Celebrating 40 Years of the Rubik’s Cube

By Andrea Vasquez

Inspiring frustration and determination for 40 years, the Rubik’s Cube began as a model for architecture students. And while it’s become the world’s best-selling toy, it’s never ceased being a teaching tool.

“The best time to get kids hooked on science is when they’re young,” said Josh Weston. “Give them challenges and things to see they don’t normally see every day, and then their minds go to work and they create all kinds of things.”

Jersey City’s Liberty Science Center partnered with Google to celebrate the 40th anniversary with “Beyond Rubik’s Cube” — a $5 million exhibit three years in the making. It’s fitting that the seven-year international tour kicks off in New Jersey, where we have more scientists and engineers per square mile than anywhere else in the world. When the exhibit leaves the center in November, it heads to New York, Canada, Turkey, Puerto Rico and Saudi Arabia.

“There should be a museum exhibition that travels around the world in the same way that the cube has crossed every border,” said Paul Hoffman.

In 1974, Hungarian Professor Erno Rubik created the cube from wood and rubber bands. He could twist and turn the sides, and it never fell apart. Seeing the potential in this work of engineering genius, he added colorful stickers and soon the Rubik’s Cube was fascinating children and adults worldwide.

“It’s just a cube. But it has such mathematical complexity, I think that contradiction is what makes it interesting,” Hoffman said.

“There are so many possibilities of patterns, that there are so many different possible to achieve the same position,” Rubik said.

The exhibit includes cubes of all shapes and sizes, from Rubik’s original wooden model to an 18-karat, $2.5 million version, as well as interactive challenges and a robot that solves scrambled cubes.

“It’s more than a toy. It’s a question waiting to be answered, it’s a problem waiting to be solved. And it doesn’t matter how complex it gets, you know that the answer’s out there,” said Robert Wong.

The exhibit aims to pique kids’ interest in math, science and engineering. The key to solving the Rubik’s Cube is in patterns and logic. It can be done in just 20 twists, if you know the right ones. But clearly it’s easier said than done.

“It’s language-less. It comes with no instructions. That’s why it’s crossed every border. Even though it’s maddeningly hard to do, you know what it is you’re supposed to do,” Hoffman said.

And that is why the allure of the Rubik’s Cube’s has lasted for decades, with no end in sight.