Daniel Rose-Levine has been featured on national TV shows and is profiled in A.J. Jacobs’ popular book The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life.
Lauren Rose brings star power into a Bard College class she teaches to link mathematics and fun puzzles — her 19-year-old son.
Daniel Rose-Levine, an international Rubik’s Cube champion lauded for solving the puzzles in record times using his feet instead of his hands, has been featured on the national TV shows CBS Sunday Morning and To Tell the Truth and is profiled in A.J. Jacobs’ popular book The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life.
For his mom’s class in New York state, The Mathematics of Puzzles and Games, Rose-Levine regularly demonstrates his skills. A math and physics major at Bard, he also tutors students and shares experiences with members of a Rubik’s Cube club on campus. Ultimately, he is letting others know what YouTube videos can teach them about connecting the cubes to algorithms.
When Rose showed the recent CBS video to her class, it brought resounding applause honoring the teen who has spoken at the National Museum of Mathematics and enjoys appearances that make people more aware of solving cube puzzles.
“I went to the Bard Math Camp when I was 11, saw this kid solving a Rubik’s Cube and wanted to do it,” Rose-Levine said. “That’s what made me learn how to do it. I learned the World Cube Association is the official organization that has competition events, and one of the events they have had involved solving with feet.
“When I first started doing it with my feet, it took me 10 minutes. After many hours of practice, I was able to do one turn every two seconds and then went on to faster times, breaking the world record six times. When I won with a cube manufactured by MoYu, the company awarded me $750.”
This mother’s, and eventually her son’s, interest in the art of puzzles and games can be traced back to the Huntington Woods household of her parents, Arthur and the late Joan Rose. While Arthur Rose began by doing jigsaw puzzles, he moved on to the crossword puzzles his wife preferred. The couple became role models as family activities included card and word games using different strategies.
“When Daniel decides to do something, he spends a lot of time working at it, and what comes out is just amazing,” said Arthur Rose, whose family also has participated in programs at the Birmingham Temple, now the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Metro Detroit.
“Last year, he taught himself how to play the guitar and learned Bob Dylan songs. When he was visiting us, he entertained the family. During COVID, he also started to teach himself quantum mechanics and physics.”
Approaches to conquering various puzzle forms captivate Rose-Levine, active with the Jewish Student Organization at Bard and a member of a violin performance group before the pandemic.
“Once you know how to solve a Rubik’s Cube, you can always solve them,” said Rose-Levine, who has participated in about 85 competitions. “I didn’t figure it out on my own. I used YouTube. When Rubik’s Cubes were popular in the 1980s, it was common for people to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out on their own, partly because there weren’t any resources for solving them.
“Now, almost no one figures it out independently. It’s about understanding algorithms while having fun. After I learned how to solve them, I really liked trying to get my time faster and faster, and that was sort of addicting.
“When you go to school for math, you learn algebra, calculus and all the things that have already been figured out for hundreds of years. If you keep going in math, at some point you start doing your own research and contributing, but you wouldn’t be able to get there if you had tried to figure out everything on your own.”
While Rose-Levine believes it’s fun to try to figure things out on your own, he also believes that if you learn from others first, it propels you further. He thinks of math problems as other puzzles to solve.
“Recently, I have been doing a lot of the 15 Puzzle,” he revealed. “It’s this two- dimensional grid, and you’re sliding tiles around trying to get them in order. It’s a grid of the numbers 1 through 15, but it’s similar to the Rubik’s Cube because you’re moving things around.”
As Arthur Rose currently reads about his grandson in The Puzzler, the author maintains communication with Rose-Levine, who has attended a special event in honor of the book.
“I was super-impressed with Daniel,” author A.J. Jacobs said. “It’s hard enough for me to solve a Rubik’s Cube, and he can do it with his feet — in a matter of seconds!
“I also asked him to work on a Rubik’s Cube variant that is among the hardest puzzles in the world. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to do it, but he did. It took him a month, but he’s the first person on Earth to solve the Octahedron Starminx.
“Daniel brought an element of optimism to the book. He proved that (almost) anything can be solved.”