Who invented the Rubik cube?
Erno Rubik was a Hungarian sculptor, architect, and architecture teacher before he became the inventor of the world's most popular toy. He used to teach architecture in Budapest, Hungary, where he was trying to find a way to help his students understand three-dimensional movement.
To create the cube he used his skills as an architect and a sculptor to make cubes of paper and wood and join them together with rubber bands. His efforts got him to the prototype, an artifact he baptized as the Magic Cube in 1974. It was later renamed what we know, as the Rubik cube.
The original cube is now known as the three times three (3x3x3) cube because several other cubes and shapes with similar concepts have been developed over the years. Even Erno Rubik created other versions like Rubik's Magic, Rubik's Magic: Master Edition, and Rubik's Snake.
Rubik is known worldwide for being the inventor of the world's most famous toy. However, his work goes beyond the creation of the cube. He was always inclined toward education and science, and after the cube, he got involved in many educational projects.
He created and worked in several organizations dedicated to supporting students interested in the sciences, mathematics, engineering, and similar careers that involved science. Some of the organizations were Beyond Rubik's Cube, the Rubik Learning Initiative, and the Judit Polgar Foundation.
Keep in mind, however, that before Erno invented the cube, there were already other cube-shaped toys that paved the way for Rubik's invention.
Larry Nichols invented a 2x2x2 puzzle in 1970, just four years before Rubik. He called it "Puzzle with Pieces Rotatable in Groups". Nichol's cube was held together by magnets.
The toy has transcended culture, age, and geography, and Rubik himself is still surprised by its popularity. He talks about it in his book called Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All. as he explains how, for him, the impact of the cube is "much more interesting than the cube itself".
Rubik has always talked about how stunned he is by the huge success the cubes have. All he tried to do was solve a puzzle and he never imagine he created one of the most famous toys in the world.
He initially believed that it would appeal to people interested in sciences, math, technology, or engineering. However, the cube appealed to all audiences, people of all backgrounds, and it quickly became universal.
Rubik is now 78 years old and continues involved in his education projects.
The trajectory of the Rubik cube
The Rubik cube is probably one of the most peculiar puzzles ever invented whit a trajectory filled with ups and downs. Although the cube is now universal, it still tends to lose popularity at times.
When the Rubik cube was first invented and categorized as a puzzle you needed to solve but also as a toy, it was an instant success. Although sales were a little low during the first year, once it started gaining popularity, sales started to rise.
The cube was initially sold by a company named Ideal. Their sales strategy was to use TV commercials and make the cube as appealing to the masses as they could. After the advertising campaign, Ideal sold over 100 million cubes by the end of 1981.
Once the cube started gaining recognition outside of Budapest and Hungary and went into the international market, a new market was born from individuals who were teaching others how to solve the cube.
In 1981 an author named Patrick Bossert published a book that became a guide to help people solve the cube. It was titled "You Can Do The Cube" and it sold 1.5 million copies. Everyone was so eager to learn how to do the puzzle that tutorials were also on the rise.
The cube was a massive success during the decade of the 80s, however, it took a turn around 1992, by then everyone was done with the toy.
Speedcubing is exactly what it sounds like, competitors solving the puzzle in a matter of seconds during a championship that was born in the 2000s. Speedcubing was born for a number of reasons but it tests a competitor's speed, agility, moves, and more.
The ultimate goal of the championship wasn't to master the Rubik cube, it was to solve it faster than your opponent. It is all about "speedsolving".
Adding this new speed challenge to an already challenging puzzle made everyone interested in the cube again. With time everyone was raising to buy a cube to learn the moves that would make them solve it faster.
Between 2001 and 2003 the sales of the cube doubled in the United States. The newspaper The Boston Globe published an article where they declared that "it is becoming cool to own a Cube again”.
The World Cube Association was created by Ron Van Bruchem and Tyson Mao. They organized the second World Championship for solving Rubiks' cube with 83 participants.
This association became the first official entity to monitor and standardize cubing competitions and achievements. After this, the interest in the cube started to rise again and by 2008 the annual sales of the cube were up to 15 million worldwide.
Once the cube regained popularity, there was more than one book published on speedcubing and speedsolving to help the reader find the solution.
Intellectual property has become an important aspect of the world. Patents are a type of intellectual property that gives the owner legal rights that will exclude others from using, selling, or making the patented product for a certain period of time.
Any object with as much success as the Rubik cube will have a complicated trajectory with patents. The biggest issue with the cube was that with its massive popularity there was a shortage of production and with it, a lot of imitations and variations were created, some that violated already existing patents.
Nichols, the creator of the 2x2x2 got a patent for his invention in 1970 and he put it under the name of the company he worked for, Moleculon Research Corp.
Moleculon sued Ideal in 1982 and Ideal lost the patent infringement suit and appealed in 1984. Later, in 1986, the appeals court affirmed the judgment that Rubik's 2×2×2 Pocket Cube infringed Nichols's patent, but overturned the judgment on Rubik's 3×3×3 Cube.
There were other issues and mishaps with different patents in Japan, New York, Hungary, and more. The international community wanted to get ahold of the ownership of the cube and they were willing to overstep patents to do so.
In 2000 the patents expired and many Chinese companies started manufacturing and selling the cube because they knew that its popularity and learning benefits would bring them a fortune.
Every year new books and experts are searching for a different solution to the cube. However, a number of moves and solutions to the cube have been discovered independently.
The first person to talk about the solution to the cube was David Singmaster, and he published a book talking about his solution on Notes on Rubik's Magic Cube in 1981.
His solution was to pay attention to every move by taking things layer by layer. Solving the cube layer by layer has to be one of the simplest ways to do it, and with enough practice, anyone can solve the cube in one minute or less time. Another way of solving the cube is through the "corners firsts" strategy.
A number of experts have worked on discovering how many moves it takes to get to the solution (of getting every side of one color), since 1982.
Alexander Frey and David Singmaster came up with an ideal algorithm and hypothesized that the number needed to solve the cube was "in the low twenties.
After that, in 2007, Gene Cooperman and Daniel Kunkle used technology to find out the number and with computer research methods they were able to demonstrate that the 3x3x3 Rubik's cube can be solved in 26 or fewer moves.
2008 was a turning point when Tomas Rokicki declared that the moves required to solve the cube are 22. Later, in July 2010, the team of researchers working with Rokicki —who also worked in Google— proved that the number needed to solve the puzzle is 20, or the so-called "God's number".
To learn more about the history of the cube read our article titled Is the Rubik's cube still popular?
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