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Rubik’s Cube is 3 x 3 (now other variations also) cube puzzle which since its introduction in 1980 has fascinated the generations. It became one of the most popular toys in history.
Harvard Business Review, in its Nov-Dec 2020 issue has published an interview of the creator of Rubik Puzzle Mr. Ernö Rubik. The article is written by Alison Beard and is titled ‘Life’s Work: An Interview with Ernö Rubik’.
Ernö Rubik was born in Budapest Hungary on 13 July 1944 and has lived all his life in Hungary. His father was a flight engineer at an aircraft factory and his mother was a poet. His father gained international reputation as an expert in the engineering of gliders, and Ernö got his inspiration from him.
Ernö studied sculpture at the Technical University and architecture at the Academy of Applied Arts and Design in Budapest. He went on to become a professor of design at the academy, and at the same time pursued his hobby of building geometric models. He made a prototype of his cube with 27 wooden blocks. Though he made it himself, it took him one month to solve the problem of the cube. However, it proved to be a useful tool for teaching algebraic group theory.
In late 1977, Konsumex, Hungary’s state trading company started marketing it under the name of Magic Cube. Later, the rights were given to an American company which rebranded it as ‘Rubik’s Cube’. By 1980, Rubik’s Cube was marketed throughout the world and over 100 million authorized unit, with an estimated 50 million unauthorized imitations were sold in the first three years. The number of original units sold has already crossed 350 million.
Approximately 50 books have been published on how to solve the puzzle of Rubik’s Cube. Several game shows have been arranged around it. There have been competitions on ‘Speedcubing’ which means solving the puzzle in the shortest possible time.
Anthony Michael Brooks is an American Speed Cubing Champion. He specializes in the 2 x 2 and classic 3 x 3 cube and has been officially ranked in top five in the world in both categories as recognized by the World Cube Association. Since learning to solve the cube in March 2008, Brooks have become known for developing advanced speed solving methods as well as frequently promoting speedcubing in media
Very few products have generated so much curiosity, interest and effort worldwide as has been seen in the case of Rubik’s Cube. Here is what Ernö Rubik himself says.[Excerpts from HBR interview]
Where did you get the idea for the Rubik’s Cube?
I was interested in geometry, construction, and working in three dimensions and looking for a tool to explain 3D transformations. That led me to discover the Cube. I don’t like the term “invent” because it’s really just finding what is already there but not visible or tangible to others. You know, another person can take a walk on your road and see stones. But you might see that one has the potential to be a diamond even though its qualities are hidden. And hopefully you also have the patience to find what is inside.
How did you approach the development of the Cube?
First, I needed to understand the nature of the object and how to make it work. I used my hands, simple tools, the design school workshops. I sometimes used food because it’s easy to work with. That took a few months. And then there was the process of transforming it into a product and putting it on the market. That took three years. I started in 1974, and the first Magic Cubes were produced in Hungary in 1977. Then it was another three years before we introduced the Cube to the world market. We’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of that now.
When did you realize the impact the Rubik’s Cube would have on the toy market?
I didn’t recognize it when it was happening. I recognized it after. When we started, puzzles were not in the mainstream for the toy business. I’m not speaking about jigsaw puzzles, because when those are done, your game is finished; you can frame it or put it back into the box. My kind of puzzles are more complex. They’re not finished when you finish. You can do them again differently or faster. Those are more popular now, and everyone is looking for novelty. In writing the book, I also investigated the impact the Cube had in different areas. For example, apps—more than 3,000 are connected to it in some way. And books—some were written about it, a few of which sold several millions of copies; others were about different topics but featured an image of it on the cover to represent problem-solving or creativity or complexity; there are more than 500 of those.
Rubik’s Cube is a great story of inspiration. I would like to end this blogpost with one more excerpt from the interview.
You later developed other Rubik products. How did you keep innovating and decide which ideas were worth pursuing?
Most people have lots of ideas. I think what makes me different is I have a good sense for evaluating mine, and if I find some value in one, I don’t give up until I’m able to perfect it. Probably the most important thing, though, is that I love what I do. That’s a key element to achieving your goals.