The inventor of the Rubik’s Cube on how he invented the iconic puzzle, its importance in 2020 and his new book
Hungarian inventor and architect Erno Rubik is most famous for the eponymous toy he invented back in 1974. The 74-year-old has not slowed down since, and even had a packed schedule for 2020 that didn’t quite pan out, naturally. “I was supposed to travel across the world. Almost all my previous commitments remained the same. Only the venues changed, instead of New York, London or Shanghai, all the meetings took place in the ‘city of Zoom’ or on the ‘shores of Skype’,” he tells us.
His biggest challenge for this year was to finish his book, Cubed – The Puzzle Of Us All, that he launched last month. We speak to the award-winning inventor about the Rubik’s Cube’s popularity, the life lessons it can teach us and the upcoming Red Bull Rubik’s Cube World Cup.
Tell us a little bit about your new book, Cubed – The Puzzle Of Us All.
The book touches upon many things: playfulness, creativity, symmetry, education, architecture, questions, contradictions and beauty. But at its core, it is about puzzles. It is about the puzzle of myself and the puzzle of this magical object I discovered almost 50 years ago, and the puzzle of us all.
How did you get the idea for the revolutionary toy?
As a lecturer at the Academy of Applied Arts, I was working on models to demonstrate what 3D is to my students. In that process, the first, rudimentary idea of the Cube came to mind. I started working on a hand-made model using wood, rubber bands and paper clips. When a functional prototype was ready, I needed some kind of coding to bring sense to the rotations of the cube, so I used the simplest and strongest solution: colours.
The Cube is as popular today, in this highly digitised world, as it was when it was invented. Did you ever anticipate that when you first made it?
My creation is entirely original and inherently interesting. The Cube has all the right characteristics to create a sense of ‘flow’. It requires a strong focus on the task, it is quite challenging but not impossible; and it is highly rewarding. But I never imagined it would become a global craze and one of the bestselling toys of all time!
Japan just unveiled the world’s smallest cube at 9.9 mm. How many iterations has the Cube inspired over the years?
It is the vast inspirational power of the Cube itself that always surprises me. The Cube first of all established a completely new genre: twisty puzzles. These come in hundreds of different shapes or forms and there are new ideas literally every day. Some of these become successful products, others remain interesting concepts. But the Cube also inspires other fields of science and arts like robotics, AI technologies and even music!
What is a deeper life lesson that you have learnt, that others can too, from solving the Cube?
People often encounter problems with anxiety and frustration. But identifying problems, working on them and solving them can be very rewarding. The success of the Cube has proven that solving problems is a great experience.
What is your opinion of the Red Bull Rubik’s Cube World Cup?
I am delighted to see the commitment and tremendous success of Red Bull in making speedcubing a spectator sport. I also welcome the fact that one of the world’s leading supporters of extreme physical accomplishments is now also focusing on mind games. And I am especially pleased that Red Bull does go the extra mile to welcome more female athletes to cubing.