so as to randomize the squares. I wonder how an equal level of randomness is achieved for all cubes?
There are special touch pads that lie flat on the table that start and stop the timers. Upon completion of the puzzle, each player triumphantly hurled the solved cube onto the table, while in the same motion, slapped the timer touch pad. All of them did the same motion, sometimes causing the cube to bounce off the table.
Signs read "NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY", so I relied entirely on my 50mm f/1.4, which did a fine job without flash. I did wonder if any contestants felt even more nervous, with all us press people pointing video cameras and big ol' lenses at them. However, they did all sign waivers saying that they'd allow their image to be documented.
Below, an 11 year old world record holder from Japan for 3x3x3 speedsolve from a few years back.