Forty years later, the Rubik's Cube still puzzles

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who can solve a Rubik's Cube and those who can't.

I, for one, belong in the latter camp — and was relieved to hear the Cube's inventor, Erno Rubik, say that's OK.

"To solve it independently is a really hard task, partly because (people) don't have enough patience," the Hungarian architect told me this week. He added that I could easily change: "Nowadays it's different than when it was introduced; you can learn it, you can find lots of things on the Internet. The combined power of the mind is much stronger than individual ones."

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Rubik's Cube, which has sold more than 350 million units worldwide. Rubik, 69, visited the States this week to help launch a 7,000-square-foot interactive exhibition devoted to the Cube. Opening tomorrow at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J., and created in partnership with Google, Beyond Rubik's Cube celebrates the design, engineering and mathematics of the puzzle.

"I believe the inspiring power of the Cube is exhibited here," Rubik says. "The Cube is, in some ways, like a white piece of paper. You have the wish to do something, to write on it, to discover the new possibilities. ... But in other ways the Cube is a really finished object, because if you add something or take apart something, it will be less."

Highlights of the exhibit include Rubik's original wooden prototype; a car-sized, walk-in Rubik's Cube; and a robot that solves the Cube in seconds. Visitors can also see a jewel-encrusted Rubik's Cube valued at $2.5 million and a "Solve Bar" that teaches them how to conquer the Cube.

"It's taking ideas that are in Rubik's Cube, letting you play with them and hopefully discovering or creating things of your own," says Paul Hoffman, the Center's president and CEO and the exhibit's creative director.

Interestingly, Rubik says he didn't set out to create a puzzle when he started working on the Cube. His primary goal was to put an object in motion; later, he consulted mathematicians to find out if his invention contained a solvable task.

"It's an engineering work," he says. "The Cube is a very special object, because the structure makes it capable to move much more freely than a regular joint. From the 26 pieces, 20 are moving absolutely free."

Over the years Rubik has come up with variations on the Cube — the flat Rubik's Magic, the spherical Rubik's 360 — but none has enjoyed the success or longevity of the original.

And why is that? The inventor offers a somewhat philosophical answer.

"The Cube is full of contradictions," he says. "Humans like contradictions, because that makes life interesting and enjoyable. The Cube is very simple and very complex at the same time."


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