August/September 2012 •
GOOD TIMES –
Puzzle helped end communismfor one Eastern European country
By Paul Niemann 2012
This story is about the creationof a puzzle and its Hungarian in-ventor who has an unusual name.And it all began in 1980.Think back to what was hap-pening in the 1980’s: RonaldReagan was President, disco wason its way out and the Cubs werelosing most of their games. OK, sosome things never change.This puzzle was so revolution-ary that it helped Hungary convertfrom communism to capitalism.How?There were two ways: First, thexport sales of the puzzle between1981 to 1985 were so large that itmade it clear that the Hungarianconomy needed to change fromommunism to capitalism.Second, a popular Hungarianauthor wrote a musical play aboutthe puzzle. The play lasted forthree seasons in Budapest and wasritical of the communist regime.There were a number of strangeincidents surrounding the puzzle,too. For example, one man spentso much time trying to solve it that
his wife led for divorce, blaming
it on the puzzle.A football game in Connecticutwas delayed because one of theplayers didn’t show up in time forthe opening kickoff. He was laterfound trying to solve the puzzle inthe locker room.A seven-year old Norwegianboy could solve the puzzle, but hecouldn’t explain how he did it.There was even a TV seriesin the U.S. about the puzzle. Itappeared on ABC from 1983 to1984.This multi-colored puzzlehas 43,252,003,274,489,856,000(that’s 43 quintrillion) different
possible congurations, but only
one that is correct.But that’s nothing comparedto the fact that two new medicalconditions came about as a resultof people spending so much timetrying to solve the puzzle.Yet, despite all of this, themajor toy companies rejected it
at rst! Then when the Ideal Toy
Company took it on in 1980, theysold more than 100 million units
in the rst three years.
What was the inventor’s un-usual name?Erno Rubik. As in Rubik’sCube.At one point, one out of everyeight people IN THE WORLD hadtried to solve Rubik’s Cube. Veryfew have succeeded, though. I re-member the contest that we hadin the early 1980’s in high schoolheld by our popular English teach-er, Mr. Preston. There were threecontestants – also known as Cub-ists – who could each solve theCube in about a minute. The Ger-man exchange student would rou-tinely solve the Cube while barelyeven looking at it.Here are a few other facts thatyou might not have known aboutRubik’s Cube:
•It was originally named the
“Magic Cube” in Hungary beforeIdeal began selling it in America.
•According to a poll, 85% of
Americans are familiar with Ru-bik’s Cube.
•The world record for solving
the Cube in the shortest amount of time is 23 seconds.
•The two medical conditions
that occurred as a result of peoplespending too much time trying tosolve the Cube are known as theCubist’s thumb and Rubik’s wrist.
•Erno Rubik became the rst
self-made millionaire in the com-munist bloc.What ever happened to him?He’s alive and doing well inHungary.
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