Those who liked the popular TV series “Sherlock” know well the scenes where the protagonist, an ingenious detective, retreats into his mind palace and solves the most complex of mysteries within seconds. What if equally brilliant minds were wandering the corridors of WUT?
When Daniel Chudecki, a student of the Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering, Warsaw University of Technology, was shooting for the show called “The Brain. Genialny umysł” back in July, he only knew one thing: that his assigned task would be exponentiation.
“A proposal to appear on the show came already last year when I was up to my ears in work preparing to defend my engineer diploma thesis,” says Daniel. “This year, there was nothing to stop me from taking up this challenge. Having decided to be on the show, I made one condition to the producers. I wanted to showcase exponentiation skills right from the outset.”
Passion for cubing
He has shown his outstanding mathematical flair since his childhood. He was once interested in people with the Savant syndrome, who have profound mental capacities in a specific field, such as numeracy, far above the average. As an upper secondary school student, he would always be the best, especially at maths and physics. He even won a national mathematical competition awarding him a fast-track admission to the Military University of Technology. However, he wanted to be where the best of the best are. This is how he became a student of the Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering at Warsaw University of Technology.
His great passion is solving a Rubik’s Cube. He first came into contact with it in his early primary school years. But this was not when he caught the bug. Only some time later did he resolve to learn how to solve it. YouTube videos were helpful.
“I managed to solve only one side at my first take. Now I know that trying to solve a Cube without any knowledge of the algorithms, is quite a complex task and can easily put you off,” says Daniel. “Today, I invent my own algorithms. I know exactly how the Cube works. Cubing puts my mind at ease.”
Close your eyes and I’ll tell you how to solve a Rubik’s Cube
Daniel Chudecki is Poland’s silver medalist in solving a 4×4 Rubik’s Cube with eyes closed in a race against the time. The only thing that matters in a speedcubing competition is the time needed to solve the task. To this end, you have to exercise your finger dexterity, ideally every day.
“I started cubing with my eyes closed mainly because of my age. I’m just much older than many other contenders. I don’t have as fast fingers as children do, so I can make up for that by using my brains,” admits the student of Warsaw University of Technology. “I enter competitions where I have a specific number of cubes to solve with my eyes closed. I’m Poland’s bronze medalist in this category.”
Daniel is a very experienced “mnemonics practitioner”: he memorizes everything with visualization techniques, trying to combine them with other elements to push his memory skills even further. “Imagine a dozen or so Cubes you have to memorize, you close your eyes and start cubing,” explains Daniel. “I don’t have to look at them while completing the task, I see them through the eyes of my mind. I use the so-called mind palace. The first Cube is a place of sorts. I memorize the arrangement by associations and then go to the next one and then another. I invent a story, or my palace. Then, I close my eyes and enter the room and can see what’s happening there. Another cube is another room.”
“The Brain”? Easy-peasy!
A day before shooting “The Brain. Genialny umysł”, a final rehearsal took place and Daniel… made minute errors in the process.
“It was very hard for me to start to calculate exponents. I was chatting with the host, Jerzy Mielewski, and all of the sudden, I heard: ‘The clock starts ticking now’ and I had to get down to work right then and there. Returning to the realm of numbers after a chat like that is not easy.”
The talented student found a way to get around this. He decided to do a brain warm-up calculating exponents of various numbers while shooting, just before starting the task. This helped him to immerse himself in the tasks written on the board. “At one point, I was approached by Rezi, one of the judges. He patted me on the shoulder and said: ‘Easy-peasy, you’ll manage’. It took me off my tracks a bit but I managed to succeed anyway. I was very happy,” he recalls.
The tasks assigned to the young show contestant were extremely difficult for an average person. Daniel had 3 minutes to calculate and write down on the board the results of three exponentiation operations, such as raising 19 to the power of 20.
“To avoid exerting my mind too much, I used certain methods in my calculations, e.g. relationships between numbers,” he explains. “But the primary method I used was mnemonics. I worked out a very robust system, specially dedicated to numbers. People are not naturally born to compute numbers, unlike computers, which do it in a binary system. Magnificent as they are, figures tell us nothing. To calculate them we need images and associations.”
Anyone can solve a Rubik’s Cube
Daniel Chudecki’s dream is to combine his two passions: robotics and solving a Rubik’s Cube. To do this, he wants to create a robot which, having learnt how the Cube works, will instantly solve it. Daniel has already developed the relevant software, i.e. image recognition and cube matrix modeling, as part of his engineer degree thesis.
“I have invented an algorithm to solve the Cube. My next step will be to transfer it into the microchip. I want my robot to work very fast. A cube has six rotation panes so I’m going to deploy 6 completely independent engines in my robot,” he explains. “There is a massive challenge in designing because the Cube must be stable and rotated very fast. The robot will recognize the arrangement itself and figure out an algorithm needed to solve the Cube. Certainly, my idea is still pending acceptance but I hope I’ll be able to make that happen.”