The Rubik’s Cube - everyone can solve it!

Back to the future; listening to mix-tapes with a Walkman; playing Tetris… those of a certain age will be instantly taken back to a childhood in the 1980s. However, the picture is not complete without the 1980 toy of the year, the complex but colourful Rubik’s Cube!

Invented by Hungarian architect Erno Rubik in the late 1970s, his intentions were originally to create a working model for three-dimensional geometry. Rubik himself was at first puzzled by his creation: the more he shuffled the different colours the more mixed they became, and with good reason – there are over 43 quintillion different ways they can be arranged. After weeks of rearranging he eventually found the solution and decided to remarket the cube as a toy, an unlikely hit that became one of the best-selling games of the early 80s.

Rubik’s invention has stood the test of time and remains a popular gift today. It’s a present any young problem solver or math enthusiast is sure to have unwrapped one Christmas or birthday (and if not, there’s an idea for you!). However, just like for its creator, this is sure to be followed by hours of frustrating twisting and turning in the search for a solution.

By contrast, there are robots who can solve the cube in under a second.  While great to watch, it can be disheartening to see after weeks of failed attempts. However, we can learn from the computer’s success! Like with any function, the robot or computer completes tasks by following a series of algorithms, “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations”. These rules are simple, and we can follow them too - just nowhere near as quickly as a machine. In the case of the Rubik’s cube, following the steps in seconds may still be impossible, but doing so in minutes is not so unrealistic!  

There are many websites, books and videos that provide tutorials for solving. There remains the small task of committing the techniques to memory but once the methods can be recalled without aid then the cube has officially been conquered!

For those inspired to take their problem solving further there are plenty of possibilities. The Rubik’s cube is now available in a variety of sizes and shapes, each posing extra problems and requiring fresh thinking. Alternatively, there are different strategies for solving the classic 3x3x3, while mastering the more complex ones can lead to competitive speed solving. Finally, for those who really enjoy a challenge, there are also blindfolded competitions!