DOYLESTOWN, Pa. — When he was 6 years old, Sreeram Venkatarao noticed on Presidents Day a group picture of all the U.S. presidents. Later, as the family went for a ride, he told his parents he could name them all. He did so in exact order of their presidencies.
That's when his dad, Sreepadraj, knew his son had a special talent.
Sreeram, 14, can solve Rubik's Cube in 51.68 seconds — blindfolded.
He's ranked sixth in the nation in his quickness in doing so in a single try by the World Cubing Association.
He's younger than any of the blindfolded cube-solvers ranked ahead of him, his father said. And that less-than-a-minute time includes the seconds he memorizes the puzzle before putting on the eye mask required in this category of competition.
Sreeram says he doesn't have a photographic memory. While he does memorize cube puzzles, he also understands the mathematics behind how they work.
In the Delaware Valley Regional Science Fair, he placed first among ninth-graders in the mathematics category. His topic: "Using Group Theory and Combinatorics to Solve the 4x4 Rubik's Cube and the Pyranminx (tetrahedral) Puzzles."
He's studied higher-level math with professors at the University of Pennsylvania and the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai via Skype, his father said, and has aced two online college courses in Java programming and statistics.
At the family's Doylestown Township home Wednesday, Sreeram's nimble fingers flew as he showed how he moves the layers of the 3-by-3 cube to match up the colors on all six sides perfectly while his eyes are covered.
"You memorize it first, then you solve it." If anyone wants to try, there are videos on YouTube to show you how, he added.
Rubik's Cube was invented by Hungarian Erno Rubik and was introduced by the Ideal Toy Co. in 1980.
Sreeram said the color of the blocks first attracted him.
"It's so unique," he said. "I don't know any puzzle like it."
He's been playing with the cubes since he was 8 years old and has quite a collection of them, both the original Rubik design and others from other manufacturers. Not only are there 3-by-3 cubes — where each side has three rows of three movable blocks — but similar cubes that range from 2-by-2 pieces to 12-by-12 pieces. Other puzzles have unusual shapes, from pyramids to balls that have holes for little colorized pebbles to fill.
At competitions, players sometimes rub the cubes in sand so that the pieces won't stick as they are moved.
Sreeram has placed in the top three positions in competitions at Harvard, Yale and Carnegie Mellon universities in the blindfolded category. He likes the contests and being able to check out the Ivy League institutions where many of the events are located.
Where does he want to go to college?
Stanford, he thinks, because it's located within Silicon Valley where much technology innovation takes place.
"I want to be an entrepreneur and start my own tech company in California," Sreeram said. He's taken up programming and finds it interesting.
Sreeram's father is an attorney who studied mechanical engineering. His mother, Anita, is an electrical engineer. He has an older sister, Sumana, who attends Penn State. In August, the family will be moving to Ohio for his mother's job relocation.
From Aug. 1 to Aug. 3, Sreeram will attend the WCA's U.S. national competition at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. He estimates more than 300 people will participate.
No matter how well he does in the competition, his parents will be pleased.
"We are extremely proud of our son. He does it on his own. He's a good kid," his father said. "He's very motivated ... He works hard. He does what he needs to do."
Sreeram served as vice president of Student Council at Lenape Middle School and was a member of the Mock Trial Team as well as Mensa, an organization for those with high intelligence.
Whatever he does for a career when he's older, Sreeram knows he will be able to enjoy Rubik's Cube.
"You have to keep improving, practicing," he said. "It's something you can do for a lifetime."
Information from: The Intelligencer, http://www.theintell.com