The history of the Rubik's Cube

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Hungary has been responsible for many great inventions, but perhaps one of the most recognisable is the Rubik’s Cube which has been keeping children and adults entertained and confused for several generations.

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We decided to take a look at the history of this curious toy.

Early days

The Rubik’s Cube was invented in 1974 by Ernő Rubik, a sculptor and professor of architecture, and was originally known as the Magic Cube. Rather than a toy, the cube was originally designed as a tool to help students understand the concept of moving parts within a structure without the whole thing falling apart.

In an interview with The Guardian Rubik speaks of the first time he saw his invention’s potential saying, “I knew it was revolutionary. The moment I started twisting the sides, I could see it was a proper puzzle, but what I didn’t know was whether it could be solved. It took me weeks”

A patent quickly followed, and the toy was launched in Budapest toy stores in 1977. By 1980, it founds its way to New York, London, Paris and Nuremberg launching at toy fairs. Things haven’t always been easy, with straight ripoffs and variations of the toy hampering growth, but today, the company behind Rubik’s cube now claim that over 350 million cubes have been sold and 1 in 7 people on the planet has played with one.

Cult fan base

Almost from the start the Rubik’s cube found a place for itself in pop culture and also attracted a cult following of ‘speed cubers’, who compete to solve the cube in the fastest time, sometimes under adverse conditions such as being submerged in water.

More than just a challenge, speed cubing has become a science, with optimised cubes and advanced algorithms allowing people to solve cubes in less than 6 seconds. The current world record, set in April 2015, was set by Collin Burns, who solved the cube in 5.25 seconds.

There are numerous websites set up by fans documenting and celebrating cubing culture, as well as plenty of websites that help you solve a cube, like this one. For those that want to learn the process themselves, the easiest method seems to be to solve one face first, then work layer by layer from there.

The life of Ernő Rubik

Speaking to CNN, Rubik says his best solve time on a cube is about a minute. Among his other interests, Rubik is said to be an avid reader and enjoys playing sports and sailing on Lake Balaton. He lists some his influences as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and M.C. Escher, an artist. The success of his toy has made him one of the richest people in Hungary.

Despite a backseat role in the day to day operations at his company, Rubik has kept himself busy with his Beyond Rubik's Cube travelling exhibition that promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education. It includes “7,000 sq ft of games, puzzles, history, art, and engineering, all inspired by Ernő Rubik's best-selling masterpiece”. It launched in April 2014 at the Liberty Science Centre in New Jersey and plans to tour internationally for seven years.