Erno Rubik files for a patent on his twisty toy cubes. He'll get the patent and, later, fame and fortune.
Rubik, who'd been schooled in sculpture and architecture, taught interior design at an art college in Budapest, Hungary. His initial interest in building the cube was structural
: to see how he could let the little cubes (called "cubies" or cubelets") move without the big cube falling apart.
Holding the cubies together with rubber bands didn't work, so in the spring of 1974 he carved them to interlock with each other. He also applied different-colored paper to each of the big cube's six sides. Bingo! Well, actually, a lot more complex than Bingo.
As Rubik started twisting his bright little bauble, the designer in him noticed how pleasing it was to watch the shifting colors. But when he tried to put the colors back in order, he found it wasn't all that easy. Random twisting, he figured, would take him a lifetime.
(Spoiler alert: Partial solution ahead.)
Rubik hit on the rubric of starting by aligning the corner cubes. It still took him a few weeks to solve the puzzle.
He applied for a Hungarian patent in January 1975 and arranged for a small Budapest co-op to produce the toy. The patent wasn't granted until March 1977.
William Gustafson had received a U.S. patent for a similar "manipulatable toy
" in 1963, Larry Nichols won a U.S. patent for a 2x2x2 cube called Twizzle in 1972, Frank Fox got a British patent for a spherical 3x3x3 puzzle in 1974, and Terutoshi Ishige received a Japanese patent for a 3x3x3 in 1976. But the laurels were to be Rubik's.
Hungarian businessman Tibor Laczi showed the game at the Nuremberg toy fair, and it spread across Europe. Ideal Toy bought exclusive rights to the "Magic Cube" in 1979. Because Rubik hadn't applied for an international patent within a year of his Hungarian patent, Ideal changed the name to "Rubik's Cube" to give themselves some trademark protection.
Omni magazine wrote about the game in its games column in late 1980, and a slew of publicity followed in the spring of 1981. Rubik's Cube became the mega-fad of the early '80s. More than 300 million cubes
have been sold.
That's nothing, of course, compared to the 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 different possible permutations of the classic cube — enough to cover the planet with 273 layers of cubes
, each with a unique arrangement of colors.
Speaking of large numbers, Erno Rubik became the first self-made millionaire from the Communist bloc, or in this case, block.
Source: About.com Inventors, Domain of the Cube
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