This is common knowledge, but it dawned on me again this morning when the New York Times ran a profile of Erno Rubik, the 76-year-old inventor of the Rubik’s Cube. A shy Hungarian architecture professor, Rubik created the cube when he was 29 and spent a maddening month trying to solve it (there are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 combinations but only one solution).
Since then, there have been 350 million cubes sold across the globe, not counting knockoffs. Hundreds of books analyzing the cube’s design and sharing speed-solving strategies have been written. There’s a World Cube Association that hosts over 1,000 annual speed-cubing competitions. To this day, YouTubers and TikTokers post videos of themselves juggling, skydiving, and playing piano, all while solving cubes.
Rubik has just written his first book, Cubed, which looks at his life and his invention but is more focused on why people are so obsessed with it. “What really interested me was not the nature of the cube, but the nature of people, the relationship between people and the cube,” he told the Times. “I’m very close to the cube. The cube was growing up next to me and right now, it’s middle-aged, so I know a lot about it.”
Cubed is Rubik’s first real foray into the public eye. He still sometimes tinkers with the cube but mostly spends his time these days reading, playing table tennis, and taking care of his cacti: “They have wonderful flowers and long life spans,” he told the paper. Of the book, he seems a little nervous about the impending attention: “I’m not the person who loves to be in the spotlight and so on and so forth,” he says. “The cube loves attention; I don’t. He is eager to interact with everyone; I sometimes find this a bit difficult. He’s quite ambitious; I am less so.”