Interview with Phillip Lewicki, LaZer0MonKey
Phillip Lewicki, LaZer0MonKey, is a competitive speedcuber, content creator, and event organizer famous for his informative product reviews, solve analysis videos, and the popular Monkey League competition circuit. We had a chance to sit down with Phillip and ask him some questions about speedcubing, the Monkey League, and self-improvement.
Q1: Hey Phillip. Thanks for doing this interview with us. How've you been doing recently?
I’ve been well.
Q2: Monkey League has really been taking off. What first gave you the idea to make a league like this?
I've been thinking about making something like this for years. It’s long been my goal to create and promote speedcubing as a spectator sport. Then, in late April 2020, during one of my Twitch streams, I started to feel unmotivated to cube and spontaneously organized a best of 100 match with Luke Griesser, who was in the chat. During that match, Patrick Ponce, also in the chat, challenged the winner. Soon Tymon Kolasiński reached out and faced Luke, then Patrick. Then Feliks Zemdegs challenged the winner, Tymon. After Feliks lost, Leo Borromeo joined, looking to “avenge the boys”. It was during the planning for Tymon vs Leo that I realized it was time to formalize these matches into a league of top competitors, competing for the fun and challenge of racing the world’s fastest speedcubers and the title of Monkey League Champion. The specific format and organization of the league has evolved but at its core it’s still a community driven by the desire of top speedcubers to hang out and compete with each other.
Q3: That’s a really cool origin story. It’s safe to say Monkey League has had its fair share of great competitions. Do you have a favorite, most memorable moment?
It’s difficult to pick a favorite, but I think the most defining moment was Leo’s 3.75 and sweep to comeback against Tymon in their first match. I think that established both the insanely high level of competition that was to come and the rivalry between the league’s two most successful competitors.
Q4: That 3.75 was mind-blowing. For the readers out there, Phillip did a breakdown of that solve on a YouTube video so you can see exactly what Leo did. You’ve been doing these breakdown videos for years now. What got you into that style of video?
Back in 2017 Feliks posted a 4.75 official solve using commutators during 3x3 LSLL, which inspired me to immediately make a video showcasing the unconventional solution. Since then it’s been a tradition to break down and analyze the world’s best and most interesting solves in an attempt to share the more nuanced and sometimes artistic choices in the solutions. I hope they can also increase understanding of and interest in high level speedcubing, which I personally find extremely fascinating.
Q6: For sure -- your breakdowns are super clear. I’m sure it also helps that you’re a world class speedcuber yourself. What are your favorite puzzles and what do you consider your greatest speedcubing accomplishment?
I think the standard 3x3 is the most interesting. I also enjoy the complexity and potential of megaminx, although I personally haven’t reached a very high level. In terms of speedcubing accomplishments, I’m most proud of my first sub-7 official 3x3 average. I had the necessary skill for maybe a year before and had gotten extremely close with multiple low 7 averages, but I kept choking under pressure. I completely transformed my practice strategy and the practice paid off when I managed to finally get it in the Great Lakes Champs 2019 finals. I’m also quite proud of my performance in the 3x3 and megaminx finals at Worlds 2019.
Q7: Congratulations! I bet it feels great to deliberately target your practice and then have it pay off. In addition to speedcubing, I see you’re also quite good at chess and tetris. Can you tell us more about your involvement in these areas?
I’ve been playing chess since late 2016, and am studying more than ever today. In 2018, I placed 4th in the Ohio Scholastic State Championship, drawing a FIDE Master rated around 2350 in the last round. It’s been fun to engage with the chess community and to improve my understanding of the game as a fan and as a player. Currently I’m rated 2100-2200 online and am hoping to push for USCF National Master when tournaments eventually return.
I got involved in Tetris as a fan in early 2019 and started playing seriously in early 2020 when I learned how to hypertap and got a proper NES and CRT to play. I’ve met a lot of cool people playing Tetris. A lot of them are cubers too. I placed in the top 24 in the 2020 Classic Tetris World Championship and currently have a PB of 1.2 million which I’m hoping to improve in the future. Tetris and Chess are great to play when my interest in cubing or one of the others wavers. I tend to rotate between them quite sporadically.
Q8: Wow, those are some incredible accomplishments! It goes without saying, your dedication to improvement and learning is amazing. Do you have any tips that you think can help people who are trying to learn new things?
Focus. Every choice to do is a choice to not do. I usually think about my limited mental bandwidth and am deliberate about how I spend my energy. Of course, everyone has obligations, but for elective endeavors, it’s very important to be passionate and efficient. This means realizing that if you want to learn or improve at something, especially at a high level, you basically need to do nothing else. This is why I take long breaks between bursts of activity in each of my main interests. If I did them all at once, I wouldn’t be devoting enough of my active or subconscious energy to any one of them. I think it’s unlikely that anyone could get to be one of the world’s best without being a specialist (which I am not), so you have to make decisions about what your goals are and understand your own abilities. I also recommend learning as much as possible about people who have or had traits you’d like to emulate; maybe something they do or did will serve as useful guidance.
Q9: The observation about mental bandwidth is super smart. When you were beginning to immerse yourself in your interests, did you have anyone you wanted to emulate?
I like what Magnus Carlsen said: “I admire what people can do, not necessarily the people themselves”. Keeping that in mind, I’ve especially tried to emulate people who excel at things other than what I’m doing.
Q10: Interesting. Magnus is definitely a legend with a really fun sense of humor to boot. Now for the closing questions that I ask everyone. Can you tell us something interesting about yourself that you think most people don’t know?
I used to really enjoy playing ultimate frisbee before COVID.
Q10: Cool. Now for the last question, if you had to describe your cubing style using only three words, what would they be?
Intuitive, inaccurate. Two words is enough.
Awesome. Certainly efficient. Again, thanks so much for doing this interview with us! Good luck with everything!