Did you miss that?
Here it is again.
A little slower.
It’s probably still not slow enough.
This is sport stacking, or maybe you call it speed stacking, or cup stacking.
But whatever you call it, it has become a huge sport.
It’s in the Junior Olympics.
Versions are taught in PE classes, and show up on
The Tonight Show and Ellen.
Last year, more than 600,0000 people set a world record for stacking at the same time
around the world.
This is a lot more than a hobby.
Sport stacking’s basically a combination of formations
in which stackers upstack (stack up cups) or downstack (bring them down again).
It’s all a race against the clock, for new, mind-bendingly fast times.
The most common patterns are 3 cups, 3 cups, and 3 cups,
3 cups, 6 cups, and 3 cups — or a 3-6-3 — and then the cycle, which has you do a 3-6-3,
followed by a 6-6 and then a 1-10-1, which top stackers can do
“My name is Melissa Gomez.
I won the the 2014 and 2016 U.S. Nationals for women.
And I won the Junior Olympics in 2015 for women.”
The guy next to her is Mark Sykes.
He’s a former high school football and baseball player who is coach of the U.S. Sport Stacking
He’s a Masters level competitor too.
(Masters basically means that he’s a grown up, since a lot of stackers are teens or younger).
He holds occasional practices in his church’s basement, and those practices attract some
of the best in the region.
“Once I went to that first competition, then I was kinda hooked.
And then I kept going with the kids and kept competing.”
Amazing stackers like Melissa — and Mark — have put in hours and hours of practice.
Their goal is to break personal and world records, but you can see their skill when
they aren’t even trying.
This is Melissa just practicing.
Look at how quickly she does a slow set, just to clear her mind.
Or look at this.
She’s setting up a 1-10-1.
Notice where her eyes are looking.
She’s not showing off.
She just doesn’t need to look anymore.
Here’s a newbie stacking and here’s Melissa.
The point is not that Ellen is bad.
The point is that people like Melissa have gotten so, so good they can do it all on autopilot.
And then when they really try?
But at the same time, stacking is not just raw talent, or even practice alone.
The best stackers have to develop highly advanced tactics.
When you become a speed stacking pro, you need to optimize for the milliseconds.
Like Zhewei Wu does.
“I started stacking when I was in 6th grade, so I was 12 at that time,
and I was introduced in PE class, and we’ve been practicing since then.”
That means breaking down the quirks of the timer,
cups, and different competition formats to get record-breaking times.
This is a stacking mat and timer.
It starts when your hands leave the timer and stops when they return.
In that space in between, there’s room for tactics to shave off crucial fractions of
“Most recently it’s the way that people start the timer.
So in the past people put their hands on the timer flat, like this.
But now people will cup their hands around the cup and they have their hands on the timer
It’s not the conventional way to do it, but doing so enhances the time it takes for
you to get on the first cup.
And having just those little differences makes a huge difference on your time.”
Playing to the timer is crucial.
Here’s Melissa completing an amazing cycle, but because the stack falls after she hits
the timer too hard— “6.17 - scratch.”
— it’s what’s called “a scratch.”
The time doesn’t count.
You have to be sure you don’t miss the timer, too.
“When that happened to me, I touched the timer and started celebrating,
and just going back to my friends, but the timer never stopped.
That took another 2.1 seconds added to my time, otherwise it would have been my fastest
To top stackers, the right cups are just as important.
You can see that on the pro cups, the holes in the top are wider than the ones on my cups.
That allows more air to get through.
Different stackers like different cups (these are just a few of the sets Zhewei’s owned).
“These inks, you can really feel them.”
And that knowledge, along with different grip styles and all sorts of other adjustments,
gets used in all different events.
It even works in the truly mesmerizing doubles event.
“I’ll take that.”
Because this sport is for a YouTube generation, new strategies travel almost instantly.
That keeps the competition really fierce.
That’s led to blazingly fast — and close — world record times, as well as
some growing pains for the sport.
Stacking started in a California Boys and Girls Club in the early 80s.
This is patent number 4,586,709, for the original cup holding device.
But kids and PE teachers embraced it far beyond Oceanside, California.
“You get a wide range.
You get some kids who really really enjoy it and they enjoy the competitive side of
Some kids like the idea that you don’t have to compete at it.
They’ll build pyramids, they’ll build towers, they’ll try to stack the cups and
balance them in different ways.
So it really brings in so many things other than the stacking just as a sport.”
The sport quickly professionalized, both as a business and in the intensity of the competitions.
This is the patent for that stack mat, which is sold to stackers and, yes, speed
Rubik’s cube competitors.
Naturally, there’s a lot of other merch you can buy as well.
Because speed stacking is a pretty young sport, the sport and the brand are kind of inseparable.
Here’s the address for the people who make speed stack cups.
And here’s the address for the World Sports Stacking Association, which runs the competitions.
You get the idea.
That may be a problem, it may not, as the sport tries to mature.
But those business concerns don’t really affect why people stack.
“I think for every stacker it’s different, what attracts them.
I have always been involved in sports.
I’m very competitive.
When I’m stacking the cups, I’m listening for little things that make me feel good,
like the rhythm, the sound.
Sometimes you’ll get a really good time, but you don’t feel like the stack was clean,
for me, that’s what pulls me in.”
“I want to better myself.
I like seeing improvement in what you do.”
And that drive, that's always there: when the stacks are loud
and the crowds are rapt, but it’s also there in
dorm rooms and bed rooms, and in the quiet moments in basements, too.
So, after an embarrassing number of attempts, I was able to get my 3-6-3 just under 5.3
So you have some context as to how old and slow I am, the world record for that event
is 1.786 seconds.