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Rubik's Cube

the mental exercise that became a best-selling toy

Erno Rubik was born in Budapest, Hungary, on July 13, 1944, the son of a flight engineer and a poet. He graduated with a degree in architectural engineering from the Technical University in Budapest in 1967 and subsequently studied for and received his advanced degree. It was while teaching at the Budapest College of Applied Arts that Rubik invented what became one of the best-selling toys of all time.

Erno Rubik

The cube for which Rubik is now best known began as a mental exercise for his students. He hand-crafted the first prototype in 1974, and then spent a month trying to get the different colors to line up properly again. Rubik applied for a patent on his design in early 1975; it was finally approved in early 1977. A Hungarian toy company began manufacturing what it called the Magic Cube in late 1977.

typical Rubik's Cube

Rubik's invention was an instant hit on Hungarian college campuses, and with the general population as well. About 1978, Hungarian businessman Tibor Laczi became interested in the cube and went to the state trading company, Konsumex, and obtained permission to sell it in the West. He subsequently demonstrated it at the Nuremberg Toy Fair by walking around while playing with it, and before long the cube craze was spreading across Europe. Ideal Toys brought the Magic Cube to the United States in 1980, but renamed it Rubik's Cube because it wanted a recognizable name to copyright (patent law at the time prevented Ideal from seeking an international patent on the design or mechanism). It was the best-selling toy for over a year, and continues to be one of the most popular puzzle-type toys.

Rubik's Cube seemed tailor-made to spark an obsession, considering that the individual squares can be arranged into 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (over 43 quintillion) different combinations. People began competing with each other to see who could solve the puzzle faster. The first sanctioned world championship was held in Budapest in June 1982. It was won by Minh Thai, a 16-year-old Vietnamese-born high school student from Los Angeles, who solved it in 22.95 seconds. That record has since been broken many times over.

Rubik's Cube made Rubik the first self-made millionaire in any Communist country. He founded Rubik Studio, which designs furniture and games, in 1983, became a professor with full tenure in 1987, and became president of the Hungarian Engineering Academy in 1990. He has created several variations of his original design, and is still working on new games to this day.

Jeff Rovin. I Wish I'd Thought of That! Boca Raton, FL: Globe Communications Corporation, 1995

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This page was last updated on 06/05/2017.