Instead of mindlessly fiddling with fidget cubes, Manuel Santiago from Puerto Rico spends his time learning to navigate a far more difficult cube: the Rubik’s Cube. When solved, the puzzle shows 9 sides of one solid color. And, though the Rubik’s Cube requires strategy and memorization, it does not deter Manuel from pursuing his goal of solving the puzzle in 30 seconds.

“They’re confusing, but I like them,” said Manuel. “They’re cool. I just like solving it.”

Manuel has come a long way from about a year ago when he first managed to master the cube. While it originally took him 3 to 5 minutes to complete, after extensive practice he has lowered his time to 40 seconds.

“The first time [I did it], I didn’t know how and I was stuck in the last part and [so I] watched videos,” said Manuel.

Originally introduced and taught to him by a friend from school, the Rubik’s Cube presented a challenge to Manuel that could never get old. With his friend’s record time of 25 seconds constantly pushing him to improve, he often practices solving the puzzle as soon as he gets home from school and during any other spare time he has. Subsequently, he was able to learn the algorithms for the cube within one and a half weeks.

“I think it was cool to see how [my friend] did it,” said Manuel. “It’s cool solving after you get the trick. I was curious and anxious to do it.”

As a result, the age-old puzzle simultaneously enriches both his academic and leisure time – a feat that many modern apps strive to do. At his school, the cube has even taken over some digital gaming time in many students’ lives. Many of his peers spend their time solving the puzzle and working on improving their times. Now, the cube promises to help him in other areas of his life.

“I do it before I study because it helps me concentrate,” said Manuel.

He continues to practice here, at Exeter Summer, but less frequently. When he goes back to Puerto Rico, however, he will continue to pursue his goal of 30 seconds.

“I will practice most of the days, and I will improve by watching videos of pros,” said Manuel.