“We were told that he would be slower than kids his age,” said Emily Matoush, recalling a visit to the Montreal Children’s Hospital with her son Walter, who at the time was only two or three years old.
Now in Secondary 2, Walter Duff isn’t only excelling academically, he’s also achieved phenomenal success and recognition in the world of cubing: solving Rubik’s Cubes and other variations of the puzzle in an astonishingly short time.
“A specialist told us that he would be slow to speak, have slow development with motor skills,” Matoush recounted. “Then when he started school, the teacher told us he was learning pretty fast and we were very surprised. Since Grade 1, he’s been the top student!”
She bought her son a Rubik’s Cube when he was 10 years old. Later, he asked to attend a cube competition in Calgary. Matoush and her husband Warren spoke about Walter’s idea and confirmed that there was in fact such a thing as Rubik’s Cube competitions and that the one in Calgary was open for registration.
“We asked Walter if he really wanted to compete and he said yes right away,” Matoush said. “We signed him up and paid his registration online and then we started fundraising and looking for sponsors, writing letters and e-mailing people.”
Living in Chisasibi made fundraising for Walter difficult at first – legal requirements dictate that formal fundraising has to be done as part of a group, but Walter was the sole competitor aiming for Calgary. They overcame that rule, Matoush explained, by teaming up with the local hockey team.
Even as a cube rookie, Walter “did pretty well at the first competition,” Matoush said.
Fast forward to 2017, and Duff was competing all over the world. He was making friends among his international competitors and getting noticed as his times improved. He reached his first podium, a third-place finish at the Montreal Winter Open in 2017, and this past July he competed in the world championships in Paris.
“I started improving a lot after the Montreal competition,” Duff told the Nation. “I met Daniel Rose-Lavigne [a renowned cube solver] from New York and we shared some tips with each other. I started getting a lot quicker. In Paris, out of 900 competitors, I finished around 400th place.”
In Paris he met Felix Zendegs, the fastest cube solver in the world.
Duff went on to podium finishes at cube tournaments in Pickering, Ontario and Salt Lake City, Utah, where he set a national record.
“I’m the first Cree and the first Canadian to ever get a national record,” he said.
Then, on July 27 at a competition in Dalhousie, Nova Scotia, Duff made six podiums, competing on nine different cube variations.
“I got second place for 3×3 and 3×3 with one hand, and third place for 4×4,” he said. “I almost got the national record as my average. I was very close to tying the national record, set by my friend.”
Duff clearly understands his passion for Rubik’s Cubes, Skewb and other variations on the brain-teasing game.
“Trying to get the fastest times in competition is one thing I like to do,” he said. “I also like the social aspect of it. I meet a lot of people and every time it’s like we’ve known each other for years because we do the same thing. We get each other.”
Walter and his family are currently fundraising to send him to Quebec City’s first cubing competition, taking place February 16-17, 2019. He also has his sights set on next summer’s world championship in Melbourne, Australia.
Meanwhile, Duff will be working hard spinning the swivels on the plastic cube. “I’ll be practicing a lot because I want to get down to at least seven seconds for the Rubik’s Cube [the average time required to make the final round]. Making the final round in the world championships is a very big thing!”