Top 25 "It" products of all time: #6 -- The Rubik's Cube

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If you, too, listened to NPR's Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me in the last few weeks, you'll know that the record for solving the Rubik's Cube was recently broken. That is, the record for the slowest solver. Graham Parker took 26 years to solve the cube.

If you know anything about the history of the Rubik's Cube, you'll know that wasn't an easy record to set. The puzzle was invented in 1974 by Erno Rubik, a Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor, but wasn't commercially produced until 1980, by Ideal Toys. Over the next 25 years, 300 million of the cubes would be sold, making it, according to its manufacturers, the world's best-selling toy.

When the cube was first introduced in the U.S., it had to be retrofitted to meet British and American safety standards, so supplies were low and many cheap imitations sprung up to fill in the gaps between supply and demand. The new cube didn't reach stores until right before Christmas in 1980; it had already been named the "toy of the year" and everyone wanted one.
Throughout all of 1981, the puzzle was the hottest ticket in any toy store, and it well could have marked the birth of the cool geek; the kids with coke-bottle glasses who could solve the puzzle better than the jocks. I remember keenly the thrill of my first Rubik's Cube, and spent hours trying to solve it, often getting frustrated and changing the stickers (oh, come on, you did it too... right?). In middle school, I can recall arguing with my brother over the wisdom of removing the individual little plastic pieces from the rotation mechanism in the middle.

For the "record," the fastest time ever recorded for solving the 3x3x3 cube was in 2008 at the Czech Open speed cubing competition, when Erik Akkersdijk solved it in 7.08 seconds. And according to the British website CubeCubeCube.com, "Newer cubes are arranged as red opposite orange, yellow opposite white and green opposite blue although it is possible to track down cubes with different color arrangements." What may well be the simple, brilliant precursor to modern video games like Tetris is also the ultimate unwired brain teaser. I may just go out and get myself another one.

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