Rubik's Cube 25 years on: crazy toys, crazy times

Exponents of the Rubik's Cube are about to celebrate the 25th birthday of an invention which swept the world. Jerome Taylor delves into history's toy box to find the distractions which defined their decades


Rubik's Cube

Loved by those who can order its coloured squares in an instant - and despised by those who are permanently baffled by its inherent mathematical complexity - Erno Rubik's ubiquitous invention won global recognition in 1982. In that year the inaugural speed-cubing world championships were held in Rubik's home country of Hungary. The event was the culmination of two years of hysteria during which one hundred million cubes - made by the American company Ideal Toys - were bought around the world. Although the craze largely died down as the Eighties wore on, the professor of architecture's invention is still widely considered to be the world's best-selling toy. Up to 300 million Rubik's Cubes and imitations have been sold to customers in search of the ultimate brain-teaser.

Space Hopper

If outdoor toys in the 1950s were dominated by the hula hoop it was the Space Hopper that ruled supreme during the 1970s. Invented in 1968 by Aquilino Cosani, an Italian rubber ball maker, the Space Hopper invasion took Britain by storm in the summer of 1971 and became the must-have toy for the next five years. Manufacturers tried to keep interest in the craze going by updating the orange rubber faces with popular cartoon characters but by the late Seventies Space Hoppers had been consigned to the back of the toy cupboard. Nostalgia for space-hopping has recently resulted in several manufacturers creating adult-size models and in April this year, 600 Londoners broke the record for the largest simultaneous hop.

Yo-Yo

The yo-yo's origins can be traced back to 18th century France where a device called a jou-jou was popular in aristocratic courts. First patented in 1866, it was not until the 20th century that anyone seriously considered investing in the toy. In the 1920s an American entrepreneur, Donald Duncan, shocked his colleagues by sinking $250,000 of his personal wealth into manufacturing yo-yos on a larger scale and, in 1928, the Yo-Yo Manufacturing Company was born. Initial interest in yo-yos soon tailed off during the war years and only after Duncan invested in a high profile TV advertising campaign in 1962 did his investment finally begin to pay off, his company selling a record-breaking 42 million yo-yos in one year. Yo-yo crazes continue to return periodically: during the 1980s manufacturers put flashing lights inside the plastic disks.

Tamagotchi

When Aki Maita, a 31-year-old advertising executive, pitched the idea of a virtual pet to her bosses at the Bandai toy company she had little confidence that her idea would get past the drawing board. Instead, Tamagotchi, a hand-held virtual pet that requires its owners to feed and amuse it - and even clean up its digital droppings - was a phenomenal global success.

Originally designed for Japanese children who longed to own a pet but had little space to do so in the country's overpopulated cities, the toy had a universal appeal that won over adults as well as school children around the world. At the height of its popularity between 1996-1997, 15 Tamagotchi's were sold every minute in the US and Canada. There have been 36 versions since, and although the craze peaked in the West during the late 1990s, they still remain highly popular in Japan.

Game Boy

When the Japanese toy company Nintendo hired Gunpei Yokoi in 1965 to maintain the company's playing card assembly line little did they know that he would go on to create a console that would change the face of video gaming for ever. Nintendo took the world by storm in 1989 following the launch of its Game Boy and went on to sell 70million of the original units as children clambered to get their hands on the first truly affordable handheld console. Unlike previous portable computers that were only able play a single game from software impregnated inside the device, the Game Boy allowed children to play games that were bought separately and slotted into the back of the console. Sales fell in the late 1990s when its technology was surpassed.

Micro Machines

There was a time in the early 1990s when it was virtually impossible to walk through toy shops without encountering the bizarre world of Micro Machines, a place were cars were no bigger than a thumbnail. For the 16 years that US toy manufacturers Galoob (and later Hasbro) made Micro Machines almost every vehicle of significance, be they cars, trucks, boats or army vehicles, had received the Micro Machine treatment and been shrunk to no more than 1 and a half inches. Despite their tiny size most of the miniature vehicles still had working doors and wheels and the toy's makers invented numerous ways to keep interest in their product going, including using colour changing paint for many of the models. British children stuck with the craze longer than most, continuing to buy the toys in huge numbers long after their popularity had died out across the Atlantic. Rare Micro Machines are now valuable often selling for up $100 on Ebay.

Furbies

When Furbies arrived in US shops in 1998 they flew off the shelves, creating a worldwide shortage which added to their appeal. Originally sold for $35, parents were paying up to 10 times that on auction sites to satisfy their children's desire for the latest global craze. Like Tamagotchi the robotic pets, which bore a remarkable resemblance to the fluffy hero of the 1980s film Gremlins, they relied on interaction with their owners. The manufacturers programmed the dolls to speak a nonsense language known as Furbish which evolved into a real language the more owners talked to the robots. Memorable Furbish phrases include: wee-tah-kah-loo-loo (Tell me a joke) and u-nye-way-loh-nee-way (Go to sleep). Available in 24 languages, 1.8 million Furbies were sold in the first year and a further 14 million in 1999.

Clackers

Based loosely on the bolas, an indigenous Latin American hunting weapon, clackers were one of the loudest and shortest-lived fads of the 1970s. Made up of two hard plastic balls linked by string, the idea was as simple as it was addictive - hit the balls together as loudly as possible. The toy first appeared on Spanish beaches in the late 1960s and as clacking took over Britain's schools, newspaper pages began to fill with stories of children receiving injuries from the shatter-prone balls. Schools soon began banning the toys and within two years the craze had largely died out. To the horror of many, they were tipped in 2001 for a comeback, but it never happened.

Hula Hoop

The art of hula-hooping has been with us for more than 3,000 years. Evidence suggests the ancient Egyptians used to swivel hoops made of grapevine round their waists as a form of exercise. But as a craze, hula hoops took over the world in the late 1950s after two toy inventors, Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Medlin, released an affordable plastic version priced at $1.98. In the first six months, more than 20 million hula hoops were sold as children and adults alike tuned in to the global craze that went on to define Fifties innocence. Denounced at the time by Soviet Russia as a soulless capitalist invention and banned briefly by the Japanese government, which was afraid swivelling hips might inspire improper behaviour, more than 100 million hula hoops had been sold by the end of the decade.

Skateboard

Skateboarding was born in 1950s California, when surfers began to take their sport from the surf onto the streets with roller skate wheels attached to home-made wooden boards. Surf fans unable to live near real waves found that skateboarding was the next best thing. The first manufactured model went on sale in 1959, peaking in popularity around 1963 when companies like Jack's, Hobie and Makaha started official competitions. It's been a mixed story since then, with the sport hitting a low after a host of safety experts pronounced it dangerous in 1965, advising stores not to sell them. Banished to the margins throughout much of the 1980s, the sport made a comeback in the 1990s and is now the most popular extreme sport. Pro-skaters earn similar wages to other professional athletes and compete for prizes worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. The industry is worth an estimated $2.5bn (£1.25bn), with $1.6bn in shoe sales alone. Shoe companies like Vans and DC Shoes are now fashionable even outside the skating community.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
newsJohn Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
News
i100
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
News
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit