Rubik's Cube

An original early 1980s Rubik's Cube. The British Association of Toy Retailers noted the intense interest in the Cube upon its arrival in late 1980 and named it Toy Of The Year as a huge Cube shortage began. There simply were not enough to go round! In the spring of 1981, the country was finally fully stocked and the Cube won Toy Of The Year for the second year running.

I can't. 

The Cube was invented by Erno Rubik of Hungary in 1974, and he called it the "Magic Cube".

Was "A Simple Approach To The Magic Cube" by Bridget Last, published in 1980 by Tarquin Publications of Diss, Norfolk, the first Cube book published in England? Middle pictures - old Hungarian Magic Cubes occasionally turn up on eBay. There are fascinating differences in the look, weight and feel of the Magic Cube when compared to the Rubik's Cube. Far right - a magazine ad for the Hungarian Magic Cube from March 1981, dating to the time of the worldwide shortage of the new Rubik's Cubes. 

The first test batches of the Magic Cube were finally released in Budapest, Hungary, then very much "behind the Iron Curtain", just before Christmas 1977. In 1978, the Cube started to become popular in Hungary. Small numbers of Magic Cubes passed beyond Hungarian borders, and there was growing interest amongst academics and puzzle fans lucky enough to encounter it in the Western World. But the vast majority of us remained ignorant of the puzzle's existence.

The Magic Cube debuted at the international toy fairs of London, Paris, Nuremberg and New York in January and February 1980, and was then re-manufactured to Western World safety standards and packaging norms. The new version was lighter and easier to manipulate.

Just prior to its Western World release, Ideal Toys decided to rename the newly re-manufactured 1980 version of the Cube. "Inca Gold" and "The Gordian Knot" were two of the names suggested, but "Rubik's Cube" was chosen.

Mathematician David Singmaster wrote:

... the Magic Cube is now being sold as Rubik's Cube... [the Ideal Toy Corp.] has renamed the cube as 'Rubik's Cube' on the grounds that 'magic' tends to be associated with magic.

The Rubik's Cube trademark was registered in England on 7 May 1980, but due to a shortage, supplies did not start arriving here until just before Christmas. Many of us were entranced by it, but the shortage stretched on into 1981 and it was spring before the country was fully stocked.
The puzzle celebrated 25 years as Rubik's Cube in 2005.

Detail from the 25th anniversary Rubik's Cube, 2005.

Erno Rubik's wonderful puzzle made it on to the cover of Scientific American in March 1981, with a "computer graphical display" image of the Cube and, inside, an article by Douglas R Hafstadter.

Interestingly enough, although the Scientific American article refers to the puzzle being marketed as "Rubik's Cube" (as it was from 1980 onwards), most of Mr Hofstadter's references are to the "Magic Cube".
Like most of us, 13-year-old Patrick Bossert had trouble obtaining a Rubik's Cube when they were first released in England in late 1980. There was an acute shortage. He finally secured one in March 1981 and had soon gained a bit of a reputation as a Cube Master at his school. You Can Do The Cube followed - it was published in June 1981 and became the year's bestseller. By the end of the year, it had been reprinted (at least) fourteen times, and Patrick went on to make a cube-solving video. 

The man himself - Erno Rubik. 
The Sunday Times Magazine "photo-review" of 1981.
The Cube certainly made a monkey out of me!

From the Cambridge Evening News, England, 15 July 1981.

From the Daily Mirror, 12/8/1981. The article reminds me that "Rubik's Cube" was just as commonly known as "the Rubik Cube" back then. The official name, chosen by Ideal Toys back in 1980, was the former.

A how to solve the Rubik's Cube video from 1981...

... featuring a leggy, lip-glossed female Cubist...

... an in-depth explanation of what makes a Rubik Cube twist...

... and two little boys - the dark haired one looks rather as though he's wearing hairspray to me.

The helpful narrator reminded us that we were watching a video tape (fat chance of that for most of us back in 1981) and so could rewind it if we missed any points, and a cheap disco soundtrack kept the whole thing groovin'.

By the way, I followed the tape's instructions and my Cube still ended up a mess.

As well as a plethora of "how to solve the Cube" books, there was also this...

Joan Smith's Great Cube Race was a 1982 children's story about a school's Rubik's Cube contest... 

"I'm over half way there," said Ollie pleased, going through the moves again between mouthfuls of fish pie. Brr-ik, Brr-ik went the Cube confidently.

"Not while we're eating please," said Dad. "I can't stand the sight or sound of that toy."

"They say it helps with maths," said Mum.

Ollie thought this meant that it was safe to go on and he ran through the pattern once more putting the blue and yellow edge in place. Brr-ik. Brr-ik.

"PUT THAT DOWN," shouted Dad, "or I'll scramble you up so thoroughly that even the winner of the race couldn't put you straight again."

Ollie put the Cube down beside the salt, but Dad could not bear to have it so close to him, and hid it behind the curtain.

People were doing the Cube absolutely everywhere - as this newspaper article from the "Sun", May 13, 1982, shows! 

If you were not particularly clever, not at all mathematically minded, but managed to solve the Rubik's Cube, and were sitting there, all smug and complacent, 1982 had a surprise in store for you - the release of the even harder Rubik's Revenge! Happy days!


  1. I have never been able to do that stupid cube!!

  2. I love Rubik's Cube because the mere sight of one brings back many '80s memories... but I can't do it!

  3. I've just discovered this blog and what an awesome trip back to the '80s! And yes I had the Patrick Bossert Rubik's Cube book. Can't remember if I managed to ever solve it, though.

  4. I'm glad you like the blog. Rubik's Cube was awesome. In appearance it was brightly coloured and looked simple to solve - like a child's toy... but in reality!

  5. I had Patrick Bossart's book and it really did help to solve the puzzle.

  6. Enjoyed reading this, thanks. Where did you get those pictures of the early Hungarian cube marketed by Pentangle? Do you have more images?

    1. The Magic Cube is mine. It is strikingly different to the Rubik's Cube, heavier, and whilst early 1980s Rubik's Cubes seem in perfect working order and I can twist them with ease, the Magic Cube seems in danger of falling apart if manipulated in any direction!

  7. Indeed, best kept as a collector piece. Look after it as they are pretty hard to come by these days.

    1. They are so fragile, I'm not surprised! It's amazing that the original Rubik's Cubes of the early 1980s are still capable of giving such sterling service. I have one produced in 1980 according to its packaging, so it is one of the first ever made, and it works beautifully. My original Magic Cube seems like a flawed prototype by comparison.

  8. The original Magic Cubes were made between 1977 - 79 from completely different moulds to those used by Ideal Toys for the 1980 onward version. ITC realised the early version of the cube had to be refined if it was to be commercially successful. There are also quality differences in the 1980 onwards ITC cubes as some were made in Hungary and a lot made in various Asian countries. Did you buy your Pentangle cube from Optikos (the ad in the picture)?

    1. Lovely to find a fellow Cube enthusiast, Jonathan! The Hungarian Magic Cubes were made until early 1980. I have more history of the Cube here which you may like -

      I got my Hungarian Magic Cube from an internet auction about ten years ago. I do have original 1980s Rubik's Cubes manufactured in several different countries and all are working. I remember that there was a flood of "pirate" cubes in 1981 and 1982 - and I can't vouch for them!

  9. Yes, I share a passion for the cube and it's amazing history. I've got a pretty big collection of vintage Magic Cubes by Politechnika/Politoys and Rubik's cubes by Ideal Toy Corp. Really enjoyed reading your history page - thanks. By the way, Wonderful Puzzler in Taiwan were responsible for a lot of the cheap copies and I have to say, they are not bad quality at all! Genuine Rubiks cube's though, had that wonderful creaky sound when turning.

    1. Wonderful Puzzler! That name rings a bell! I agree with you though, the crrkk crrkk sound of a genuine '80s Rubik's Cube is so much a part of the experience - and my happy memories of the craze!

      The history truly is amazing. In the days before the World Wide Web, the world seemed so much larger and so much went unheard of by the vast majority of us - and, of course, Hungary was "behind the Iron Curtain". The story of the Cube is fascinating - and the way it is now used as the main icon of the entire 1980s decade is truly astounding. Happy days!