Rubik’s Cube: In 1980, It Was Hip to Be Square

Invented by famed Hungarian professor Ernõ Rubik, the puzzle that was once just a fad has become an indelible part of pop culture.
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The Rubik Cube was invented by Erno Rubik in Budapest, Hungary in 1974. By 1978, the Cube was circulating in the playgrounds of Budapest, but it was not until 1980 that it made its debut in the rest of the world.

Rubik's Cube was invented by Ernõ Rubik in Budapest, Hungary in 1974. By 1978, the Cube was circulating in the playgrounds of Budapest, but it was not until 1980 that it made its debut in the rest of the world.

Millions of people were inflicted with Rubikmania in 1980 after the Rubik’s Cube hit toy shelves. Invented by famed Hungarian professor Ernõ Rubik in 1974, it was mass-produced by Ideal Toys.  

The 3- x 3- x 3-inch cube is the top-selling puzzle game of all time, shipping over 350 million units worldwide since its inception in 1980. 

What once was a mere fad has become an indelible part of pop culture, with modern-day speed cubing tournaments achieving worldwide recognition. People all over boasted about their skills in solving the puzzle and correctly lining up the blue, green, orange, red, white, and yellow stickers, while the brainteaser was a pain for others who couldn’t quite get it.

But there was, of course, the option of simply cheating and peeling the stickers off and then rearranging them to your liking. In fact, Ideal produced a sticker sheet fans could purchase as a quick “fix.”

The Rubik’s Cube was an unprecedented sensation in a decade chock full of them. In a Time article published on December 7, 1981 and titled — of course — “Rubikmania,” the magazine stated that even solution manuals were selling in the millions: “The Simple Solution to Rubik’s Cube,” a 64-page booklet…has become the fastest-selling title in the history of Bantam Books, outpacing Jaws and Valley of the Dolls…The cube phenomenon is the biggest thing of its kind we have ever experienced.” 

Erno Rubik.

Ernõ Rubik.

Ernõ Rubik was a lecturer in interior design and had an interest in geometry and in the study of 3D forms. He began exploring the idea of a puzzle that was self-contained in one piece. By 1978, Rubik’s Cube was circulating in the playgrounds of Budapest, but it was not until 1980 that the Cube made its debut in the rest of the world. 

In 1982, the first annual International Rubik’s Championships were held in Budapest. More than 100 million cubes were also sold by then, and Rubik’s entered the Oxford English Dictionary. So pervasive was Rubikmania that Ideal rushed to capitalize on the success with other puzzles. 

 The company offered Rubik’s “The Missing Link,” a colored, chain-based puzzle that was a bit simpler to solve than the Cube; the uniquely designed and amply creative Rubik’s Snake that, with its 24 wedges, allowed users to construct a wide variety of different shapes and constructs; and 1981 brought fans Rubik’s Revenge, a.k.a. the “Master Cube,” which increased the number of cubelets from 26 to 56, and Rubik’s Magic (produced by Matchbox in 1986) — a puzzle constructed of eight different tiles arranged in a rectangle, with grooves on the tiles that allow clear wires to attach the tiles to one another; the puzzle must be folded and unfolded over and over again in order to achieve the solution. 

 Alas, for collectors, Rubik's Cube is not as exciting. A vintage Cube in sealed box is valued at under $30.

Hungarian inventor, architect and professor of architecture Erno RUBIK is posing with a Rubik's Cube after an event for the 40th anniversary of the creation.

Hungarian inventor, architect and professor of architecture Erno Rubik is posing with a Rubik's Cube after an event for the 40th anniversary of the creation in 2014.