In May of 1974, a young Professor of architecture in Budapest (Hungary) named Erno Rubik created an object that was not supposed to be possible. His solid cube twisted and turned - and still it did not break or fall apart. With colourful stickers on its sides, the Cube got scrambled and thus emerged the first “Rubik’s Cube”. It took well over a month for Erno to work out the solution to his puzzle. Little did he expect that Rubik’s Cube would become the world’s best-selling toy ever.
As a teacher, Erno was always looking for new, more exciting ways to present information, so he used the Cube’s first model to help him explain to his students about spatial relationships. Erno has always thought of the Cube primarily as an object of art, a mobile sculpture symbolizing stark contrasts of the human condition: bewildering problems and triumphant intelligence; simplicity and complexity; stability and dynamism; order and chaos.For this magic object to become the most popular toy in history a few chance meetings had to take place.
As with many of the world’s greatest inventions it did not have an easy birth. After presenting his prototype to his students and friends Erno began to realise the potential of his cube. The next step was to get it manufactured. The first cubes were made and distributed in Hungary by Politechnika.
These early Cubes, marketed as “Magic Cubes” (or “Buvos Kocka”), were twice the weight of the ones available later. In the 70’s Hungary was part of the Communist regime behind the Iron Curtain, and any imports or exports where tightly controlled. How was Erno’s invention, that had become a major success in Hungary, going to make it into the hands of every child of the 80’s and 90's ?
Initially Rubik wanted to indite the 2x2x2 cube. The first problem was putting the pieces together to make it rotatable around all its three axis. At first he tried to join the pieces with rubber rings but this was unsuccessful because after some time the rings broke away. He also tried to join the elements with magnets, but the cube came apart easily. So he made strange-shaped cubes. These cubes – because of their shape – kept themselves together. Later he marked the sides with different colours, because he wanted to see how the pieces move compared to themselves.
Then Rubik recognised – only after the final evolving – that the cube is not only good for illustrating spatial movements (that’s why he made it in the first place), but that its also a good game. Rubik paid particular attention to the colours of the cube; the opposite (parallel) sides vary in the yellow component. So the white becomes yellow, the red becomes orange and the blue becomes green. The most important thing why the cube became a success is that it is three-dimensional and it is always in one piece.
The first step in the Rubik’s Cube’s battle to worldwide recognition was to get out of Hungary. This was accomplished partly by the enchanted mathematicians who took the Cubes to international conferences and partly by an expat Hungarian entrepreneur who took the cube to the Nuremberg Toy Fair in 1979.
It was at there that Tom Kremer, a toy specialist, agreed to sell it to the rest of the world. Tom’s unrelenting belief in the Cube finally resulted in the Ideal Toy Company taking on distribution of the “Magic Cube”. Ideal Toy’s executives thought that the name had overtones of witchcraft and after going through several possibilities the name: “Rubik’s Cube” was decided on, and the icon was born.
In the time since its international launch in 1980 an estimated 350 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold. Approximately one in seven people alive have played with a Rubik’s Cube. This little six color cube has gone on to represent a decade. It has started art movements (Rubik Cubism); pop videos, Hollywood movies and even had its own TV show; it has come to represent both genius and confusion; it has birthed a sport (Speedcubing); and it has even been into space.
The beauty of the Rubik’s Cube is that when you look at a scrambled one, you know exactly what you need to do without instruction. Yet without instruction it is almost impossible to solve, making it one of the most infuriating and engaging inventions ever conceived.
There are different variations of Rubik's Cubes with up to seventeen layers: the 2×2×2 (Pocket/Mini Cube), the standard 3×3×3 cube, the 4×4×4 (Rubik's Revenge/Master Cube), and the 5×5×5 (Professor's Cube), the 6×6×6 (V-Cube 6), and 7×7×7 (V-Cube 7). The 173 "Over The Top" cube (available late 2011) is currently the largest (and most expensive, costing more than a thousand dollars) available. Chinese manufacturer ShengShou has been producing cubes in all sizes from 2x2x2 to 10x10x10 (as of late 2013).
Although the Rubik's Cube reached its height of mainstream popularity in the 1980s, it is still widely known and used. Many speedcubers continue to practice it and other twisty puzzles and compete for the fastest times in various categories. Since 2003, The World Cube Association, the Rubik's Cube's international governing body, has organized competitions and kept the official world records.
The current world record for single time on a 3×3×3 Rubik's Cube was set by Collin Burns of the United States in April 2015 with a time of 5.25 seconds at the Doylestown Spring 2015 competition.
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