Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Memory Bank: Rubik's Cube and Friends

In 1980 and 1981, I began my time in Glen Ridge Middle School, and it’s a span I still remember rather vividly today, in part because of the weird pop-culture fads of that era, from Pac Man and the Smurfs to the unforgettable Rubik’s Cube. 

In the fact, those early years in the Reagan Era brought a whole variety of complex “combination” puzzles to the marketplace, and to this day, I recall my classmates and friends bringing them to school and, between classes, fiddling incessantly with them.

The most famous of these puzzles remains, of course, Rubik’s Cube, a puzzle which was created by a gentleman named Eno Rubik in 1977, but was released widely in America by Ideal Toys in 1980. 

I’ll be honest: it took me a painfully long time to learn to solve the Rubik’s Cube at age 10, but I had at least two close friends who could do it lickety-split.  In fact, watching my friends Scott and Bob solve the damn thing, I probably had my earliest realization in life that there were other children who, well, were a lot smarter than me; or at the very least possessed a different skill set.  This isn't actually a bad thing to learn at a young age.  We all have different gifts.

Anyway the success of the Rubik’s Cube inspired a spell of absolute pop culture madness in America, and it quickly became the world’s top-selling puzzle, and by some accounts even the world’s best-selling toy.  

Soon, Ideal released a variation called “Rubik’s Snake” and then followed that up with a fearsome puzzle (which I never learned to solve…) called “Rubik’s Revenge.”

In 1983, Rubik’s Cube even became the star of a short-lived Saturday Morning TV series on ABC called Rubik the Amazing Cube.  The series followed the adventures of a character named Rubik who landed mysteriously on Earth had magical powers that would activate when all of his sides were correctly aligned.  The then-pop sensation Menudo provided the theme song.

In toy stores, Rubik’s Cube knock-offs proliferated.  There was the Pyraminx, a pyramid or tetrahedral-shaped puzzle from Tomy Toys, which I owned and kept for some years.  

And then there was another puzzle called “Missing Link,” an invention of Steven P. Hanson and Jeffrey D. Breslow. 

Finally, the easiest of the bunch was called “Whip It” (from LJN) and I owned one of those on a key-chain.  I comforted myself with the knowledge that I could solve Whip It and Missing Link easily, while Rubik’s Cube took me the better part of an hour. 

Looking back, it's amazing and very cool to think that a brain-teaser -- a toy that depended on intelligence and curiosity -- became so popular an item at the same time that cable television and video games were taking off.

These days, I’ve been thinking seriously about getting Joel a Rubik’s Cube, and I’m sure he’ll do a better job solving it at age six than his old man did thirty years ago.  Below are some videos and commercials from the great era of Rubik's Cube.


  1. I can't remember for how long, but That's Incredible used to have the Rubik's master of the last five minutes on each week to show his skills. I was always terrible at those things, but that's why they invented Activision. Star Master!

  2. Yep, I remember this item well. Never really could solve the damn thing. Still, fun to while away the hours with it back then. Interesting timing, too. I recently re-watched Tomas Alfredson's 2008 Swedish romantic horror film, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and it used a Rubik's Cube as a prop and plot point. Good memories, John.

  3. I had all of them--and I could solve them, too!

    --Rich Handley