Rowe Hessler, 19, of Shirley, works on a 2x2 Cube...

Rowe Hessler, 19, of Shirley, works on a 2x2 Cube while competing in the second annual Rubik's Cube competition at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue. (Jan. 15, 2011) Credit: John Dunn

Rowe Hessler's average time to solve a Rubik's Cube: 8.9 seconds. He can inhale and finish the puzzle as he exhales.

The college student from Shirley is one of the world's fastest "cubers," but his speed will be tested by more than 200 rivals this weekend at the national championships held at Ohio State University.

Hessler, 20, is going for an unprecedented three-peat, having won the title the past two years.

He started mastering the cube six years ago, he said, honing both his dexterity and ability to react instantly to color patterns. Before the clock even starts, he's plotted several moves.

"I try to put at least four pieces in place," said Hessler of his visualizing prowess. "From there, you're seeing patterns and then reacting."

Hessler, in second place after Friday's opening round, holds the single-solve national record -- a blistering 6.94 seconds -- as well as the nation's fastest average time.

A junior math major at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue, he's the only multiple winner in the seven-year history of the male-dominated event, which is also open to international entrants. The final round begins Sunday afternoon.

Winning three times in a row would be a stunning feat, said event organizer Tyson Mao.

Hessler, he said, is the fastest cuber in the competition -- "but sometimes the fastest doesn't win."

Top competitors must be able to solve at super speed randomly shuffled standard Rubik's Cubes, with nine squares per side. Other events use different-sized cubes -- from four squares per side to 49. There's also a blindfold event.

Competitors are allowed to handle and examine the cube for 15 seconds before trying to solve it. They must then place the square puzzle back on the table before starting the clock.

Fortunately, the cubes themselves have evolved. Manufactured differently than when they were first produced in 1980 -- the brainchild of Hungarian engineer Erno Rubik -- they're now built for speed, Mao said.

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