A love for the challenges presented in solving the Rubik’s Cube has resulted in a Canada-wide award for Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Mark Abboud.
The Grade 6 French Immersion student at Dalewood recently captured second place at Concours Virtuel, a country-wide competition organized by Canadian Parents for French. His video, entitled Le cube rubik et moi…histoire de persévérance (The Rubik’s Cube and Me: A Story of Perseverance), documents the trials and tribulations he faced in mastering the iconic puzzle.
“You can achieve a lot if you persevere,” says the mature 12-year-old. “That’s what I found with the Rubik’s Cube. I bought it in March but I couldn’t solve it.”
He put it aside, then four months later he discovered The Speed Cubers on Netflix, a documentary which follows the twists and turns in the journeys of Rubik’s Cube champions Max Park and Feliks Zemdegs.
Abboud dug up his own 3-by-3 cube and got back to work. Two days later he had solved it.
Encouraged to enter the video contest by his mother, Mireille Salem, a French teacher at Royal Oak Community School, it was an obvious choice to focus on his puzzle-solving journey.
“When he figured out the cube,” explains Mireille, “everywhere he would go people would ask him to teach them how to do it. He would start teaching them, and they were pretty smart, but they didn’t have the patience to the end.”
She admits that when her son tried to teach her, she got frustrated and gave up. Similar struggles ensued during attempts to teach his father Henry, a jeweller. He had more success with his sister Carla. She mastered the puzzle in three days, after overcoming her suspicions that Mark was trying to mislead her into failure.
He realized then that the common thread with all who struggled was the same discouraging feeling he had on his first attempts. He wanted to show, via the video, that having the courage to push through is key to getting results.
Mireille and Mark worked together to plan and storyboard the video. It took about two months in total from the original concept through to the final edited version. Mireille shot the footage from behind the camera, and encouraged Mark with some pointers on his French grammar and pronunciation along the way.
Participating in this year’s Concours Virtuel was not tied to his studies in French Immersion officially.
“It’s an individual competition,” explains Mireille. “The aim is to promote French among young students. A good level of fluency in French is a main component of all winning videos. I encouraged my students at Royal Oak to submit their videos as well.”
One of her students, Violet Yerich, took home first place in the Grade 6 core French category, separate from Abboud’s division.
As well, when it comes to languages, one might expect perseverance had a little to do with Abboud’s success with the video. French is his third language, after Arabic and English.
His second place finish at Concours Virtuel is just the start of his Rubik’s Cube adventures.
Inspired by world champions Park and Zemdegs, Abboud hopes to one day compete for top honours himself. The world’s best can solve the cube in five seconds. Currently, Abboud’s average time lies between 10 and 15 seconds, with 10 being his personal best.
“His dream is to take part in the worldwide competition,” says Mireille. “So he’s saving for that, and he’s practising. He wants to realize his dream by December of this year.”
That five-second standard is the benchmark he’s hoping to reach by then.
“Usually the competition isn’t just for the 3-by-3,” Abboud explains. “It’s for all types of cubes. 2-by-2, 4-by-4, 5-by-5, 7-by-7, and the pyramid. There are 18 events in total. Once I mastered the 3-by-3, I taught myself the 5-by-5, and it wasn’t much harder.”
Abboud says the secret is to learn the basic method to solve the cube. That involves memorizing the eight basic algorithms in sequence.
“You have to remember all eight in order,” Salem adds. “Each algorithm isn’t hard, but it takes patience to remember them.”
Abboud loves to teach others the Rubik’s Cube, and successes with his sister and one of his friends have encouraged him to continue to offer his tutelage. The winning video, now posted on Mirielle’s YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/U5v13iKzkn0) offers inspiration and motivation, in French, of course, to those who may feel like packing it in.
“The two secrets to learning are you have to love it,” Abboud sums up. “And the second thing is to just persevere through.”
Beyond challenging puzzles, that’s good advice for life from a 12-year-old who’s been there.