History and Rules of The Rubik’s Cube

Many of us are fascinated with the way the Rubik’s cube works. The cube can be manipulated easily and yet remain intact but what is most surprising is the puzzle it throws at most of us.

The first time I saw the cube (a 3X3 at a friend’s place), I thought it was just a fancy toy and bragged about how easily I would solve it. Wait till I started trying to arrange those faces so each has its unique color. Anyway, that’s a story for another day. Today, I am here to tell you about how the cube came to be.

We shall also look into the most important rules of solving the Rubik’s cube. And, that’s not all; prepare yourself to discover numerous interesting facts about the cube right here.

So, What Is The Rubik’s Cube?

The Rubik’s cube is a puzzle that was designed in the 1970s by Erno Rubik, a Hungarian professor of architecture.

The puzzle is basically a cube-like device that consists of smaller cubelets; the typical design has 6 faces with 6 different colors.

The cube is usually manufactured through the injection molding method whereby different pieces are assembled, labelled, and packaged. The puzzle was very popular in the 80s, and in fact, more than 200 million pieces were sold worldwide between 1980 and 1983.

Though the cube’s popularity is not as high as it was back then, more than 500,000 cubes are sold every year, and there’s increasing interest in the cube.

The cube normally consists of 26 cubelets and in its solved state, each of its 6 faces is made up of 9 cubelets of the same color. Although it might seem like you can move all the cubelets, only cubelets in the edges and corners actually move; the center ones are fixed and they only rotate in the same place.

If you take the cube apart, you will realize that the center cubelets are all secured to a central core. On the contrary, the edges and corners are not connected to anything, thus allowing them to move freely.

You might be wondering – what holds the cubelets in place? The edges and corners are held together in place and are all secured by the center cubelets. Every piece has a tab on the interior that is bound by the center cubelets and trapped by other cubelets that surround it. The tabs have a shape that allows them to follow a curved pathway, which is formed by the backs of the other cubelets.

The central pieces are secured with a spring and screw, which retain the surrounding cubelets. The spring is designed to apply just enough pressure to hold together the other cubelets while allowing them adequate flexibility to function as intended.

So, that’s all about the Rubik’s cube’s mechanics. Now, let’s look into its history from a deeper angle.

The Rubik’s Cube’s History

Scientists and other brilliant individuals have been fashioning puzzles for people to solve for millennia. Some of the earliest documented puzzles were invented by the ancient Romans and Greeks.

The Chinese are also revered in the world of puzzles for their incredible prowess in making complex problems, such as the ring puzzle, which is supposed to have been invented in the 2nd century A.D.

Upon the dawn of the print press, comprehensive guides of mechanical and mathematical problems were distributed among the major civilizations. Most of these guides were designed particularly for recreation.

From the early word problems and riddles, toy puzzles eventually emerged. One of the earliest documented toy puzzle was the Icosian puzzle, which was developed by Sir William Hamilton, an Irish mathematician. Afterwards, in the 1870s, the renowned 15 puzzle was invented, by Sam Lloyd according to several reports.

The 15 puzzle entailed placing various numerical tiles in a certain correct order, and the game was very popular in the early 20th century.

Before the invention of the Rubik’s cube, there were several puzzles that involved colored cubes and square pieces, such as the Mayblox and the Katzenjammer puzzle. In the 1970s, the Pyraminx was invented. It was a pyramid-style toy with movable pieces that had to be arranged based on color.

In 1974, Erno Rubik, a University of Budapest architecture professor, developed the first version of the Rubik’s cube and named it the “magic cube”. He applied for a patent with the Hungarian authorities to safeguard his invention and received it in 1975.

At first, the professor had intended the cube for teaching purposes exclusively but when he presented it to them, he realized that it would certainly be a fascination even outside the classroom.

Over the next couple of years, Professor Rubik collaborated with Toy Corp, a manufacturing firm, to produce the cube commercially, and after a short while, the cube was the new charm in the shelves of toy stores all over Budapest.

While the cube became increasingly popular in Hungary, the political atmosphere in the US at the time made it hard for it penetrate its market. There were two key figures in the marketing and success of the Rubik’s cube – Tom Kremer of Seven Towns Limited and Dr. Tibor. Rubik had licensed Seven Towns Limited to distribute the cube worldwide.

Dr. Tibor would work to convince the Hungarian administrators to allow the technology to go global, while Mr. Kremer worked with US’s Ideal Toy to help the cube enter the US market. Just like in Hungary, the cube became a hit in the US immediately and between 1980 and 1983, more than 200 million pieces were sold.

After 1983 however, the cube’s frantic popularity in the US began to diminish, and sales went down dramatically.  The cube, therefore, stayed in small scale production, up until Seven Towns Limited assumed its marketing and licensed Oddzon to sell the cube from 1995.

That proved to be a great move, as the sales started increasing steadily since then, to the current rate of 500,000 pieces per year.

That, folks, is all the noteworthy history there is about the Rubik’s cube. Ready to learn the cube’s rules? Great – let’s do it!

The Rubik’s Cube’s Rules

We cannot talk about the Rubik’s cube’s rules without mentioning The World Cube Association, the non-profit organization in charge of organizing championships for the speedcubing sports and validating records. And yes, there’s something called speedcubing sports.

Speedcubing is the sport of solving a scrambled Rubik’s cube. The player is usually required to solve the cube by arranging the faces to have just one color each as fast as possible. The player normally races against time, trying to solve the cube faster than the other players.

Players are typically required to be at their best states of concentration once the clock starts ticking. They are required to solve the cube, each player on his/her own, without any outside help.

Competitions follow a system like the one of track and field, where records can be broken during world championship games and also during small competitions.

The World Cube Association organizes championship games every 2 years. In these competitions, the best solvers in the world go against each other.

Although you’ll hear people talking about the 3X3 cube competitions, there are many others, like the 7X7, and obtaining the world title is not usually an easy thing to pull off. Exceptional prowess in speed, strategy, memory and concentration is required.

The world championship games normally happen on 2 to 4 rounds, with 3 rounds being the order of the day most of the time – the 1st round, the semi-finals, and the final round.

Just like with other sports, after each round, the best players get to proceed to the next level. The best players are the ones who solve the cube fastest.

To determine the winner, the average of their solving time is usually considered. Therefore, each solve is crucial, as it can improve or waste the average. The competitor hence needs to remain focused throughout the games, as one record is not adequate to guarantee them a win. The average is what matters.

As a competitor, you’re given 15 seconds to look at the cube before you start solving it. This allows you time to examine the cube’s state and make up your mind regarding how to start solving it.

At best, you’ll be able to plan your first few moves. You will get insight into which case should happen and thus solve the cube quicker. However, it’s virtually impossible to plan the whole solve.

As for the blindfolded competitions, the solve follows totally different methods. A tactile timer is used to time the solves. As soon as you’re ready, you’re needed to lift your hands, after which the clock starts ticking. You then take the cube and start solving it.

Once you finish, you place your hands on the timer once more. The tactile cells will sense your hands and stop counting. The timer is super precise, as it can count even a hundredth of a second. The games are carefully monitored by invigilators, who ascertain that all the players follow the rules without any cheating.

Final Thoughts: The Rubik’s Cube’s Future

Although the frenzied popularity of the Rubik’s cube diminished around 1984, the cube has recently made a super comeback. This can be attributed largely to the exceptional marketing skills of the guys at Seven Towns.

As a matter of fact, many people all over the world are gaining interest in the cube, with an aim to not only entertain themselves but also test their IQs.

Apart from the conventional Rubik’s cube, other imitative designs have emerged, most notably the Rubik's triamid, the Rubik's magic folding puzzle, and the Rubik's snake.

That’s not all – it appears that with the expiry of most patents associated with the Rubik’s cube, many manufacturers are ready to produce their designs.

 So, you think you will be getting a Rubik’s cube soon? What design are you looking to get? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. Don’t forget to share this post
Richard B. Torres

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