History of the Rubik’s Cube: Madness, Fun and One Man’s Obsession

A fanatic is a lunatic with a hobby.~ Winston Churchill

















Surely Winston Churchill had a point when he referred to hobbies and some lunatics collectively in the same breath. English puzzle fan, Graham Parker, 45, would probably not agree however, as he is positively delighted that after 26 years of trying, he has finally solved the mystery of the Rubik's Cube. He bought the cube back in 1983, and since then the married father of one has spent countless sleepless nights and more than 27,400 hours in an attempt to conquer his own personal Mt. Everest.

In his own words, Parker, who is a builder by profession, said:

“I cannot tell you what a relief it was to finally solve it. It has driven me mad over the years - it felt like it had taken over my life. I have missed important events to stay in and solve it and I would lay awake at night thinking about it. Friends have offered to solve it for me and I know that you can find solutions on the web, but I just had to do it myself. I have had wrist and back problems from spending hours on it, but it was all worth it. When I clicked that last bit into place and each face was a solid color, I wept.”











His wife, Jean, was thrilled that this obsession has finally ended. She told the press:

“When I met Graham, he was already obsessed with the cube, spending hours on it every day. I have often thought about getting rid of it, but I knew he would not rest until he had solved it.”












Perhaps the people at Guinness might be interested, for surely even for lovers of puzzles, Parker’s obsession with the Rubik’s Cube which was invented in 1974, must have broken some type of perseverance record. The inventor himself might be pleased to know that one of the fans of his creation devoted one quarter of a century (not to mention his life) to solving it. Where did the mysterious Rubik Cube come from anyway?

The man who is given credit with having invented the cube, namely Erno Rubik, was not the first to come up with the idea. In March 1970, some two years before Rubik patented his cube, a Canadian man named Larry Nichols invented a 2×2×2 “Puzzle with Pieces Rotatable in Groups” and filed a Canadian patent application for it. Nichols assigned his patent to his employer, Moleculon Research Corporation, and they later sued Ideal Toys who bought it from Rubik. Nichols' cube was held together with magnets and he was granted a patent in April of 1972. But it would not become popular until a few years had passed and an improved version with apparently no knowledge of the first one, hit the scene.













The inventor credited with devising this annoying 3-D mechanical puzzle is a Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture named Erno Rubik (wikipedia link). He originally dubbed his brainchild, “The Magic Cube” and even though his original patent was valid in Hungary, he did not take out international patents. The first test batches of Rubik’s Cube were produced in late 1977 and released to Budapest toy shops. The puzzle made its international debut at the toy fairs of London, Paris, Nuremberg and New York. After its international debut, the progress of the Cube towards the toy shop shelves of the West was briefly halted so that it could be manufactured to Western safety and packaging specifications. The result was a lighter cube and in 1980, Rubik’s Cube was sold to Ideal Toys, who decided to give it a new name. They considered “The Gordion Knot” and “Inca Gold” but finally decided on “Rubik’s Cube”. That same year, Rubik’s Cube won the German Game of the Year special award for Best Puzzle. Today, it is considered the world’s best selling toy, and as of January 09, more than 350 million Rubik Cubes have been sold world-wide.


In 1982, Nichols’ employer, Moleculon Research Corporation sued the Ideal Toy Company, and in 1984 won the patent infringement suit even though Ideal Toys appealed the decision. In 1986, the appeals court affirmed the judgment that Rubik's 2×2×2 Pocket Cube infringed on Nichols's patent, but overturned the judgment on Rubik's 3×3×3 Cube. So it would seem, a square or two saved the day.















Even while Rubik’s patent application was being processed, Terutoshi Ishigi, a self-taught engineer and ironworks owner near Tokyo, filed for a Japanese patent for a nearly identical mechanism, which was granted in 1976 (Japanese patent publication JP55-008192). Until 1999, when an amended Japanese patent law was enforced, Japan's patent office granted patents for non-disclosed technology within Japan without requiring worldwide novelty, which means his patent is generally accepted as an independent reinvention at that time.

Ernő Rubik was born in Budapest during World War II in July of 1944.
His father was a flight engineer at an airplane factory, his mother, a poet. He graduated from the Technical University in 1967 as an architectural engineer and began postgraduate studies in sculpting and interior architecture. From 1971 to 1975 he worked as an architect, then became a professor at the Budapest College of Applied Arts. Rubik has spent all his life in Hungary.


He said of his invention:

“Space always intrigued me, with its incredibly rich possibilities… the relation between man and space, the object and time. I think the CUBE arose from this interest, from this search for expression and for this always more increased acuteness of these thoughts...”

He founded the Rubik Studio back in 1983 where he designed furniture and games. Rubik is known to be a very introverted person who keeps very much to himself. Today he works on video game development and architectural projects. He cannot be contacted, won’t give autographs and does not usually attend speed-cubing events. He did, however, attend the 2007 World Championship in Budapest.

The classic Rubik’s Cube, (accept no substitute) has each of its six faces covered by 9 stickers, among six solid colors (traditionally white, red, blue, orange, green, and yellow). There are twenty-one pieces: a single core piece consisting of three intersecting axes holding the six centre squares in place but letting them rotate, and twenty smaller plastic pieces which fit into it to form the assembled puzzle. The puzzle comes with a pivot mechanism, which enables each face to turn independently, thus mixing up the colors. Each face must be a solid color in order for the puzzle to be considered solved.


There are exactly 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possibilities to solving the cube, which is approximately forty-three quintillion. The puzzle is often advertised as having only billions of positions, as the larger numbers could be regarded as incomprehensible to many. To put this into perspective, if every permutation of a 57-millimeter Rubik's Cube were lined up end to end, it would stretch out approximately 261 light years. Alternatively, if laid out on the ground, this is enough to cover the earth with 273 layers of cubes, recognizing the fact that the radius of the earth sphere increases by 57 mm with each layer of cubes.

Puzzles like the Rubik's Cube can now be simulated by computer software, which provide functions such as recording of player metrics, storing scrambled Cube positions, conducting online competitions, analyzing of move sequences, and converting between different move notations. Many movies and TV shows have featured characters that solve Rubik’s Cubes quickly to establish their high intelligence/competence. The Simpsons also twice featured a Rubik's Cube as a source of distraction for Homer and the Simpson family.

I wonder what Winston Churchill would say about all this.

Well, actually, I don’t.




Mar 8, 2009
by M Dee Dubroff
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M Dee Dubroff

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