His days as a speed-cubing champion behind him, Rowe Hessler of Shirley had few expectations coming into this year's Rubik's Cube National Championships.
At 23, a grizzled veteran with two national championships in this very young man's game, Hessler said this year's three-day contest of competitive cubers in Jersey City would be his last.
If Sunday's last day of competition was indeed his finale, what a way to finish.
Hessler placed third overall among more than 500 entrants in the competition at Governors Hall at the Liberty Science Center Museum. His lightning-quick average speed-cubing time for the event was 8.78 seconds.
"I'm relieved that I ended on a good note," Hessler said with a smile while waiting for the awards ceremony to begin Sunday.
In an interview Tuesday, Hessler, the back-to-back national champion in 2009 and 2010, said he didn't expect to place this year.
"I'm incredibly happy," he said Sunday.
This year's champion was Collin Burns, who won with an average time of 8.32 seconds. He was followed by pretournament favorite Feliks Zemdegs of Australia with an average of 8.53.
The competition took place amid a crowd of children and adults who cheered and clapped with each competitor's impressive solve.
"I think it's great they have it here for people to see," said Scott Goodman, 54, of East Meadow, who came to see the competition with his 17-year-old son, who has been cubing for about six years but was not competing in the national tournament. "You think it's just a game, but you see that it's more."
Throughout Sunday competitors, some as young as 12, wandered near the competition, camping out on cafeteria tables as they waited their turn.
They clustered in groups, drilling on their puzzles over and over again, talking and laughing all the while.
"There's like, what, three people with a chance to win?" said Rob Stuart, of Franklin, Massachusetts, who stood with a group of friends between events, most twisting a cube in their hands.
"This is just an excuse to see people."