As a teenager, Dr. Fridrich saw a man demonstrating the Rubik’s Cube at a mathematics seminar, and scrambled defiantly through a crowd to touch it. She says it was immediately clear that she was “cube possessed,” her shorthand for people who spend most of their waking hours learning to speed-solve the cube. Even though no cubes were for sale in her country then — the few people who had them bought them in Hungary — she would not be stopped. She picked up Kvant, a Russian math journal that outlined one method of solving the cube, and worked it out on paper.
When she finally got her first cube, left behind by family friends visiting from France, she began to improvise, cubing faster and faster to beat record times from Prague, Hungary and the United States printed in newspapers. By the time the Czech national championship took place in 1982, Dr. Fridrich was one of the fastest speedcubers in the country. She won the championship, solving the cube in less than 23 and a half seconds — a time that would now be laughably long in international competition — going onto place 10th in the first world championship in Budapest.
After earning her master’s degree, she was building mathematical models of rock deformation at a mining institute when she was recruited by a professor from Binghamton who heard about her mastery of the cube and her grades at the Czech Technical University in Prague. After a brief meeting in which she described her cube algorithms, he asked her to apply for the doctoral program in systems sciences. She had no résumé, so she dashed one off on a typewriter just before the professor’s train left the station. A year later, she arrived in Binghamton, where she has lived ever since.
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