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Everyday Objects

Rubik’s cube

If you were around for the big hair and synthesisers of the 1980s, chances are you remember the Rubik’s Cube: that infuriating block of colours that you never got to match.

The Rubik’s Cube was invented by Hungarian architect Ernő Rubik in the spring of 1974. Rubik had pretty normal problems, like trying to figure out how to explain three-dimensional movement to his students. In an equally normal move, Rubik devoted his spare time to building blocks out of cubes, using wood, paper, rubber bands, and more. Eventually, Rubik created the, ”Bűvös kocka’, or Magic Cube, and an infuriating worldwide craze was born.

The popularity of the Rubik’s Cube was explosive. You may think that kids are only interested in the latest video game, but the Rubik’s Cube is the most popular puzzle toy in the world, with more than 350 million Cubes sold as of 2018. Being a bright, colourful headache of a toy the Rubik’s Cube quickly cemented itself as a staple in popular culture, being as heavily associated with the 1980s as neon leg warmers. This popularity surprised Rubik, because he thought his Cube would only be wanted by the nerdiest of people – those with engineering, mathematical or scientific backgrounds.

But joke’s on you, Rubik – the nerds still wanted your Cube! In March 1981, the Rubik’s Cube was displayed on the cover of popular science magazine Scientific American, which must have been a fun day at the office for the magazine writers. In the magazine, ultra-smart and Pulitzer-Prize winning scientist Douglas Hofstadter called the Rubik’s Cube, ‘one of the most amazing things ever invented for teaching mathematical ideas.’ And this was a toy you gave to kids!

Words by Quinn Clark
Research by Stephanie Crowe
Illustration by Noni Farragher-Hanks