Where They Came From and How They Got To Be All the Rage
The puzzle cube was the brainchild of inventor of Erno Rubik, a student of sculpture and architecture and teacher of interior design from Budapest, Hungary. Though his name went on to become a household word, Rubik didn't intend for his geometry experiment to be used as a toy. He was more interested in the structural design elements of how one could get the individual blocks in a connected 3 x 3 x 3 cube to move independently of one another.
First he tried to do it with elastic bands, but that proved unsuccessful. His next solution was to make the blocks keep themselves joined by virtue of their shape alone. Each of the 26 little blocks in the original cube Rubik carved by hand, marking each exposed side with colored adhesive paper.
The colored stickers on each of the exposed sides of each cube were initially designed to help Rubik keep track of the success of his experiment, making it easy for him to see which cubes held and which didn't.
It was in 1974 that the 29-year-old discovered his prototype's use as a puzzle, realizing that, once jumbled, it was not so simple to realign the cubes such that each of the six sides was a solid color. Rubik, in fact, was the first "addict" of his own puzzle, quickly abandoning his invention's original purpose and setting himself to the task of figuring out a solution to his puzzle.
As many after him, he initially tried aligning all the corner cubes, moving on to discover various sequences of moves for consistently orienting certain sections of the cube. And although he initially suspected he wouldn't be able to solve it in a lifetime, he managed a solution within a month's time.
In January of 1975, Rubik applied for a patent in Hungary, going on to leave his invention in the trusted hands of small toy manufacturing coop in his native Budapest. The cube first hit the markets in 1977.
Whether it was through Rubik's doing or not, the puzzle cube that took the '80's by storm seemed destined to be, as at least two other inventors - Terutoshi Ishige of Japan and Larry Nichols of the United States - both tried to patent and market similar toys. The company that eventually acquired the rights to the puzzle cube as we know it, Ideal Toy Corporation, had even rejected Nichols' version, which used magnets to hold the blocks together, previously.
The toy that would soon take over the world started selling big after it was informally demonstrated in the crowds throughout the Nuremberg World's Fair. At first the toys were marketed as "Magic Cubes". In May of 1980 the first puzzle cubes bearing Rubik's name were exported from Hungary to the rest of the world.
How these magic cubes got to be so popular from there can readily be summed up by paraphrasing a quote by inventor Rubik himself extolling how wonderful it is to watch how, after just a few twists and turns, the solid palette of colors become all jumbled in a fabulous parade of patterns, each one enticing the player, as if out taking a sightseeing adventure, to begin finding and winding their way back home.