SAN LUIS, Ariz. — A rivalry is shaping up between two schools here.
And it's all on account of a three-dimensional puzzle, one that has addicted and then stumped generations of youths who have tried to solve it.
Actually, for a group of students at Southwest Junior High School and at San Luis Middle School, mastering the Rubik's Cube seems to be child's play.
Southwest Junior High on Saturday claimed the Rubik's Cube state championship at Arizona State University, while San Luis Middle School (SLMS) finished in second place.
The Rubik's Cube, which marks its 40th year as a puzzle in 2014, is formed by multicolored smaller squares. The object of the puzzle is to align the smaller squares in solid colors on each side of the larger cube.
The eight-member team from Southwest captured the title by completing that exercise with each of 25 Rubik's Cubes in the shortest time: 3 minutes and 4.4 seconds. The team from SLMS finished in second place with a time of 3:04.84 — less than a half-second slower that Southwest's time.
This is the second year in a row one of the San Luis teams has won the You Can Do the Rubik's Cube championship. Last year, SLMS was No. 1, and Southwest finished in third place.
Saturday's competition was organized by ASU as part of the Arizona Science and Technology Festival. Southwest and SLMS were among six finalists from around the state competing at the junior high and middle school level in Division II.
Each Southwest team member took home a trophy, plus a $100 check for the school.
“This is a good sign for San Luis, because the top two team finishes were from the Gadsden Elementary School District, and this is just our second year competing,” said Chakravarthy Sunkara, a math teacher at Southwest who is coach of the school's Rubik's Cube team. “A lot of Phoenix schools didn't qualify.”
The remaining four team finalists came from Phoenix-area schools, with Western Peaks Elementary School finishing in third place.
Apart from allowing the San Luis students to claim bragging rights, the Rubik's Cube competition forces them to put to use mathematical concepts they have learned in the classrooms, say the coaches for the two teams from the Gadsden district.
While Southwest won the championship round Saturday, SLMS had the fastest time in preliminary round earlier in the day: 3:01.33. SLMS also won a practice competition held against Southwest last week to prepare for Saturday's championship.
“We knew that we could come back after the practice competition,” said Sunkara. “Despite the fact that we lost that, we always believed that we could win. We lost in the preliminary round, but we always had confidence in our teamwork.”
Daniel Barraza, a member of the Southwest team, agreed that teamwork was a factor in its victory. “We had to trust in each other, but we were a little worked (up) because San Luis Middle School was just behind us.”
Barraza also claimed the individual championship Saturday, solving a single cube in 32.4 seconds. But that was far off — by 20 seconds — the best time he had achieved previously in practice.
“I couldn't do better because I was a little nervous — I had all my teammates going ahead of me,” Barraza said.
Jesus Rodriguez and Jobanny Chavez, both of SLMS, had the second- and third-fastest individual times: 37.94 seconds and 42.80 seconds, respectively.