“No way. Can we watch?”
A clump of first years stumble eagerly into Alspaugh’s common room on East Campus as Portland, OR freshman Rachael Nedrow demonstrates sports stacking—arranging a set of cups in specific patterns as fast as she can.
“On the video I thought it was fast forwarded.”
Her classmate is referring to a YouTube video Nedrow posted in 2008 of herself speed stacking and celebrating her then-personal best of 7.00 seconds. Electronic musician Skrillex featured a clip of her shouting “Oh my gosh” from this video in his Grammy-winning song “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” The video has since had over 4 million views, and Nedrow’s phone background is a picture with Skrillex. She has since beat her former record by 0.93 seconds, earning the title of the world’s fastest female speed stacker in 2009 and second at the World Sport Stacking Championship earlier this year.
The Chronicle sat down with Nedrow to discuss cup stacking, Skrillex and her future at Duke.
The Chronicle: When and how did you get started speed stacking?
Rachael Nedrow: I started when I was 12. I guess I was looking around on YouTube, and I saw a video of this guy speed stacking. I thought it looked cool and decided to try. It clicks with some people and doesn’t for others. I guess I’m just one of the ones it clicked for. After six months, I started posting my own videos.
TC: What kind of special equipment do you use?
RN: This is super embarrassing, but I probably have 45 sets of plastic cups in my house, and a set is 12 cups. I only brought two to college—my two favorites. All of the cups are made of different plastics, so they have different textures and weights. It’s a cup stacking thing. Some I haven’t used in five years so some just sit and collect dust. I have about 10 favorites at any time, and I just rotate through those.
TC: What is your practice schedule like?
RN: In middle school, I used to practice two hours a day. And that’s the period where I really improved a lot. In high school, two to three hours a week, mostly on the weekends. The world champion is always 11-12, so I’m a super old cup stacker. It’s weird that I do it at this age. All the good ones are 11-12 because you have so much time when you’re in elementary and middle school to just stack cups, like all day. I haven’t stacked at all at Duke. I don’t know where I could. Would it be too loud in the common room? Could I set up a table? I haven’t figured that out yet here. It’s something I’d like to do, but I have to figure out the space so that I’m not bugging people. I still really love stacking.
TC: Do you still compete?
RN: Sadly, I did my last competition in April. I competed in Orlando for Worlds 2013. I got second fastest girl in the world, which is really exciting. The next one is in South Korea, and I don’t want to travel in the middle of the school year.
TC: Why do you like to stack cups?
RN: I just really like that it’s different, but I can’t explain it. It’s just really addicting and fun. It kind of calms me because it’s repetitive. I also like having the instant gratification of having the timer right there and knowing that I’m getting faster and faster. I also really like going to tournaments, too, because you get to meet all of those people that you’ve been communicating with online on YouTube. It’s cool seeing them in person and finally meeting them.
TC: So the online speed stacking community is prevalent?
RN: Yeah, exactly. There are always races going on—who’s the fastest and who’s going to get the first [time of] 4 seconds for the cycle? There’s always competitions and stuff online. There’s like this whole cup stacking world you never knew.
TC: What is your fastest time?
RN: For the three-three-three, it’s 1.78 seconds. It seems like more time is passing when I’m stacking than actually is. I guess it’s like time slows because you’re totally conscious of all of your movements, so it seems like it takes longer than it actually does.
TC: What is your favorite cup stacking memory?
RN: One of my most favorite memories is when I became the fastest girl in the world for a couple of months when I set the record of 6.34 seconds at my house. I was super excited because I had wanted to achieve that goal for a long time. I worked really hard for this, and it paid off. Also, in June or July, I went, and I set a Guinness World Record for the cycle relay. We set the first record, so someone is going to beat us soon, but we have the record for now.
TC: What’s your worst speed stacking memory?
RN: I can’t remember any super bad memories of cup stacking. It’s been a good experience for me. I’ve always been one of the positive, encouraging stackers. There are some stackers who get way too into it and throw their cups and break them and stuff. It’s like, "Whoa, calm down. We’re just stacking cups." It’s always been just kind of like a game for me. I, personally, don’t even really believe it’s a sport.
TC: Can you describe what was going through your head in those moments after you beat your personal record in your now famous YouTube video?
RN: Yeah the "Oh my gosh" one? My record before was 7.1 something, and I think I wanted to get my first 6. So when I got the 7.00 I was shocked, and I was so happy that I beat my record, but so shocked that I didn’t get a 6 that I just didn’t know what to do. I just started screaming. It’s a super weird video. I totally agree. I’m so embarrassed when I watch it. Who wants to see me, as an eighth grader, screaming my head off after stacking cups? It’s funny, but it’s just like, "Oh gosh, middle school days." I had posted all my records since 8 seconds, so I just posted it and it was received pretty well. Weird.
TC: Has YouTube transformed the way you think about cup stacking?
RN: YouTube has definitely been a huge part of cup stacking for me. If I hadn’t gotten into YouTube, I think I would have quit stacking after like a year. I really think it was great to connect with an online community of cup stackers because there was nobody else I knew that stacked cups. It was good to find people to stack with. I used to probably watch 40 videos a day of other kids stacking cups, but I don’t as much as I used to.
TC: How do people react when they recognize you from your video? How do you respond?
RN: Sometimes, I go to the beach in Oregon, and I stack just for some extra money. And people will recognize me, but only when I’m stacking cups. I’m just some other random Asian otherwise, but if I’m stacking cups, they’ll be like, "I saw you on Tosh.0." and I’m like, "That’s crazy, what?" I stack cups and post videos on the Internet. I just don’t expect it. It’s weird to think that so many people have seen me. I see my views on YouTube, I see the number, but I don’t actually comprehend it. Twenty-five million [total] views? I don’t even understand what that number is. I can’t visualize it. I can’t see 25 million people in my head. It’s just crazy to me.
TC: How did you find out your voice was being used for the Skrillex song?
RN: My friend sent me this YouTube video. I could just recognize my voice. It’s copied straight from the "Oh my gosh" video, just copied straight from it. I could definitely hear it. He didn’t [ask permission], but we squared up last year. He ended up paying me a royalty. I wasn’t expecting that.
TC: What was your reaction?
RN: It was definitely weird. I was like, "What? I’m in a song now?" To this day, it’s really weird to hear the song. It’s like, "Oh, that’s me from four years ago." I listened to it when it came out. I bought the song, but at that point, it wasn’t even on iTunes because it wasn’t that popular yet. Dub step isn’t my thing really, but I can enjoy it. It’s all kind of surreal to me. I’m in a Grammy-winning song? That’s crazy. I’m the "Oh my gosh" Skrillex girl, which is a funny title. I think I just got lucky.
TC: Do you mind being known as a cup stacker, as the, like you said, 'Oh my gosh' Skrillex girl?
RN: I cup stack, that’s my thing. I’m not ashamed of it.
TC: What was it like to meet Skrillex?
RN: That was cool. It was kind of a rushed thing. He was doing a concert in Portland [two years ago], and afterwards I met him and we talked a bit, maybe like 15 minutes. I talked to him before, on Twitter and in a couple of e-mails—nothing really huge. He’s really nice and really chill and he’s like maybe 5’4”. He’s super short, he’s really down-to-earth, just like a normal person. I think he really is that way.
TC: What was your reaction when President Brodhead referenced you in the convocation speech?
RN: It was weird when he e-mailed me before [the speech] and asked. I didn’t think it’d be the last thing he said about the students. It’s shocking. That brain-cloud thing was way more impressive. I haven’t helped society. I was just in a song. I’m not as cool as 95 percent of the kids here. But I was super honored. It blew my mind.