Rubiks Cube

PICTURE: Alvaro Reyes/Unsplash

It's more than 40 years since the iconic puzzle known as The Rubik's Cube was invented. But where did the idea come from and who was Rubik?

The cube was the brainchild of Ernõ Rubik, a professor based in the Hungarian capital of Budapest who, according to information on The Rubik's Cube official website, designed the solid cube with 54 coloured squares in 1974 as a way of helping his students gain a better understanding of three-dimensional problems. It took Rubik a more than a month to solve the "Magic Cube" ("Buvos Kocka" in Hungarian).

Rubik patented the design the following year and the first "Magic Cube" was sold in a Budapest toy shop in 1977. It continued to grow in popularity in Hungary during the late 1970s but it was through connections made at international toy fairs that a contract was signed with the Ideal Toy Company to distribute the "Magic Cube, albeit with a name change - it would now be known as "The Rubik's Cube". 

The puzzle hit the market in 1980 - the newer cubes were apparently half the weight of earlier models, allowing for much faster solve times - and it's estimated that over the next two years some 100 million cubes were sold worldwide (the figure is now apparently up to more than 400 million).

While merely completing the challenge was enough for some (and there's now plenty of 'how to solve the cube' guides available online and off), the challenge of completing The Rubik's Cube in the fastest possible time, of course, led to formal competitions.

The first Rubik's Cube World Championship was held in Budapest in 1982 with a winning time of 22.95 seconds. Times in so-called "speedcubing" competitions - which use special, lighter cubes allowing for faster turns - have been dropping ever since, down to an eye-watering 4.59 seconds achived by Korean SeungBeon Cho, current world champion, in 2017 (although a robot has apparently solved the cube in as few as 0.637 seconds).

According to the official website, there are 43 quintillion ways to solve the cube meaning that if you turned a cube once every second, it would take you 1.4 trillion years to go through all the various permutations. 

Various others have released different sized cubes in the years following the release of The Rubik's Cube - including a massive custom 22x22 cube - but none have proved as popular as The Rubik's Cube in terms of sales. Or in popular culture - there was apparently a significant spike in sales of the puzzle in 2006 following the release of the Will Smith film, The Pursuit of Happyness, in which Smith's homeless character solves a cube and impresses a businessman.