Meeting John Louis and his son Bernett Orlando

Chennai, December 2005

In December 2005 I was in India for business, visiting a company in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Because the trip was longer than a week, I had the opportunity to fly to Chennai (formerly Madras) for the weekend, to meet with John Louis (Indian Grand Master of Memory) and his son Bernett Orlando (a 9 year old puzzle solving talent). I have known John and Bernett for over a year now via Internet, so I was looking very much forward to meeting them in person.

On Saturday morning I flew from Mumbai to Chennai, being the only non Indian passenger in the plane. When I arrived in Chennai it was raining, which is very uncommon there. Outside the airport I met John, Bernett and Johnís cousin Frank. I immediately felt very welcome, and that feeling would last all weekend. We drove to the Sangeeth hotel, where we would stay for the weekend. Actually I would have preferred to visit Johnís home in Trichy and also meet his wife and daughter, but Trichy was another 8 hours by train from Chennai. A 16 hour return trip would have been too much for a short weekend, so we decided to meet in Chennai. This did mean that John and Bernett had to make the 8 hour train ride on Friday night from Trichy to Chennai!!!

In the hotel room I finally had the chance to see Bernett cubing. Bernett is a really amazing cuber, who could solve the cube when he was 7 years old, and could solve the cube blindfolded (!) when he was only 8. Now aged 9, Bernett can solve the cube in an average of 20 seconds, solve the cube blindfolded under 3 minutes, solve the 4x4x4 cube under 1 minute 30 seconds and 5x5x5 cube under 3 minutes 30 seconds. He can also solve the 4x4x4 and 5x5x5 cube blindfolded, an achievement done only by a handful of other cubers (all way older than Bernett).

Bernett Orlando and John Louis

Those achievements are absolutely fantastic for a 9 year old, but they are even more fantastic because Bernett had never met another cuber before. The only help he ever got was his father teaching him his amazing memory techniques, and the information on several Internet sites. Thatís it.
Another thing is that Bernett used the worst cubes I had ever touched. When I tried to scramble his 5x5x5 cube, it popped 20 pieces on my 5th move. His 4x4x4 cube broke when I looked at it, and his 3x3x3 cube was so tight that I immediately felt my wrists hurting when I scrambled it.
Fortunately I had brought some good quality cubes for Bernett, which he was obviously very delighted with.

Anyway, when he was solving the puzzles, I enjoyed watching him. He used tricks that I only see with very experienced cubers. Because his hands are still small, he is not able to use all finger tricks. When he solved 3x3x3 cube blindfolded I felt humble. He can memorise and solve faster than I can memorise. I was happy that I could still teach him some other tricks. First he was terrible at the cross for 3x3x3, he rushed a bit too much for F2L and his recognition of PLL cases was poor. For 4x4x4 he was able to use the edge pairing with two and with six pieces. His problem with 4x4x4 was that he was rotating a lot during the solve, so that he did not have a good idea where all the pieces were. Another problem was that he could not recognise at the PLL stage, whether he had the permutation parity. For 5x5x5 he still used the edge pairing technique where you align the centers after each pair. This is a poor technique because it takes more moves, and after solving each pair the next pieces can be anywhere on the cube. For the last four edge pairs he still used a very basic technique.
Those were the things that we had to work on for the weekend, because we wanted to get the best out of meeting each other.

John Louis is the first and one of the two grand masters of memory in India. He organises memory trainings all over the world for companies and schools.
John's records in Limca book of records are memorising 2400 random numbers and 3600 binary digits, 20 decks of cards etc. A quick test in the hotel room with 40 digits in 40 sec was already enough for me to get excited. John also memorised a full deck of cards in a minute. I was very happy with the book, booklet and CDs that he gave me. It was motivating me to develop my memory.

After hours of practice we went to a restaurant for dinner. It was raining, and it was funny that everyone was warning me to stay inside. But they obviously have never heard about Dutch weather. The warm rain was a joy to walk in. In the restaurant we did some show cubing for the waiters and guests. Bernett solved blindfolded in front of 20 people watching him. I told them that Bernett would be on national Indian tv (Zee tv) a few weeks later. And that John was planning to solve 25 (!) cubes blindfolded for a special event, 25 decks of cards, 5400 binary digits. He is also a human calendar, so he calls the day for any date immediately between the years 1600 and 9999.
Back in the hotel we solved a few more cubes, and then went to bed.

On Sunday morning we were picked up early by Sheshadri (the manager of the hotel) and Bernettís nephew. First we went to a restaurant on the other side of Chennai, for breakfast. The traffic was crazy, I would never survive an hour of traffic in India. But Sheshadri was doing Schumacher stuff, which made me close my eyes several times and pray for my survival. In the restaurant it looked like we were given all the dishes on the menu. The manager of the restaurant is a friend of John and Sheshadri, and we were given all courtesy and attention. When Bernett and I started cubing we soon had 40 people standing around us, watching Bernett solving blindfolded. When he succeeded all restaurant guests were applauding him. We also had to do cube races, and for some cubes I really had to work hard to beat Bernett. He already applied what I had shown him the day before!

Breakfast in a restaurant, on the right Sheshadri (hotel manager) and Ragu (restaurant manager).

After breakfast we drove to the home of Johnís sister Avila, for a never-to-forget afternoon. I have never felt so welcome in my life. Indian hospitality is an embarrassing joy. Embarrassing in the sense that it is so overwhelming that you begin to feel ashamed.
In India it is traditional when you have visitors, that you invite neighbours and family. So the house was full of people, who luckily all spoke English very well.
Johnís family members are Christians, so the house was decorated beautifully for Christmas: there were even a Christmas tree and some nativity scenes. The decorations were all made by Johnís mother.

Bernett and Avila, in front of Avilaís home, which was decorated for Christmas

When all guests had arrived I had to stand in the middle of the group and tell more about myself. Then they started asking questions, some of them a bit uncommon for me (like: how many hours do you sleep?).

Ron in the middle of John Louisís family

After that Bernett and I gave away a long cube show. Bernett solved blindfolded several times, and did numerous normal solves under 20 seconds. I even had to convince our audience that what Bernett was doing, was fabulous. It felt like they did not fully understand that Bernett is special, and it even felt like they thought all this cubing could be harmful to his further development as a person. This is completely refuted by Bernettís great achievements at school in technical and expressive classes, and his very social behaviour among other people.

After a delightful lunch, lots of cubing and talking and a lovely dinner in the kitchen, it was unfortunately time to go back to the hotel. Bernett had to take the night train back to Trichy, because he had to go to school next morning. While we were driving I felt sorry that soon we had to say goodbye. But on the other hand I felt happy that we had taken this chance to meet each other.

I am sure we will see more of Bernett in the future. It would be a shame if Bernett would not be able to show his talent to the world.
Somehow we must find a sponsor to finance his trip to an international competition.

I want to thank John, Bernett, family and friends for the fantastic weekend in Chennai.

Report of our meeting, by J. Bernett Orlando.