Rowe Hessler solving a Rubik's Cube in less than 10 seconds sounds like an inspired author pounding away at a typewriter -- machine-gun clicks interrupted only by the briefest of pauses for thought.
Fingers race across the plastic block, manipulating and intuitively mapping the colored tiles.
As impressive as Hessler is with the iconic mind puzzle, the two-time U.S. champion says he can't keep up with rivals who are younger and even faster.
At the age of 23, the Shirley resident is retiring from serious competition after the 2014 U.S. National Championships this weekend in Jersey City.
"I was probably more into record-breaking back when I could. Now, I can't," he said, sounding like an old-timer.
Hessler, who was crowned champion in 2009 and 2010, dominated North American "speed-cubing" for five years until his 8.27-second competition record fell earlier this year. The new mark is 7.73, but even that pales compared to the world record: a blistering 6.54 seconds.
Although only an American can claim the $2,000 prize that comes with the title -- based on an average time after five solves -- the U.S. nationals draws competitors from across the globe. This year, more than 500 have registered, organizers said.
Besides the main event, cubers face off in speed-solves using different-sized Rubik's Cubes. There's also blindfold and one-handed showdowns, said organizer Felix Lee.
Before each event, competitors place their cubes on a table to be "scrambled" by judges into a starting position predetermined by a computer, Lee said. Competitors are given 15 seconds to strategize before the clock starts.
Bobby d'Angelo, 21, of Wantagh, who befriended Hessler after meeting him at a competition, said cubing is more about having fun and meeting people with similar interests than "dominating in the world and everything."
"We really try to support each other," said Brandon Delacruz, 19, of West Hempstead, who counts D'Angelo and Hessler as friends. "Even though there are people who are rivals trying to get records, it's always a supporting thing."
Competitions are typically hosted at colleges throughout the year and attract smaller, local audiences, Delacruz said.
Hessler said that when he started as a student at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue, cubers and competitions were scarce on Long Island. With help from the university's computer club, he wound up hosting four competitions, drawing people from throughout the metropolitan area.
Hooked, he started practicing five hours a day. Then came the competitions, about a dozen a year.
Between time spent cubing and working, Hessler dropped out of school. Now he says it's time to complete his math studies.
"Cubing is the most I've ever been into anything," Hessler said, but he doesn't want it to get in the way of "what's important, like getting a degree, getting a better job, saving my money, moving out."
There won't be a retirement party, Hessler said, just three days of cubing with friends this weekend.
"It's a spectacle to see people who can solve a Rubik's Cube in seven, eight seconds, or who can solve it blindfolded," said Paul Hoffman, president of the Liberty Science Center museum in Jersey City, where the national competition is being held.
Rubik's Cube was invented in 1974 by Hungarian architecture professor Erno Rubik, who took a month to solve his own wooden puzzle for the first time. Five years later, the cube was sold to the rest of the world as the "Magic Cube" toy.
The U.S. nationals overlap with the center's exhibit called "Beyond Rubik's Cube."
The $5 million, 7,000-square-foot interactive exhibit is the first entirely dedicated to the toy and celebrates the "cultural icon," Hoffman said. The exhibit opened in April and will remain until late November before it goes on a seven-year world tour.