Most people love to solve problems, which is why jigsaw puzzles, riddles, labyrinths, and other types of head scratchers are in high demand. But, perhaps, no other toy stirs our craving for problem solving quite like The Rubik’s Cube. When it’s scrambled, all six of its color-organized sides and fifty-four individual squares fall out of order; the goal is to restore it.
With more than 43 quintillion possibilities, some people think trying to solve The Rubik’s Cube as an unreasonably difficult task, but many others spend countless hours shifting its sides until the pieces are put in the right configuration: reds with the reds, greens with the greens, so on and so forth. To them, the thrill is in the process.
The infamous toy was invented by Erno Rubik in 1974. The Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor meant for it to be a tool his students could use to better understand three dimensional problems. But, for the next month, it became his most exciting hobby; the twenty-nine-year-old played around with the cube, attempting to restore its original color scheme. After he managed to solve the cube, he prepared to share his invention with the world.
First called The Magic Cube and later renamed The Rubik’s Cube, the toy quickly gained momentum. It was discovered by Tom Kremer at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in 1979; he understood its potential and convinced Ideal Toy Company to take up its distribution. Sales were in the millions by 1981 and the first Rubik’s Cube World Championship was held in 1982, “with a winning solve time of 22.95 seconds.”
The next speedcubing World Championship didn’t take place until 2003. Since then, however, the competition has occurred every two years, with more and more people joining in every time. Over the years, the competition, fans, and even the cubes themselves have evolved into something new. But, the biggest change has to do with the competitors themselves.
Roberta Gonçalves Pereira is a 27-year-old competitor from Kent, England. While other women her age may spend their free time at sports games or relaxing at the pub with friends, Pereira is all about speedcubing. Recently, she beat her own record, solving the cube in 13.95 seconds. When it takes someone less time to solve a cube than it takes to order a drink at Starbucks, you know they’re a well-practiced cuber.
But, even with that time, she’s hardly one of the fastest cubers in the world. In this competition milliseconds mean everything, and she’s got a long way to go before she catches up to the likes of Australian speedcuber Feliks Zemdegs, who holds the current fastest time at 4.22 seconds*. One of the things going for Pereira, though, is that she became good pretty fast, starting out speedcubing just two years ago.
“It was really quite random, actually,” she says, recounting the first time she tried solving the cube. While going through an emotionally difficult point, she needed a distraction, “something to keep [her] mind busy.” One evening, she found an old cube in her house. “I remember when I was a kid, my friend’s dad [solved] it in something like a minute. I had always wanted to know how to solve The Rubik’s Cube, but never had the determination until that evening.”
She remembers going to YouTube to find a tutorial. That night, she learned how to solve the first layer of the cube. She immediately realized that the old, stiff cube she was using wasn’t doing her any favors. That night, she ordered a new cube made out of better materials and picked it up the next day, solving the cube for the first time.
“I started to understand the logical aspects to the puzzle, and wrote down all [of] the algorithms I needed to memorize...I did find it challenging at first, but being able to solve parts of it without help made me feel excited. Within four days, I could solve it completely from memory and I was hooked. Before I knew it, I was buying different shapes and sizes of cubes and trying them all out.”
At the time of this interview, Pereira was getting ready for a cubing competition in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. For this event, she entered the 3x3, 4x4, and the 3x3 one-handed sections. The numbers account for how many squares are on each side of the cube, and the one-handed qualifier is just what it sounds like.
“The cubing community is really welcoming, kind, and funny,” she says, “it’s full of people who are meeting up with friends they’ve made at previous competitions as well as people making new friends.” Most participants choose to focus on their own best times rather than getting caught up in the competition. Just as well, the cubing world has found ways to change and add to the challenge of solving the cube.
“The makers of the latest speedcubes are so innovative... GAN Cube, a very popular speedcubing brand, recently introduced a cube with removable magnets, whilst MoYu released a cube with ridges for better grip. It’s things like this that keep cubers wanting to buy more cubes, challenge themselves and their friends in the community, and strive to be better.”
To prepare for the competition, Pereira plans to get in some extra practice. “[I usually practice] on my lunch breaks at work, and whenever I can fit it in during the weeknights and weekends,” she says. “There are so many ways to solve the cube. And you can always improve; you can always learn new algorithms or methods to solve faster. So, it’s like a never-ending learning experience.”
And maybe that’s what makes the the cube so special, it’s complex and yet so simple. Today, almost 50 years since its creation, The Rubik’s Cube is one of history’s most successful commercial toys, with more than 350 million cubes sold and counting. It has attained pop icon status, became a recognizable symbol of 1980s Americana, and even grew into a competitive sport. Plus, it also birthed an entirely new culture of gaming and problem solving.
Note* One week after this interview, Yusheng Du set the new world record for fastest 3x3 cube solve at 3.47 seconds. | All Rubik's Cube images and videos are copyrighted property of Rubiks Brand Ltd & Ernő Rubik