A Puzzle for the Ages

The Rubiks Cube

July 13, 2021

Choices, choices. That’s what today, July 13, gives us. A number of Tuesday Newsday worthy people are celebrating birthday’s today. I thought I had it all figured out until my brother, who is a disc jockey and sends me his show prep once a week, included the birthday of a person whose invention changed the toy landscape of the world.

The yummy Indiana Jones aka Harrison Ford

So what to do? First of all, I say Happy Birthday to actor Harrison Ford who is 79. Ford, for those might have been living in a monastery in Tibet, is known for multiple memorable roles: Bob Falfa in American Graffiti, Han Solo in the Star Wars films, Jack Ryan in The Patriot Games, and the swashbuckling Indiana Jones. There is much more to Ford’s career which has now spanned 51 years. There is currently another Indiana Jones movie being filmed.

To learn more about Ford and his career, the Infallible Wikipedia can be accessed here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Ford

On a personal note, the closest I ever got to Ford was during a trip to Disneyland the third week of February 1995. The Temple of the Forbidden Eye ride – based on the Indiana Jones movies – was slated to open in early March. That’s when we learned about ‘soft openings.’ On our last day at the park they opened the ride… two weeks before its official opening date. I was jazzed and the hubby and I figured out how to take turns on the attraction since our daughter was only two and not tall enough to participate.

My sister and nieces outside the brand new Temple of the Forbidden Eye attraction, February 1995

Once the ride was over, it was time to head back to the hotel for some down time and we worked our way to Main Street and the exit. Our plans were thwarted – in a good way – when a parade halted our progress. The crowd was excited and we asked someone what was going on. “Harrison Ford is in the parade,” one enthusiastic woman said. Yes, it was a parade to celebrate the opening of the newest Disneyland attraction.

Sure enough a few minutes later both Ford and Carrie Fischer (who had no role in the Indiana Jones movie but was still there) rode by in a pair of convertibles.

Now on to the second birthday of note. Until I looked at his Wikipedia page I could not have picked this person out of a police lineup. Yet one of his inventions lives at our house and has done so since nineteen eighty something. Happy 77th Birthday to Erno Rubik, inventor of the popular cube puzzle.

For most people I imagine their cubes look like this most of the time.

Rubik is a Hungarian inventor, architect, and professor of architecture. The invention of the Rubik’s cube came about, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, when Rubik, using blocks of wood and rubber bands:

“…set out to create a structure which would allow the individual pieces to move without the whole structure falling apart. Rubik originally used wood for the block because of the convenience of a workshop at the university and because he viewed wood as a simple material to work with that did not require sophisticated machinery. Rubik made the original prototypes of his cube by hand, cutting the wood, boring the holes and using elastic bands to hold the contraption together.

Erno Rubik

Rubik showed his prototype to his class and his students liked it very much. Rubik realized that, because of the cube’s simple structure, it could be manufactured relatively easily and might have appeal to a larger audience. Rubik’s father possessed several patents, so Rubik was familiar with the process and applied for a patent for his invention. Rubik then set out to find a manufacturer in Hungary, but had great difficulty due to the rigid planned economy of communist Hungary at the time. Eventually, Rubik was able to find a small company that worked with plastic and made chess pieces. The cube was originally known in Hungary as the Magic Cube.

Rubik licensed the Magic Cube to Ideal Toys, a US company in 1979. Ideal rebranded The Magic Cube to the Rubik’s Cube before its introduction to an international audience in 1980. The process from early prototype to significant mass production of the Cube had taken over six years. The Rubik’s Cube would go on to become an instant success worldwide, winning several Toy of the Year awards, and becoming a staple of 1980s popular culture. To date, over 350 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold, making it one of the best selling toys of all time.”

Since that article was posted, an additional 100 million cubes have been sold which places it as THE bestselling toy of all time.

The Rubik’s cube has been a true conundrum for the average person. It’s unsolvable unless one understands and applies at least two algorithms as they move the pieces around. In fact, according to an article on Ruwix.com, there are 43 quintillion possible combinations. Another interesting note is that it took Rubik himself over a month to solve it once he invented it!

Over the years there have been books written as to ‘how’ to solve the puzzle. There are now links on the internet providing the algorithms for free.

One Felix Zemdegs of Australia holds the world record for the fastest solving time. His record: 4.75 seconds. It’s pretty amazing to watch:

As I said, we have had a cube floating around our house over the years. After our son arrived, he became fascinated with all the games we owned. It was a daily affair for the game cupboard to be unloaded. Of course the cube was of interest. When he was probably 5 or 6, he became frustrated in his cube solving attempts. No amount of telling him that adults (including his mother) were incapable of solving the puzzle appeased him.

Who knew Ford was a Rubik’s master?

Then one day he walks into the kitchen and proudly shows me the ‘solved’ cube. I was impressed until I detected that some of the colored paper stickers on each cube were a bit crooked. On closer inspection it was obvious someone found the ‘easy’ way to solve it.

But his engineering brain was not to be deterred. We got him a new cube a couple of years later for his birthday and then he set about learning the final algorithms needed to solve the puzzle.

I’ve been able to get one face and then two rows of color correct, but that’s as far as I’ve ever gone. I’m okay with that. As someone who does not have an ‘engineering’ brain I’m content to watch in awe as those that do solve the Rubik’s cube, the world’s most famous puzzle.

A couple more links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ern%C5%91_Rubik

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubik%27s_Cube

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