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The incredible sport of cup stacking, explained

It’s really, really fast. Here’s how it works.

Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

If you have kids, there’s a chance you’ve heard about sport stacking (or speed stacking, or cup stacking, or whatever you feel like calling it). The goal is simple — to assemble cups in different formations (or “upstack” them) and then disassemble them as quickly as possible (which stackers call “downstacking”). The above video shows stacking skills that you have to see to believe.

I spoke to Melissa Gomez, Zhewei Wu, and Mark Sykes about their achievements in the young sport — and why they love to stack. Though each of them have different motivations for stacking, from self-improvement to a love of competition, they all share an obsessive interest in practicing and paring down their personal records, a few milliseconds at a time.

They compete in a range of different events, from individual time trials, to relays with their teammates, to doubles events where they stack together. Tournaments occur around the world and, at the same time, records are constantly being broken in the bedrooms, dorm rooms, and garages of dedicated stackers.

Since its invention in the early 1980s, sport stacking has become a big sport and a big business. Largely governed by the World Sport Stacking Association (WSSA), the sport involves stacking and unstacking cups at a rapid clip in a race against the clock. Those cups — and the associated timer — are sold by the closely aligned Speed Stacks Inc. (the company shares an address with the WSSA and, for all intents and purposes, supports it). That business arrangement is unusual; as documentarian Jeremi Mattern told the New York Times, it’s “a little like if Spaulding ran the N.B.A.”

How stacking’s grown is notable as well. Speeds Stacks Inc. actively promotes their cups as a physical education tool (with many different associated exercises). For the company, it doubtless serves as a great promotional opportunity for the sport and merchandise. At the same time, physical ed teacher (and Team USA coach) Mark Sykes told me he liked to teach his kids stacking because the sport engages students at all different skill levels.

That said, while stackers are eager for special edition cups and official speed stacking merch, their passion for the sport is bigger than a brand. That’s evident in the flurry of YouTube channels and record-breaking worldwide stacks (that combine excitement for the sport with the excitement of a publicity stunt). Stackers have a passion for their sport that’s easy to see — at least once their hands stop moving.

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