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Behind Team USA (+FOB): The Team that Brought You Worlds 2013

Vincents

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Some Delegates have asked to talk a little bit about the organizational staff behind Worlds 2013. Here's some notes. (These notes may prove useful to current and future competition organizers as well).

Tyson actually ran through a couple of the main things that make us function so well at the delegates meeting, so some of it might be rehashed for some of the Delegates who attended. There's more little tweaks we've made, but here are some of the biggest things:

Team Structure and Communication

This year's staff can be split into two basic levels: organizers and staff.

Organizers:
Tyson Mao
Tim Reynolds
Jim Mertens
Bob Burton
Kian Barry
Felix Lee
Ilkyoo Choi
Vincent Sheu
Shelley Chang

Staff
Jim's Team
Aaron Abramowitz
Ashley Couch
Chester Lian
Evan Liu
James LaChance
Kit Clement
Natan Riggenbach
Shaden Smith
Sarah Strong

Bob's Team
Anthony Hsu
Chris Hardwick
Daniel Lo
Dene Beardsley
Jennifer Tang
Kevin Zhou
Zheng Li

Kian's Team
Tim Sun
Jasmine Lee
Peter Still
Nathan Kearney
Dave Campbell
Ian Winokur

Felix's Team
Jonathan Cookmeyer
Corey Sakowski
Nick Rech
Arthur Adams
Harris Karsch
Ajay Mysore
Richard Meyer

Ilkyoo's Team
Jeong Jong-Ho
Jun Doo-Young
Kim Jae-Min
Mike Hughey
Marie Hughey
Rebecca Hughey
John Brechon
Sébastien Auroux
Oscar Alberto Ceballos Contreras
Radu Făciu
Jean-Louis Mathieu
Sylviane Mathieu

Vincent's Team
Jeremy Fleischman
Steven Xu
Ryan Lim
Chia-Wei Lu
Nick Young
Patricia Li
Amy Tai
David Gomes
Michael Young
Alex Ho
Everest Shi
James Hamory
Courtney Louie
Richard Jay S. Apagar

Shelley's Team
Ambie Valdés
Casey Pernsteiner
Chris Krueger
Chris Dzoan
Dan Dzoan
John George
Lucas Garron
Patrick Kelly
Shonathon Collins
Shotaro Makisumi
Toby Mao
Fangyuan Chang

- Until 2011, Tyson had pretty much coordinated the entire staff team (then around 30-50 people) on his own. This was less-than-ideal for two reasons:

1. It is very difficult to keep track of the individual project threads of 30 people on your own and keep them on task;
and,
2. If you try, you will end up very, very exhausted.

- In 2011, the Staff Team integrated the roll of Organizer into the staff team. Organizers led Staff teams of 6 (Kian's Team) to 15 (Vincent's Team) people. Instead of the pre-2011 model of delegating tasks (of varying sizes) to regular staff members, tasks were now delegated to Organizers, who had the flexibility and team to get more interesting things done. Staff Teams, today, are arranged roughly by both familiarity and geographic proximity. For example, Jim Mertens's team is composed mostly of KOII people; my team is composed mostly of Berkeley people. Invites were (mostly) at the discretion of each Organizer, who had considerable leeway as to the composition of his/her own team, though we tried to invite trusted speedcubers who had extensive experience judging/organizing at the local level (as opposed to volunteers who had never touched a cube, or members of the audience - it cannot be overstated how much things like being able to quickly determine a misalignment penalty play over the grand scheme). Each team was also mostly autonomous. Tyson and Tim, as de facto Organizers, did not command teams this year (Tim commanded one last year, I believe).

This structure provides several advantages:
- Instead of 1:40, the organizer:staff ratio is now roughly 1:10. This makes it far easier to keep track of tasks and people.
- Organizers can assigned Staff members and mini-groups (within their teams) to work on various tasks. This reduced load at the top by allowing the Head Organizer to check in with a single point of contact with regards to various tasks. For example, on Thursday (Setup), I only needed to assign Kian's Team and Bob's Team (as opposed to naming Kian, Bob, Anthony, Dan Lo, Dene, Jennifer, Kevin, Zheng, etc.) to work with Tim on Shipping and Registration to know that Tim would have all the resources he would need to get everything done. Assigning Ilkyoo's, Shelley's, and my team to work on setting up Staff round meant that the entire room was set up in about 15-30 minutes (mostly painlessly, too!)
- Familiarity between Staff members of a single Team make work more efficient. For example, organizing the Staff rounds on Thursday were much easier this year, as all the Berkeley cubers already had connections and email lists in place suitable for that type of work.
- Issues can be compartmentalized. One concern we had a few years back was the amount of email being pushed into the Staff level, much of which only affected small numbers of staff. The "simple" solution of pushing email out to relevant staff is difficult to achieve because you then have to keep track of every Staff email. Now, Organizers are kept abreast of all issues. Emails can be pushed out to individual team mailing lists, or, if necessary, to all staff.

2. In addition to basic structure, we also incorporated the use of an opt-in staff "chatter" list - not all messaging has to be relevant, but we wanted to avoid spamming people who weren't ready for it. "Chatter" enabled things like planning meals, showcasing interesting videos, or simply getting to know one another.

3. We had as many staff as we could download the "GroupMe" app - this enabled us to send out messages and chats that could quickly reach most of our Staff. Through this, we planned informal get-togethers, called meetings, arranged airport trips, and sent out clarifications about anything and everything.

4. All important projects and communications went through the wc-organizers list - this meant that I usually had about 25-50 Worlds-related threads to keep track of a day, but better the 9 of us than all 76 of us...


Competition structure
I'm going to split this into two parts: staff structure and physical structure.

Staff Structure
1. Roles: Judge, Scrambler, Judge, Caller
- Scrambler: Receives solved cubes and scrambles. Leaves scrambled cubes ready for pickup. Checks integrity of cubes (e.g. for cube illegality)
- Runner: Picks up scrambled cubes from the scrambling table. Calls competitor name. Ascertains the next available timer, calls the competitor's name, brings the cube to said timer, and guides the competitor to the timer. Also, runs solved cubes from timer stations back to the scrambler. May also act as crowd control if necessary.
- Judge: Sits at a single timer and judges.
- Caller: Also known as MC. Calls heats, lays out scoresheets for competitors to drop cubes off onto, and moves cubes from drop-off area to scrambling area. May also act as crowd control if necessary.

- Why do we do it this way? The rate at which a competition can process competitors, assuming unlimited competent competition officials (judges, scramblers, etc.), is the number of timers. Timers are a limited resource. Having a runner move cubes to and from timers (instead of having the judge do it) increases the amount of time a timer is being used - the moment the previous competitor has finished an attempt, there is already another one ready to go.

- The runner role can be exhausting - be sure to switch out your runner often! Also, ideally the runner is one of your most experienced staff members. Keeping timers filled is an art. If you have an incompetent judge, only 1 of your 8 timers may be affected. If you have an incompetent runner, all 8 will be suffering. The ideal runner:timer ratio is about 1:4, but an experienced runner can cover 6 timers (and even 8 runners if absolutely necessary, with some loss of efficiency).

2. Accountability and Staff Role Assignments
- After asking each Staff member for preferences (e.g. Like to scramble 2,3,4,5; hate 6,7; Don't know Clock; minimal running), each Staff member was assigned specific roles, down to the nearest fifteen minutes, during the competition. This included duration, role, and location (down to the Stage color and Timer number!). Tim Reynolds is the brainchild behind this. His structuring, individual schedule print-outs distributed to each staff, and station printouts (e.g. Timer 8 would have a print-out of who was supposed to be at that timer) enabled us to quickly ascertain if there was a Staff member incapacitated. The increase in accountability when each Staff member has a specific role greatly added to the efficiency of our team.

- Sometimes, hiccups can happen - e.g. I was assigned to judge on Timer 5 on the last day, through 2x2x2 Semifinals - a round I ended up qualifying for. The addition of a few "Organizer-on-call" or "Staff-on-call" roles gives you a mini-army to fill in whatever holes pop up.

3. Staff Morale
- Things like hydration and nutrition cannot be overemphasized. As an organizer-on-call, I would bring a pitcher and cups to get 32 cups of water out to each of the timer stations, for example. Staff members were encouraged to ask for caffeine and sustenance through the GroupMe app (or to the organizer-on-call). If they needed it - we tried to bring it to them, even if it meant going shopping in the middle of the day. A happy staff is a productive staff.

Physical structure

1. Compartmentalization of the stage
- The timers this year were split into 3 stages of 8 timers each: Red, Blue, and Green. Each stage functioned somewhat autonomously as a "mini-competition" of it's own, with its own set of scramblers, judges, runners, and timers.. Competitors were called up to a single stage (the color-coding made this easy to see from across a room), and stayed in that stage area until they were finished. This way, they didn't have to run past 23 timers to get to the timer their cube was being brought to. Also, this kept competitors waiting in a small area, so that they could better hear their name being called. This also meant that you could run two events simultaneously in the same room without regard for overlap, judging expertise, or scrambling expertise.

2. Compartmentalization of each round
- We divided competitors into "Heats". Each Heat was assigned a certain time, which we didn't call early. This reduced the amount of confused competitors wondering when they would be called; it also made it easier for them to plan their day. Heats were sized such that they could smoothly be run on one of the colored stages (8 timers).

3. Side Stage
- We had a second stage of 8 timers off to the side of the main competition room, and placed one of our most experienced Organizers/Delegates, Bob Burton, on it. Keeping more unpredictable events like 7x7 off the main stage meant that you didn't have to delay the calling of the next heats/events if one happened to run over. This also enabled us to run an entirely separate 3x3x3 Consolation round just because we had the timers to spare. This was run by two Delegates - Vidar Klungre and Jean-Louis Mathieu, with minimal direction from the Organization Team.


tl;dr: Some themes that ran through: compartmentalization and efficiency. Compartmentalization of the Staff, Setup, and Projects/Tasks. Efficiency of your resources.
 
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Mikel

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These ideas are nothing short of genius. The level of organization that went into WC 2013 was phenomenal. The thing that impressed me most was the following:

Physical structure

1. Compartmentalization of the stage
- The timers this year were split into 3 stages of 8 timers each: Red, Blue, and Green. Each stage functioned somewhat autonomously as a "mini-competition" of it's own, with its own set of scramblers, judges, runners, and timers.. Competitors were called up to a single stage (the color-coding made this easy to see from across a room), and stayed in that stage area until they were finished. This way, they didn't have to run past 23 timers to get to the timer their cube was being brought to. Also, this kept competitors waiting in a small area, so that they could better hear their name being called. This also meant that you could run two events simultaneously in the same room without regard for overlap, judging expertise, or scrambling expertise.

I loved how even though you had 24 timers running on the main stage, competitors were able to be called upon and start their times with ease. I am excited to see what new organizational ideas the US Staff will think of next.
 

Robocopter87

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These guys did such an awesome job.

Especially with the unprecedented amount of people that attended.

It was just an amazing experience, and everything went very smoothly.

One thing I noted was just how accurate the schedule was. If they told you that you had a heat at 3:20, then your heat was called within 5 minutes of that time.

Great job, thanks so much.
 

Vincents

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These guys did such an awesome job.

Especially with the unprecedented amount of people that attended.

It was just an amazing experience, and everything went very smoothly.

One thing I noted was just how accurate the schedule was. If they told you that you had a heat at 3:20, then your heat was called within 5 minutes of that time.

Great job, thanks so much.

This comes with experience. Tim did a wonderful job of allocating competitors/heat that enabled us to stay on time.

One of the things you have to resist doing - even I nearly fell for this - is the urge to call up heats early. If your competitors can't trust your heat times, many things start falling apart.
 

Pedro

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Thanks a lot, Vincent.

Couple questions that come to mind:

How many scramblers did you have for each stage?
Also, how big were the heats? 16 people? maybe more?

Oh, Tyson once told me he (or his team) would try to always have a scrambled cube on each table, and the judge would call the competitor once he was free. Was this used at this comp? Why or why not?
(I know this would require a very good runner, but seems to be more effective to me. It would also require that the heat size is more than 2x the number of timers).
 
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Dene

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Thanks for the details Vincent. I'm going to talk to Tim McMahon about what things were like and see if we can replicate it on a smaller scale for Ausnats.
 

Vincents

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Thanks a lot, Vincent.

Couple questions that come to mind:

How many scramblers did you have for each stage?
Also, how big were the heats? 16 people? maybe more?

Oh, Tyson once told me he (or his team) would try to always have a scrambled cube on each table, and the judge would call the competitor once he was free. Was this used at this comp? Why or why not?
(I know this would require a very good runner, but seems to be more effective to me. It would also require that the heat size is more than 2x the number of timers).
This is called "queuing", and is one of the small tweaks we use sometimes. Basically, you "queue" or "line" up a cube at a busy timer station. When the previous competitor is finishing his solve, you call the next competitor over and line him up behind the timer station. This means that you can get an abundance of scrambled cubes out of the scrambling area.

This also means that you've called too many people - your timers aren't processing solves as fast as you're scrambling the cubes for them, or they are being solved/scrambled at the same rate, but you have too many cubes in the system.


# of scramblers is dependent on the event. E.g. you'll want a bare minimum of 3 for 5x5; 4+ is preferred. Bare minimum of 2 for any event per 8 timers (for us, per coloured stage). It is always better to err on the side of too many scramblers. The extra scramblers can always act as "staff-on-call" and fill other roles (e.g. relieve judges who need to use the restroom). Too few scramblers and you have a big problem.

Heats also varied in size. It would depend on the event, and Tim can chime in here. A larger heat size means more time per heat. I believe heats were usually sized at around 20.
 

Vincents

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Thanks for the details Vincent. I'm going to talk to Tim McMahon about what things were like and see if we can replicate it on a smaller scale for Ausnats.
No problem. Let us know how things go, and if there's anything you think we should change!
 

keyan

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Pedro: You need enough scramblers so that there are always cubes ready for runners. For many of the events, while extra scramblers might be needed right at the start of the heat for the big group of cubes coming in together, most of the time two scramblers was enough.
In my experience, having a little more than twice as many competitors as timers for a heat works well. It depends on the length of the event, for something fast you get through cubes quicker, and will want more competitors to keep timers constantly full.

For runners, it requires keeping an eye on all of the timers and having a cube ready at the station as soon as the previous competitor finishes. Each station was numbered with a sign attached to the back of the display, so the runner could call the competitor and the station number while they were delivering the cube. The work involved is related to the speed of the event. I was able to run eight timers myself for 5x5, but for 2x2 and pyraminx I think even the three runners we had wasn't enough.

I remember not being convinced it would help much the first time we used the runner system back in '06(?), but it really would not have been possible to do a 600 person competition on 24 timers in three hours without it.
 

Andrew Ricci

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I have a question that I've never really received a good answer to, but I'm sure that someone in this thread is more than capable of explaining: Why are competitors called up one at a time to do their solves rather than having them stay there and simply complete their solves all at once? And if the problem is due to the wait between the solve being finished and the next scrambled cube being brought to the solver, why aren't two people called up to a station at a time with one solving and one on deck?

It just always seems like such a cluster**** with 20+ people sitting/standing in one area to move back to the same place that they just were. But like I said, I'm sure there's a good explanation.
 

Pedro

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I have a question that I've never really received a good answer to, but I'm sure that someone in this thread is more than capable of explaining: Why are competitors called up one at a time to do their solves rather than having them stay there and simply complete their solves all at once? And if the problem is due to the wait between the solve being finished and the next scrambled cube being brought to the solver, why aren't two people called up to a station at a time with one solving and one on deck?

It just always seems like such a cluster**** with 20+ people sitting/standing in one area to move back to the same place that they just were. But like I said, I'm sure there's a good explanation.
That would probably be because people have different speeds. And while you know some (or most) solvers, you don't know everybody. So you may end up lining a sub-10 solver with a 2-minute solver, and the first guy would wait for a long time between solve, while he could go to another timer and just get done very quickly.

I know it can get kinda messy with a lot of people, and that's why we use the running and rotating thing when we have the proper space available. If you don't have a big stage or competition area, it's probably not the best idea to have many cubers and runners going around.


Pedro: You need enough scramblers so that there are always cubes ready for runners. For many of the events, while extra scramblers might be needed right at the start of the heat for the big group of cubes coming in together, most of the time two scramblers was enough.
In my experience, having a little more than twice as many competitors as timers for a heat works well. It depends on the length of the event, for something fast you get through cubes quicker, and will want more competitors to keep timers constantly full.

For runners, it requires keeping an eye on all of the timers and having a cube ready at the station as soon as the previous competitor finishes. Each station was numbered with a sign attached to the back of the display, so the runner could call the competitor and the station number while they were delivering the cube. The work involved is related to the speed of the event. I was able to run eight timers myself for 5x5, but for 2x2 and pyraminx I think even the three runners we had wasn't enough.

I remember not being convinced it would help much the first time we used the runner system back in '06(?), but it really would not have been possible to do a 600 person competition on 24 timers in three hours without it.
Indeed, the beginning of heats/events is usally messy with all those cubes coming to the scrambling table. And it gets extra good with people that don't come when called or didn't attend.

From my experience, good scramblers can handle something like 6 timers for an event like 3x3. Faster things like 2x2 or pyraminx would need probably more scramblers (and runners, as you said).
Big cube scrambling is almost always a pain, specially for 6x6 and 7x7 (oh, man, I just hate those). Fortunately there are less people on this, or things could really go wrong.

The runner system is much better (if you have the proper space and more that 6 timers, I'd say) because there's less people moving around. And while you may need a couple extra staff, it's well worth it.

What you guys did was really very impressive. That's like a thousand solves/hour. Of course there was a lot of fast people competing, but still, that's almost 70k seconds of solving time(if I did the right math from the WCA export). If the total time was 10800 seconds (3 hours), than the average (solve+delay) time was 91 seconds. That's very very good, considering the size of the competition.

Do you have information on the actual time each event took and possible delays? I remember the 3x3 final was scheduled to start at 4:30 PM, but I think it was more like 5 something (different time zone, I may be wrong here).
 
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blade740

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Wow... you guys have really got this thing down to a science. It was simply amazing to me that you ran a competition twice the size of nats 2012, with basically the same timeframe (possibly less if what I hear about not getting access to the venue is correct). Now I can see why. Simply amazing.
 

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Heats were mostly 16 people for 8 timers, but I put a few more in the quick events like 2x2.

Last year I had 2 runners for 8 timers for 2x2. This year I put 3. Next year we'll try 4.

I can explain the process of assigning heats at some point. The goal is to have people not have conflicting events, which is easy in competitions with 1 event at once but difficult when you have 3.

I have a question that I've never really received a good answer to, but I'm sure that someone in this thread is more than capable of explaining: Why are competitors called up one at a time to do their solves rather than having them stay there and simply complete their solves all at once? And if the problem is due to the wait between the solve being finished and the next scrambled cube being brought to the solver, why aren't two people called up to a station at a time with one solving and one on deck?

It just always seems like such a cluster**** with 20+ people sitting/standing in one area to move back to the same place that they just were. But like I said, I'm sure there's a good explanation.
As Vincent mentioned the main resource that we need to optimize for is number of timers. If we had you sit on a timer, then while your cube is being run and scrambled, there's a timer not being used.

That said, in 2x2 there may be a more efficient setup, and we can experiment with that. For longer events, though, wasting about a minute of timer time per solve is inefficient.
 
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Andrew Ricci

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That would probably be because people have different speeds. And while you know some (or most) solvers, you don't know everybody. So you may end up lining a sub-10 solver with a 2-minute solver, and the first guy would wait for a long time between solve, while he could go to another timer and just get done very quickly.

I know it can get kinda messy with a lot of people, and that's why we use the running and rotating thing when we have the proper space available. If you don't have a big stage or competition area, it's probably not the best idea to have many cubers and runners going around.
As Vincent mentioned the main resource that we need to optimize for is number of timers. If we had you sit on a timer, then while your cube is being run and scrambled, there's a timer not being used.

That said, in 2x2 there may be a more efficient setup, and we can experiment with that. For longer events, though, wasting about a minute of timer time per solve is inefficient.
If that's the case, would the two-to-a-timer setup I mentioned work better than the way it's currently done, as long as the two people are reasonably well matched up? Or would that also be inefficient?
 

Kian

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2x2 was the only event that ran much over its intended time. Every other event stayed on schedule (many could have been ahead, but I did not call up any heats more than 2 minutes early for the main stage) for the entire weekend. We kept the timers full and the runners were great, there was just physical no way to get 2x2 done quicker the way we handled that.

As for Andrew's question, I don't really believe that would be feasible or more effective. I could be wrong, but everything I know about running a competition leads me to believe that would be much less efficient for 450 competitors.
 

Vincents

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If that's the case, would the two-to-a-timer setup I mentioned work better than the way it's currently done, as long as the two people are reasonably well matched up? Or would that also be inefficient?
This would work if you had dedicated scramblers to each timer. Otherwise, the runner has to keep track of which cubes to bring to which timers, which is much more taxing and prone to mistakes. It's much easier to call "ANDREW RICCI, 6."

I should note that for the staff round 1 heats, it was much easier for us to pair up and get each other through (on different sets of scrambles) on the same timer for certain events where scrambling was easy (e.g. 2x2) than to have the runner/scrambler system, because the latter takes a bit more effort to set up.
 
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shelley

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If that's the case, would the two-to-a-timer setup I mentioned work better than the way it's currently done, as long as the two people are reasonably well matched up? Or would that also be inefficient?
The judge, if they're doing their job properly, can't be scrambling while judging. You'd need to dedicate a scrambler to each station or every two stations, which requires more staff (12-24 scramblers as opposed to 6-9 plus a few runners) and is more difficult to coordinate (where would they sit?)
 

blah

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2x2 was the only event that ran much over its intended time. Every other event stayed on schedule (many could have been ahead, but I did not call up any heats more than 2 minutes early for the main stage) for the entire weekend. We kept the timers full and the runners were great, there was just physical no way to get 2x2 done quicker the way we handled that.
To reinforce the point being made here, 2x2x2 was the only event for which I needed help with data entry. Thanks to Kevin Zhou for helping me out there. (I had help for some other events, but unlike for 2x2x2, I didn't feel like I would've died without the help.) Before the competition, Tim told me that there would be a new scorecard to enter every 10 seconds. He wasn't kidding.

For the sake of comparison, consider the three largest first rounds:
2x2x2: 445 scorecards, 2225 results * ~3 digits/result = ~6675 digits
3x3x3: 568 scorecards, 2840 results * ~4 digits/result = ~11360 digits
4x4x4: 362 scorecards, 1306 results * ~5 digits/result = ~6530 digits

I was able to handle the volume of scorecards for 3x3x3 and 4x4x4, and had all the results entered within about 20 minutes of the end of each round. But the frequency of scorecards for 2x2x2 was completely ridiculous. With Kevin and I working non-stop at the data entry station, we were still b*tching about how it should've been more than a two-person job, whereas 3x3x3 and 4x4x4 were both one-man jobs (with Tim and Jim keeping the flow going during my bathroom breaks). The frequency for pyraminx was slightly lower than 2x2x2 but still higher than 3x3x3, but the significantly lower volume made it manageable. If there were a way to get 2x2x2 done quicker, we would've needed at least 3 people doing data entry to keep up with it.

WC2013 2x2x2 round 1 is the gold standard for what throughput should be, that is, until we come up with a better model. I'm not even saying it has the best throughput considering the size of the competition; I'm saying it has the best throughput we've ever seen in any cubing competition - one new scorecard every ten seconds is unheard of. Awesome, awesome job, guys.
 
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