In 1974, an Hungarian professor of architecture and sculptor with an interest in geometry and the study of three-dimensional forms invented the most popular toy ever made.
His name was Ernő Rubik, but the following year, when he obtained the Hungarian patent he called it ‘The Magic Cube’, and a couple of years later the first batches were made for local Budapest toy shops — and ‘The Magic Cube’ began to sell to children and gain a reputation with academics too.
Just two years later, in 1979, ‘Ideal Toys’ signed up the cube for international release, making its international debut as “The Rubik’s Cube” at the toy fairs of London, New York, Nuremberg, and Paris in early 1980. The Rubik’s Cube took-off like no other toy in history; well over 100 million were sold in the first 2 years — during which it also won the BATR Toy of the Year award each year.
Rubik became the first self-made elite in a communist country, and the international appeal and export achievement of ‘The Rubik’s Cube’ was a contributing factor in the reform and liberalisation from communism to capitalism of the Hungarian economy.
There was a world shortage of Cubes, so a black market in Rubik’s Cubes began. Other types of cube began to appear too — even Rubik developed other cubes.
‘You Can Do the Cube‘ sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide in seventeen editions and became the number one book on both The Times and the New York Times bestseller lists for that 1981, despite being written by a 12-year-old Patrick Bossert.
There were media scares about the health risks to thumbs and the addictive qualities of the Rubik’s Cube.
A Standard (3 x 3 x 3) ‘Rubik’s Cube’ can have (8! × 38−1) × (12! × 212−1)/2 = 43 252 003 274 489 856 000 different positions, nevertheless all Cubes can be solved in twenty-nine or fewer moves, and it took just 15 seconds for World Champion Frank Morris to set the record for solving the standard Rubik’s Cube. There is now a World Cube Association.
Advanced Mathematicians (esp. Golumb and Durham) have referred to the cube in relation to particle physics.
The Rubik’s cube is modern culture – in every culture. It is a simple device; safe and simple to use, cheap and simple to manufacture — a well designed puzzle toy that transcends gender, race, creed, culture and so forth. It consumes nothing, it does not require winding-up, charging, batteries, bulbs, replacements or anything else. It is simply what it is, and this is instantly recognisable by most people on the planet.