One of the most successful products in history is the Rubik’s Cube. Since its rollout in 1980, more than 350 million cubes have been sold. You can call it a toy, but it touches the fields of engineering, physics, mathematics, psychology, physiology, and computer science. Its apparent simplicity and absence of accessory parts, flashing lights, or exciting sounds flew in the face of the conventional wisdom of the toy industry. Take a fresh look at the Rubik’s Cube with these fun facts:
1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED THE MAGIC CUBE.
It was 1974 when 30-year-old Ernő Rubik came up with the idea. He was serving as a professor of architecture in Hungary and wanted to develop a handheld puzzle game based on geometry to teach spatial relations. His first attempts, using woodblocks and paper clips, developed into what he called Bűvös Kocka — “Magic Cube” in Hungarian.
2. DR. RUBIK INVENTED IT, BUT HE’S NOT VERY GOOD AT IT.
Figuring out the engineering ended up being the easy part for Dr. Rubik. After painting each of the six sides a different color and twisting and turning the device a few times, he found himself with an even more difficult problem: how to put the colors back where they belonged. It took him more than a month to solve the first cube.
3. THERE ARE 43 QUINTILLION POSSIBLE COMBINATIONS.
With six sides representing nine blocks of a single color—orange, yellow, green, red, white, and blue—there are more than 43 quintillion potential configurations: 43,252,003,274,489,856,000, to be precise.
4. YOU COULD PURCHASE A $1 MILLION, DIAMOND-ENCRUSTED CUBE.
Diamond Cutters International created a fully-functional Rubik’s Cube in 1995 made out of 185 carats of diamonds. The Cube was worth $1 million at the time. For penny pinchers, the company also offered 2,500 silver editions for a paltry $2,000 each.
5. BIG AND SMALL: THERE ARE CUBES FOR THEM ALL
The largest Rubik’s Cube was made by Tony Fisher. He earned a Guinness World Record for the 5-foot high and 5-foot wide functional model.
If that’s too much for you to handle, you might consider the 5.6 mm Cube, which appears to be the smallest yet built.
6. RUBIK’S CUBE: THE HEALTH RISKS
How could such an innocuous toy be hazardous to your health? It was 1982 when it was discovered that the version sold in the United Kingdom was unsafe. The yellow stickers had unsafe amounts of lead: at least 26,250 ppm (parts per million), far more than the 2,500 ppm allowed.
The popularity of the device also gave rise to two new physical maladies: Rubik’s Wrist and Cuber’s Thumb. Both of these conditions are caused by excessive strain on the muscles and tendons that are not used to so much repetitive motion.
Rubik’s Cube was more than popular; for some people, it was compulsive. In 1982, “Cubaholics Anonymous” was formed to help people cope with the addictive behavior.
7. A MATHEMATICIAN’S DREAM
As already noted, there are more than 43 quadrillion combinations of a standard Rubik’s Cube. With numbers like this, mathematicians descended upon the Cube to determine all sorts of things. One of the big questions was whether there is a maximum number of moves that could solve any combination. That number is known as the “God Number.” Thus far, it appears that any combination can be solved with twenty moves if done in the right sequence.
On the flip side, there is the Devil’s Algorithm. This is defined as a set of moves that when applied, repeatedly if necessary, will eventually return a Rubik’s Cube to a solved state regardless of the starting configuration. The “Devil’s Number” is the number of moves in the shortest Devil’s Algorithm. Finding this number is an ongoing process. One researcher concluded the elusive number is 34,326,986,725,785,601. Look here for further explanation.
8. A SOLUTION BOOK WAS A BEST-SELLING BOOK IN 1981One year after Ideal Toy Company began selling the Rubik’s Cube, it was so popular that the best-selling book for 1981 was dedicated to how to solve the puzzle. The Simple Solution to the Rubik’s Cube by James G. Nourse sold 6,680,000 copies that year. It is the fastest-selling title in Bantam Books’ history.
At one point in 1981, three of the top ten best-selling books in the USA were devoted to solving Rubik’s Cube. One of them, You Can Do the Cube, was written by 13-year-old Patrick Bossert. Originally meant for his friends, Bossert’s father, an editor at Penguin Books, published it. It quickly sold more than 750,000 copies.
6. THERE WAS A SATURDAY MORNING ANIMATED SERIES.
Rubik, the Amazing Cube was a 1983 animated Saturday morning series. It aired 13 episodes and featured a theme song sung by the boy band Menudo.
7. ALL KINDS OF WORLD RECORDS
The fastest time to solve a 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube is 3.47 seconds by Yusheng Du (China) at the Wuhu Open 2018 in Wuhu, Anhui province, China, on 24 November 2018. The first speedcube competition in 1981 reported a winning time of 38.0 seconds.
If that isn’t interesting enough for you, Guinness World Records also tracks the fastest times for solving three Rubik’s Cubes whilst juggling (5 minutes 6.61 seconds); fastest time to solve three Cubes simultaneously with hands and feet (1 minute 36.39 seconds); most Rubik’s Cubes solved on a unicycle (250 cubes over 2 hours and 35 minutes); and several other records that can be seen here.
8. IT HAS SPARKED MANY VARIATIONS.
As if the 3x3x3 version wasn’t difficult enough, countless variations have seen the light, including the 2x2x2 Pocket/Mini Cube, 17x17x17 Over the Top Cube (costing more than $2,000 when it was introduced in 2011)
9. WILL SMITH CAUSED A SURGE IN SALES.
In 2006, Will Smith’s movie The Pursuit of Happyness featured a scene where Will Smith’s character quickly solves a Rubik’s Cube. Sales had been negligible for the prior couple of years. The next year, 15 million Cubes were sold around the world.
10. RED BULL SPONSORS THE OFFICIAL RUBIK’S CUBE COMPETITIONS.
If you are interested in seeing how your skills match up against other Rubik’s enthusiasts, you may wish to participate in the Red Bull Rubik’s Cube World Cup. The 2019 prize of $30,000. Ernő Rubik attended the Budapest contest in May 2019.
11. SOME PEOPLE CAN SOLVE IT BLINDFOLDED.
Seven-year-old Chan Hong Lik solved the Cube while blindfolded. He did it in 2016 by first memorizing the placement of the squares. After being blindfolded, it took him just over two minutes and 21 seconds to complete the solution.
12. EVEN ROBOTS PLAY.
As fast as humans are, they have a ways to go before being able to match the speed of robots. Guinness World Records has given the award for Fastest Robot to Solve a Rubik’s Cube to Sub1Reloaded. The robot solved a Cube in 0.637 seconds on November 9, 2016.