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What is a Rubik's Cube?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A Rubik's cube is a mechanical puzzle in the shape of a cube which is comprised of 26 smaller cubes, with a rotating mechanism in the middle. To solve the puzzle, the user must rotate the smaller cubes so that each face of the larger cube is a uniform color. Cubing, as working on the Rubik's cube is known, is an international pastime, and it is even possible to attend speed cubing championships and other competitions dedicated to showcasing cubing skills.

The history of the Rubik's cube starts in 1974, when Erno Rubik, a Hungarian architect and sculptor, created the basic design. He called his invention the Magic Cube, and in fact it was originally designed as an architectural puzzle; he wanted to see if it was possible to create an articulated cube comprised of miniature cubes. As Rubik worked on the project, he realized that the finished cube could also be used to create an engaging mental puzzle, and Magic Cubes went on sale in Hungary.

From Hungary, the invention spread, and in 1980, Ideal Toys imported the cube into the United States, changing the name to Rubik's Cube. The toy quickly became a hit, as did the numerous variations on the basic Rubik's cube design. Most toystores and science shops today carry at least the traditional Rubik's cube, and often variations of the design are available, including versions with images on the faces instead of simple colors.

Solving a Rubik's cube is a challenge, and there are numerous tutorials all over the Internet presenting various ways to solve these infamous puzzles. Many people have a specific system and theory which they use, often relying on solving individual layers of the puzzle, rather than trying to solve the entire puzzle all at once. Rotating the parts of a Rubik's cube to solve it requires a good sense of mathematics and logic, and it can be an engaging challenge or a frustration, depending on the person trying to solve the cube.

The story behind the Rubik's cube name is rather interesting. When Erno Rubik first filed for a patent on the Magic Cube, he only did so in Hungary, failing to file for an international patent. This means that it is not possible to violate the patent for this puzzle outside of Hungary. When the toy began to spread internationally, Ideal Toys created the new name specifically so that they could trademark the name, with the goal of promoting the toy under that name and securing a strong market share. Therefore, the name “Rubik's Cube” is trademarked, but the toy itself is not.

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.