I broke a world record

October 7, 2020 — by Andy Chen

It’s the Friday before our October four-day weekend, and while my peers are all socializing, starting their homework or taking a much needed nap, I’m hunched over a chessboard, with sweaty palms, weak knees, heavy arms and plenty of life decisions to question.

You may be asking “Who were you playing with?” — but that’s the wrong question. Instead, try “Why’d you spend an hour bent over a chessboard all by yourself, you loser?”

It all started with a bet with a good friend: If I could break a world record within a month, he would buy me boba, but if I couldn’t, I’d pay for him one. After a firm virtual handshake, I immediately Googled “easiest world records to beat” — it couldn’t be that hard, I thought.

But after an hour of surfing the web for a record I could feasibly beat, I began to lose hope; there was no way I could best 152 push-ups in a minute, an unbroken 94-hour TV marathon or — believe it or not — a 16.17 second record for assembling a Mr. Potato Head toy while blindfolded. Hey, we all have our own talents.

I was discouraged but not defeated. I continued to sift through world records, and was nearing resignation until I finally stumbled upon something realistically beatable — a 31.55 second record for setting up a chessboard with just one hand, set on Aug. 1, 2019, by former world record holder Nakul Ramaswamy, according to Guinness World Records.

Luckily, my family owns a standard wooden chess set, so I got right to dusting it off and randomly scrambling the pieces around. My first attempt took 44.61 seconds to complete. My second attempt of 36.23 seconds was a vast improvement — just 5 seconds short of where I needed to be.

I continued to perfect my technique and strategy, quickly realizing that the most efficient way to order all the pieces was to prioritize placing pawns first and focus on completing one side of the board before transitioning to the other. Eventually, I was able to narrow my time down to 31.77 seconds, narrowly missing the record.

From there, I knew it was just a matter of practice. An hour of mindlessly slamming chess pieces later, I was able to attain a time of 29.45 seconds — besting the world record by more than two seconds. Checkmate. Well, you know what I mean.

If you go on the Guiness website, however, you’ll see that Ramaswamy still holds the record for setting up a chessboard. Since breaking a world record requires official witnesses and documentation to Guiness, both of which are hard to come by during a pandemic, I was unfortunately unable to attain a certificate. Besides, applying for a world record requires you to pay $5 for verification — why would I pay for that when I could buy a boba instead?

As it turns out, actually breaking the record was probably easier than finding one to break in the first place. And honestly, as a current but not validated world recorder holder, I can tell you that the entire experience wasn’t very fulfilling at all. But as long as I have bragging rights and my boba, that’s really all that really matters.

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