Blast from the Past: Rubik’s Cube

HELEN MCGURK puzzles over the Rubik’s Cube and finds why the colourful six-sided 1980s toy is anything but child’s play ....

Friday, 9th July 2021, 4:41 pm
Hip to be square - the Rubik's Cube
Hip to be square - the Rubik's Cube

There are two types of people in this world - those that can’t do a Rubik’s Cube, and, show-offs.

Take politician Ed Miliband who when once asked whether he had a hidden talent answered: “I can do a Rubik’s cube in one minute and 30 seconds.” Hmmm. Not cool, Ed. Not cool.

The Rubik’s cube did not start out as a toy. It was invented in 1974 by Erno Rubik, a Hungarian architect, who wanted a working model to help explain three-dimensional geometry. After designing the “magic cube” as he called it (twice the weight of the current toy), he realised he could not actually solve the puzzle. The more he moved the coloured squares, the more mixed up they became. “It was a code I myself had invented!” he wrote. “Yet I could not read it.”

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The cube, made up of nine coloured squares on each side, can be rearranged in 43 quintillion different ways. After a month, and using a method of rearranging the corners of each side first, he finally solved the puzzle.

The Rubik’s Cube craze ran through the world like wildfire during the 1980s, and has survived until today, unlike other novelties that decade vomited up.

Television shows were awash with smug, geeky types doing it blindfolded whilst standing on their head, or doing it with one hand whilst saying the Greek alphabet backwards, even click-clacking the cube into the correct configuration with their toes.

To complete a Rubik’s cube it helped if you were a nimble-fingered maths whizz, with a tendency towards anoraks and algorithms. My own method for completing the dastardly cube was to peel off the coloured stickers, then re-apply them in the correct order.

Today, speedcubing events are held around the world. Apparently, the biggest pitfall of any professional speedcuber is repetitive strain injuries. ‘Cubist’s thumb’ and ‘Rubik’s wrist’ are commonplace, which has given rise to the practice of ‘cube lubing’, which is a lot less dodgy than it sounds and basically involves lubricating the cubes for more efficient manipulation.

Most of us will have a Rubik’s Cube lurking in a drawer somewhere, so why not put on some 80s pop music, dig it out and twist again. Ed would.