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Rubik's Cube record-setting 'grandma' sees happiness in chasing dream

By Zhao Jia| China Daily| Updated: May 6, 2021 L M S


Zhao Wenying solves a Rubik's Cube during the professional B-level certification exam in Lishui, Zhejiang province, in March. She has since become the oldest Rubik's Cube player for that level. [Photo by Changjun/For China Daily]

Many senior citizens in China exercise in parks, soak in the sun, play cards with friends, dance to music in public squares or spend time with their children and grandchildren.

Zhao Wenying has opted for a different life after her retirement as a schoolteacher in Jinyun county, Zhejiang province. She is a Rubik's Cube player. At present, she holds the world's fastest record for blindfolded cube-solving for people over age 60.

The blindfolded method is to cover the eyes of a player and give them a disorganized Rubik's Cube to solve. The shorter the time, the higher the score.

In March, Zhao passed the professional Rubik's Cube B-level exam to become the oldest Rubik's Cube player for that level.

Seven cubes must be restored within the specified time during the exam. The pass rate globally is low, according to her coach. Only some 900 people in China have cleared it so far.

"Life after 30 years of teaching in a rural elementary school seemed void," Zhao, 65, said, adding that she was lonely after her husband died in 2007. "The Rubik's Cube has given me a new relish."

Her 8-year-old granddaughter had introduced Zhao to the game. "She played in math class with the cube and brought it home. I was very curious, so I played with her."

As a green hand, she learned at a relatively slow pace. Yet she was determined to learn well. She sought relevant online courses and devoted more than four years to exploring the Rubik's Cube by herself. Thereafter, she focused on blindfolded solving.

Inspired by Super Brain, a competitive reality show on Jiangsu TV, she reached out to a professional to learn the method.

"When I met Pan Lihuan, a Rubik's Cube trainer in Jinyun, and expressed my willingness to learn, he thought it was a way for me to kill time," she recalled.

Pan later told a TV station that it is difficult for people in their 60s to learn blindfolded cube-solving as it requires players to remember the pieces rotatable in groups, the angles at which they are disorganized randomly and completely, and the positions they should be restored to.

However, Zhao did her utmost to acquire the skills under Pan's guidance. She exercised her memory by remembering car plate numbers and telephone numbers. She solved puzzles through images and pondered on solutions when purchasing vegetables.

"I used to encounter difficulties," she said. "I learned so hard that I had headaches."

Not reconciled to giving in, she adjusted her approach. She would do some daily chores to relieve the pressure and would get back to studying after that.

In November 2019, she accomplished the blindfolded method solving in 3 minutes 33 seconds. Officially verified by the World Record Certification agency, she broke the record for "the fastest time to solve a Rubik's cube blindfolded at an age of over 60".

Others may think her ability has reached its peak. She said, she wants to meet more goals.

"First, I would like to strive to pass B1 level," she said. "Second, I aspire to perfect my blindfolded solving to reach a high degree of excellence."

She said level B has four categories, among which B1 is the most difficult.

Some friends earlier asked her to live a simple life instead of worrying about such things, she said. At the beginning, her family also worried about her getting overworked. Yet they supported her after they saw that her happiness was most valuable to them.

Now, Zhao is an inspiration to relatives and friends for being optimistic and persistent. She is lauded as an exemplary in the family and hailed as a doer.

"Her achievements are because of relentless, concrete efforts, not luck," commented a friend of Zhao's.

The Rubik's Cube has brought warmth to her life. It is her "spiritual partner", Zhao said.

"When I am in my 70s, 80s or even 90s, I probably will have no strength left for square dancing. However, I will still have my Rubik's Cube."

Zhao said people should focus their energy on contributing to society. As a member of the Communist Party of China, she provides CPC members in Wulipai community in her city with free training classes to promote the Rubik's Cube and enrich their lives. She teaches her friends in WeChat groups to play the game.

Though she is not planning to participate in any competition in the near future, she sharpens her abilities every day.

"You must have dreams and you must pursue constant learning to realize your dreams through hard work. While realizing dreams is a moment, chasing dreams is a process where happiness truly lies," she said.

From learning about the Rubik's Cube from her granddaughter to holding a record, Zhao has been self-motivated.