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c. 1980s

Rubik’s Cube

The world's best-selling toy was unavoidable in the early 80s

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Erno Rubik with his invention The Rubik Cube puzzle.
(Photo by Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Have you got a Rubik’s Cube? In 1981, answering this question with anything other than an affirmative would have designated you as eternally uncool. Had you, however, revealed that not only did you possess a Cube, you were also able to solve it, then your status as a demigod was assured.

Solving the cube was a national obsession

And you might also have made yourself a lot of money. Because at one point during 1981, three of the top ten bestselling books in America were titles showing how to to solve Rubik’s Cube.

That’s a lot of books—but then, there were a lot of Cubes.  Boasting (and genuinely possessing) 43 quintillion combinations, the 3D Puzzle had been conjured up by Ernő Rubik, Professor of architecture at the Budapest College of Applied Arts in 1974.

At one point during 1981, three of the top ten bestselling books in America were titles showing how to to solve Rubik’s Cube.

It wasn’t until 1980 that the Cube craze hit—but it hit big.

To date, 350 million Cubes have been sold—200 million between 1980 and 1983 alone. The Cube is, in fact, the world’s best selling toy—though Rubik’s patent expired in 2000, so its not altogether too late to cash in.

And yes, many have tried to do just that—post-patent Cube manufacturers abound.

The world record for solving the original Cube is 3.47 seconds.

If you found the original easy to solve, could you handle the 17 x 17 x 17?

But for those of you who found the 3×3 Cube a tad easy—and the official 4×4 and 5×5 Cubes that followed it—perhaps you would like to grapple with the 17×17×17 cube made by Chinese manufacturer YuXin.

Rubik, himself, quite understandably, made the most of his invention’s moment. For example, there was the—er—cartoon show. Rubik, the Amazing Cube ran for 30-minutes each Saturday morning on ABC from September to December 1983.

The premise? Some kids find a living Rubik’s Cube (called Rubik) which magically helps them deal with the problems of being teenagers. So long as it remained unscrambled. 

Don’t mock—the show was re-run in 1985.

1982
American contestant Minh Thai holds his first prize, a golden Rubik’s Cube, over his head after winning the First Rubik’s Cube World Championship, Budapest, Hungary.
Pictorial Parade / Getty Images
1981
A baby lies in bed holding a Rubik’s Cube.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
1982
Erno Rubik with his invention(s).
Ted Thai / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1981
Contestants at the first Rubik’s Cube Championship in France.
John van Hasselt / Getty Images
1981
Erno Rubik in the toy department of Harrods, autographing his cubes and new toy the Snake.
Alastair Martin / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1981
A Rubik Cube Championship, held at the Hardrock Cafe, London. Pop singer and actress Toyah Willcox is pictured with Sheridan Hutton, a competitor.
Doreen Spooner / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1981
Rubik with Miss Great Britain, Michelle Hobson, at the Toy Fair in Earl’s Court.
Brendan Monks / Daily Mirror / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1981
14 year old Terence Wilson of Deepdale near Preston, England, with his Rubik cube and snake.
Mervyn Berens / The People / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1981
A woman in a santa outfit with a selection of children’s toys for Christmas, including the Cube.
Michael Daines/Sunday Mirror / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1986
Making Cubes in Hungary
Katie Arkell / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

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