Few toys are as equally fascinating and frustrating as the Rubik’s Cube. They lure the unsuspecting populace in with their bright colors and mysterious mechanical workings, never giving a hint of the addictive properties just waiting to be unleashed with a few simple twists and turns. Through much of the 80s, the world twisted and turned, their minds in overdrive as they tried to solve the complex computations that once again right the cube to its original form – an aligned form that some of us only saw on the first day we opened the package, then never again. Today, we take a look back at this iconic toy that the world worked so tirelessly to solve.
Ernö Rubik was a Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture who invented his first color-coded cube in the mid-1970s, but it wasn’t until Ideal released it in the U.S. that Rubik’s Cube became a sensation. The cube had a 3x3x3 configuration of smaller squares on each side and all six sides featured a different color. Any row or column could be rotated in any direction to mix up the colors. The goal was to return all six sides to their original uniformity.
The puzzle was fiendishly hard for many people. Those gifted with mathematical and spatial abilities were quickly distinguished from the rank and file who, after a few hours, days, weeks or months banged their cubes against the wall in impotent rage. The lucky ones could look forward to a finished puzzle but the country was awash in people who had completed two or three sides and stalled on the rest, despairing of a solution. One day, a devious mind found that the color stickers on a Rubik’s Cube could be removed and then replaced in the desired order and, if that was done carefully enough, they could earn boasting rights over their friends and family. The cube could also be dismantled and put back together in the correct order, thus bypassing the whole embarrassing wall-banging incident.
For those who didn’t cheat (surely, a mere handful), Rubik’s Cube was more than a fad; it was an obsession. Long hours were devoted to the solution; marriages ended, children went hungry, pets remained unwalked. The puzzle was so popular that competitions were organized to discover the fastest solver, the “cube master” as it were. The first Rubik’s Cube World Championship took place in 1982 in Budapest, Hungary where a 16-year old American solved the cube in less than 23 seconds. Prodigy, you say? Yea, verily.
Here’s the current World Record holder, solving it in a mere 8.72 seconds:
Rubik’s Cubes have appeared in other configurations over the decades that followed, such as the 2x2x2 Pocket Cube and the 4x4x4 Rubik’s Revenge. There were even tiny keychain Rubik’s Cubes for those people with a really deep masochistic streak. Other than toys, the cube phenomenon proudly gave rise to a cartoon, a musical (!), an addicts’ support group and two medical conditions. The fervor for Rubik’s puzzles may have diminished somewhat over the years but the original cube remains popular to this day.
Do you have a portion of your life that went neglected while you whiled away the hours trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube? Does the wall-banging incident sound familiar? How many weeks did you work on it before you peeled off the little squares? Or, are you one of the brainiacs among us who could solve one in your sleep? Share your memories of the Rubik’s Cube with us in our comments section, as we pay tribute to this wonderfully maddening toy of our youth.