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Rubik's Cube

By Patrick Mondout

Few fads in the Awesome80s were as successful as the Rubik's cube. Everyone from our generation played with one at some point. It was challenging, attractive, and deceptive simple - an irresistible combination. That it remains the best selling puzzle of all time and is still sold today should surprise no one who was a teenager in the early Awesome80s.

Hungary for a New Fad

The Super70s gave us the Mood Ring and the Pet Rock and we all waited with baited breath for the next useless item that we all just had to have. So when and where was the first big American fad of the Awesome80s created? The time was 1974 and the place was Budapest, the capital of Hungary.

The Professor, the Puzzle, the Patent, and the Payoff

Erno Rubik, a lecturer at the Department of Interior Design at the Academy of Applied Arts and Crafts in Budapest, was looking for innovative methods of teaching his students about 3D objects. In the mid-Super70s, he designed a smaller version of the cube as such a teaching aid and his students loved it. Their reaction convinced him to protect his invention by patenting it (not doing so might have cost him millions of dollars) and, with the help of state-run Konsumex, he begin marketing the cube as a puzzle in Europe. The toy did not go unnoticed in America. When Ideal Toys struck a deal with Rubik to produce and market the puzzle here, it became an instant sensation, selling over 4 million in 1980 alone. Professor Rubik became a millionaire at age 36 and a household name.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

What's the old saying? "Patent infringement is the sincerest form of flattery?" Whenever an incredibly successful toy appears, there are no shortage of copycat items and that was certainly the case with The Cube. There were those who simply copied the cube part-for-part and were promptly sued, but there were also variants of the cube which were excellent puzzles in their own right. How could you tell the real ones from the fakes? My fellow students at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa, Arizona knew. When I handed them my fake (I didn't know the difference at the time), they pointed out that the white center piece was blank whereas a genuine Rubik's cube would have his name on that particular sticker. The real ones cost a couple of dollars more and were apparently a status symbol.

A Whole Industry

The Rubik's cube was such a phenomenon that it sparked a whole mini-industry of related products. Over 50 variants, including a green, red, blue, and gold pyramid, and a ball-shaped "cube" appeared. Cubes with pictures of fruit, animals, cartoon characters, zodiac signs and even unauthorized "erotica" cubes appeared. An infinitely more challenging 4x4x4 "Rubik's Revenge" cube appeared, which had four rows of four squares per side instead of three. Mini-cubes on keychains and the inevitable "Rubik's Race" board game also were marketed. "Rubik: The Amazing Cube" ran as a Saturday morning cartoon during the 1983-84 season on ABC. Several books on how to solve the cube with names such as, "The Simple Solution to the Rubik's Cube" and "You Can Do The Cube" sold in record numbers. In fact, the latter book was written by 12-year-old Patrick Bossert of England and was #1 on the non-fiction lists there and in the US selling over 1.5 million copies. One could sense the fad had run its course when books such as, "101 Uses for a Dead Cube" and "How to Live with a Cube-aholic" appeared on bookshelves.

Simple Mathematics

How difficult could it be to solve? After all, it was just a six-sided cube with 9 colored squares on each side, right? Ah, the power of exponential math! The 20 moveable pieces that make up the 3x3x3 cube could be arranged into 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (over 43 quintillion or so) combinations of positions! (This number is higher than the total number of estimated seconds since the Big Bang! It is also over 7 billion combinations for each man, woman, and child on Earth!) And yet only one of those combinations would solve the cube. Personally, I was never able to get more than one side solved. Minh Thai, the first National Champion and a guest on the TV show "That's Incredible," was able to solve the cube in under 25 seconds. The official world record is a mere 16.5 seconds!

"Other" Solutions to the Cube

Of course, you didn't have to be a genius to get your cube back to "solved" status. The brute force method worked for most of us. We pulled the cube apart (somewhat dangerous as it might break) and then put the pieces back together in the proper configuration. Another less popular method was to pull the stickers off and put them back on properly. The stickers had enough trouble staying on as it was. Anyone who relied on this method regretted it and/or bought superglue.

Where Are They Now?

Erno Rubik became the richest private citizen in communist Hungary. The manufacturer claims to have sold over 30 million cubes. The estimates for the total number of cubes, including the unauthorized copies, exceeds 100 million.

Meffert's Cube

Another puzzle maker and a contemporary of Rubik is Uwe Meffert. He manufactures some rather incredible puzzles himself. He created a 5x5x5 cube - the largest commercially available (the mechanic problems of building a larger one are enormous). In fact it can be arranged into at least 28,287,094,227,774,185,653,618,033,310,750,328,293,127,731,985,672,134,721,536,000,000,000,000,000 different combinations! This number can also be represented as 2.83x1073. By comparison, the estimated total number of atoms in the known universe is "only" 1078. It is indeed a small world after all.

You can find all the Rubik's cubes and their copies on eBay. Check our links below and to the right.

Special thanks to Canadian engineer Perley Walsh, who pointed out the typo in my Meffert math. (Don't worry folks, I was only off by a multiple of 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000! I can honestly say that I've never made a bigger mistake in my life.)

 

 

Share Your Memories!

Do you have any interesting or amusing stories to tell about Rubik's Cube? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"Ah Yes! I will never forget Christmas 1982! I got no less than SIX Rubik's Cubes for Christmas that year! Everyone in my family on both sides apparently had the bright idea, all at the same time, to get me a Rubik's Cube. My favorite puzzle type game of the 80s was the long "snake" puzzle made of alternating colored triangles that could be folded and twisted into a ball, a cross, a duck, a dog, etc. I had at least five of these in different colors! All of my friends said the ball was the hardest to make, and I could do that one in ten seconds!"

--Corey in Dallas

"Are you kidding? I still have mine but I never have been able to solve it, somethings are simply not meant to be known to man."

--Frustrated

"Yes, I did learn how to solve Rubik's Cube, when I was in college in 1982. The trick is to learn a series of moves based on the color patterns that you would see and recognize. There were maybe four patterns, that would each lead to one of four separate sets of moves that would lead to the solution of the Cube. My personal best was probably about 1-1/2 minutes."

--chasfh

"Yes, I remember the Rubik's Cube. It was a present for my brother not long after it "hit" our town. I could never do the whole puzzle nor could my brother without cheating. But after noticing that we could make one row or one side solid with a color, we would challenge and time each other with solving this type of problem. It is probably one of the few times that my brother and I played together for hours without fighting."

--Kat

"I was only alive for the latter 6 years of the 80's (Born in 84...) but the Rubik's Cube has become a huge part of my life. I started working on them around the end of November, and now have a 2x2, 3x3, 4x4, 5x5, Square One, Pyraminx, Pyramorphix, and coming soon, Megaminx. I can solve all of them, my best time with the 3x3 being 53 seconds flat. I think it's great that you've dedicated such an awesome site to the Cube. It has been a haven for me to find many Cube Facts, so that I not only impress my friends with cubing, but also with extensive cube knowledge!"

--Chris Lafferty

"I loved the Awesome80s, and I love the Cube!! My Dad bought a solution book, and about a year and a half later, he showed me how to solve it. Being 10 years old it just seemed easy and I could regularly do it in under a minute. I recenly got the anniversary edition and have solved it again after 15 years of layoff. Go Rubik!"

--Tom from Indiana!

"I had just become a teenager when the Rubik's cube hit the market. My cousin had a cube and I was playing with it during a visit to their house. I sat in a chair the entire time trying to solve the riddle of the cube. Several hours later my mother walked by and said: "If I would have known that it would keep you quiet for this long, I would have bought you one a long time ago!". Her comment didn't make much sense to me at the time but now that I have children of my own I know EXACTLY what she meant."

--!TNT!-Sweeper

"20 years, 14 moves, 3 states. I've had it longer than anything else. Am not certain why I kept it. At least it still works."

--Anonymous

"Possibly the symbol of the 1980s? I remember getting at least 2 or 3 sides completed, only to find making another side of color would require mixing up the others. Yes, I can recall taking a screwdriver to my cube and rearranging the colors "manually", then showing off to friends."

--mark_F

"Rubik's magic puzzle was my favorite! It was invented in time for me to make a pencil holder or a small crowd-gatherer being how I could solve it in 3.5 seconds... behind my back! To this day, I remember how to make the various shapes, even how to "link the rings together." Great memories were made, too bad the 'fishing line' used to hold the pieces together didn't last longer. Good times!"

--just me

"With alot of time and effort on my own; I almost completed 4 sides. I was obssed. When I saw the how to book I had to have it. Even with the book it still took me about a week. I showed everyone what I'd done and everyone was amazed to see the solid colored cube. After about 2 or 3 more times with the book, I was done. This was around the time I started seeing the mini version on Key chains in the 5 & 10's."

--Mary Ann in New Jersey

" When the cube first was introduced, I purchased one and along the way ended up with four Rubik's and a solution book. After several relocations over the years the cubes and book are lost. This past week I purchased another rubik's cube and still am not able to solve the puzzle without those lost well written instuctions. I envy those who consider the Rubik's Cube as an easy puzzle to solve. I have spent many hours in the evening trying to solve the rubik's cube and have yet to achieve that goal. It sits in full view as I write this, taunting me, every time I look at that darn so called easy puzzle to solve. Time races on, my Rubik's Cube sits close by, daring me to make a move to solve the newly purchased beast now living in my home once again.

I admire the inventor of the rubik's cube and consider his mind teasing puzzle one fantastic invention of our time. The fact that the solution book I purchased and lost, was written by a twelve year old boy. Now at 61 years old it is certain I will never have the skill needed to solve the Rubik's Cube without the aid of an instruction manual. That fact has caused me some stress over the years, but at this point in my life I must live with the fact that Rubik's Cube is beyond my mental skills.

It is certain we all have gifts in certain areas and not in others. The rubik's cube is one genius invention, simple to some and unsolvable to others like me."

--Reloader66

"I couldn't have gotten through the 7th grade without my Rubik's Cube. It kept me thinking. My best time for solving The Cube, 1 min. 7 sec."

--C. Missmer

"I have one that was given to me for my 5th birthday in '85. It looks so pathetic. The closest I ever got to "solving" it was taking all the stickers off and putting them back on."

--Anonymous

"The Rubik's Cube is as challenging today as it ever was. Even today the spirit of invention has driven many puzzle enthusiasts to come up with all new puzzles that are different mechanically and require different rules to solve. I don't imagine that the Rubik's Cube and puzzles of this type will ever enjoy the early Awesome80s level of popularity, but rest assured that enthusiasm for these wonderful inventions will increase."

--Time Traveler


 

FAD FACTS

A genuine "Rubik's Cube" can be purchased new from Amazon.com.


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