It’s synonymous with the 1980s, and it has taxed the minds of hundreds of millions across the world. We’re talking, of course, about the Rubik’s Cube- if you don’t know what it is, then you must have been living on Mars for the last few decades. But how many of us actually know where the Rubik’s Cube actually comes from? To educate you, we’ve put together this bite-sized history of the world’s most beloved puzzle!

Birth of a Brainteaser

As the name suggests, the Rubik’s Cube was invented by Erno Rubik from Hungary in 1974. While nowadays the Rubik’s Cube is seen solely as a fun toy, it actually was intended for more serious use. Rubik was an architect, who wanted a way to explain 3D geometry. However, once he had put the cube together, he found a problem- he couldn’t put the pieces back together properly! What was intended as a simple demonstrational tool turned out in practice to be a tricky puzzle.

Even though the Cube clearly wasn’t suitable for its intended purpose, Rubik found himself hooked. He spent the following month trying to solve it, and eventually he managed it by first solving the corners of each side. It’s a miracle that he managed it, since there are 43 quintillion different ways the cube can be arranged!

While Rubik knew he had a future hit on his hands, it took a few years for the Cube to reach a wider market. At the time, Hungary was still under Communist rule, so it wasn’t until 1979 that he was able to display it at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in 1979. It was quickly spotted by the Ideal Toy Corp as a great idea, and they licensed it the following year.

Initially, Rubik had named his puzzle the “Magic Cube”, and it was quite a bit heavier than the toy we now know and love. Ideal Toys made it lighter, and considered calling it the “Gordian Knot” or “Inca Gold”. Eventually, though, they decided that Rubik himself should take the glory for his wondrous invention, and it was given its final name- the Rubik’s Cube!

The Biggest Puzzle In The World

It was in the early 1980s that the Rubik’s Cube became an international phenomenon. Thanks to a widespread marketing campaign from Ideal Toys, the Cube craze swept the globe, and between 1980 and 1983, around 200 million of them were sold. People soon found out that the Cube had got the better of them, and savvy publishers took advantage by producing how-to guides to help people solve the puzzle. At the height of the Rubik’s Cube craze in 1981, an incredible three different books on how to solve the Rubik’s Cube were listed in the New York Times’ bestseller list!

So-called “speedcubing” has been around almost as long as the Cube itself. The first speedcubing competition was held in Munich in 1981, organized by the Guiness Book of Records. The craze died down the following year, but like so many icons of yesteryear, it’s made a comeback. A steady stream of speedcubing tournaments have been held since 2002, and sales figures reached 15 million in 2008. Part of this resurgence in popularity can be put down to the internet, as Rubik’s Cube fans from across the world share strategies with each other and show off their speedcubing skills.

If you find the standard 3x3x3 cube a bit too easy, then you could always try something more challenging. In 2003, Greek inventor Panagiotis Verdes created cubes ranging from a formidable 5x5x5 configuration to a next to impossible 11x11x11 version. It’s clear that the Rubik’s Cube is just as popular as ever, and it continues to confound new generations of puzzle fans to this day.