The Rubik’s Cube turned 50 on Sunday (June 30). We take a look at its journey over the years.

Ernö Rubik, a Hungarian who studied architecture and went on to become a professor of descriptive geometry, is credited to have created the cube. His classes taught students how to visualize three-dimensional shapes in two-dimensional images.

One day in the spring of 1974, while researching Platonic solids, Rubik was possessed by the possibility of putting together eight smaller cubes to form a big cube, such that the smaller ones would stick together as they moved around while exchanging their places. In his first wooden version of the cube, he drilled a hole in the corners of the small cubes to link them together.

After much trial and error, Rubik cracked the design in time for his 30th birthday in July 1974. From a monochromatic wooden design, Rubik’s cube now had its faces painted in blue, red, green, yellow, orange and white. After playing with it intermittently, he went on to “solve” the cube for the first time, months later.

From Rubik to the world

In 1975, Rubik submitted an application at the Hungarian Patent Office for what he called the “Magic Cube”, a “three-dimensional logical toy”. This made its debut in Hungary’s toy shops two years later. By 1979, 300,000 cubes had been sold country-wide.

Festive offer

However, the Cube was still to be internationally recognized — Hungary remained under communist rule, and beyond tourists seeking out souvenirs, the Cube rarely found its way abroad. Finally, in 1980, Rubik secured a contract with Ideal Toy, an American company to sell a million cubes overseas.

The Cube was thus renamed ‘Rubik’s Cube’. The shy inventor saw immediate success when he attended a toy fair in New York to demonstrate how to solve the cube. His invention would captivate the imagination of toy fairs elsewhere in London, Paris and Nuremberg as well.

The craze was fanned by the first-ever Rubik’s Cube World Championship in Budapest, Hungary, with the prize going to Minh Thai of the US, who solved it in 22.95 seconds.

By 1984, Ideal had sold 100 million cubes, while guides on solving the cube led the bestseller lists.

But the Rubik’s Cube craze seemed to fizzle out just as quickly as it had caught on — by 1986, the market was rife with cheap imitations, and the hype around the Cube had died down. Interest would be rekindled in the 1990s, when a new generation of ‘speed-cubers’ and enthusiasts took to the Cube, setting all manner of records for solving it — blindfolded, underwater, while skydiving, etc.

For its 50th anniversary, Spin Master, which currently owns the brand, has launched a special edition of the cube with a retro design featuring slower turning, a gold side, classic boxy edges and a special anniversary logo in an old-timey plastic display case. .

Appeal of the Cube

The Rubik’s Cube comprises 20 smaller ‘cubies,’ with eight corners and 12 edges centered between the corners, and six face-center pieces attached to the core. Holding these together is a three-dimensional cross, which allows the tabs on the edge and the corner cubes to rotate while remaining interlocked.

Combined, the cubies show 54 facets colored in six shades, nine each in white, red, blue, orange, yellow and green. The goal is to arrange these cubies such that all six faces of the cube, with nine cubies on each face show the same color. The structure of the Cube itself does not change during the process, representing symmetry in its finest form.

Today, the Rubik’s cube is believed to have been played by one in seven people in the world. The world record for the fastest solved cube belongs to Max Park, who solved it in a jaw-dropping 3.13 seconds in 2023.

The cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter in 1981 had anticipated its far-ranging appeal, writing that the cube would turn out to be “much more than just a puzzle. It is an ingenious mechanical invention, a pastime, a learning tool, a source of metaphors, an inspiration.”