Whatever happened to Rubik's Cube?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The moment: The British are anally retentive obsessives: that's why they are so easily hooked by crazes. So when Erno Rubik invented a cube with 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible combinations and only one solution, the public was eager to buy this deceptively simple, brightly coloured, child's toy.

Background: Not content with exporting goulash and Gypsies, Hungary was also responsible for Rubik's cube. In the late Seventies a German mathematician told the veteran puzzle manufacturer, Pentagle, about a new puzzle designed by Dr Rubik, a teacher in the University in Budapest. When the lecturer found that none of his students was able to create a 3D design that could rotate in any direction, he did it himself and patented the idea. Pentagle had discovered, in a crude form, the prototype from which a puzzle would emerge which would occupy a special place in the British psyche for many years. The Germans at first snubbed the creation; so too did the British puzzle-buying public. But then the leader of fashion, Noel Edmonds, spoke; and the masses obeyed. For three weeks running the cube featured on his Multi-Coloured Swapshop on Saturday mornings, and sales soared.

The effect: The puzzle peaked in popularity in the early Eighties. 15 million were sold, and it was estimated that three out of four households had a Rubik Cube buried in the sock drawer. In spite of an initial lack of interest the world over (including Hungary) the Rubik cube suddenly became hugely successful in everywhere.

Only a very small number of people managed to solve the puzzle of their own volition; some boasted their logical prowess in public and then sneaked away to look up the solution in one of the many books; others cheated by breaking the cube up and reassembling it.

Moments of subsequence: Though immensely successful, once solved a Rubik cube did not have many other uses, and in 1983 the market for the multicoloured mind game suddenly disappeared. There was however a vast market for spin- off products. The cube bred many-sided variants: a company in Hong Kong looked at every mathematical shape and did a Rubik-type dissection of them. Dr Rubik sold his name, and it was banded across many other Hungarian logic puzzles, such as the Rubik clock, snake and board game.

Mathematicians strove to find ways to solve the puzzle in fewer and fewer moves, while others in anoraks saw the cube as a challenge of manual dexterity. Then the anoraks met the mathematicians, and world records started to fall. According to the 1986 Guinness Book of Records, Minh Thai, a 16- year-old Vietnamese refugee, won the world's Rubik cube championship with a time of 22.95 seconds.

Now, if you believe the publicity, there is to be a resurgence in the popularity of the Rubik's cube. Hasbro has bought the worldwide rights to the cube, and it can now be found exclusively in Hamleys toy shop in Regent's Street. Hamleys say that they are very popular and selling quickly, so if you want to become a numb-fingered gibbering anorak, we suggest you buy your cube now.

Sam Coates