IF YOU ARE among the relatively few who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in mere seconds, then you are one of the lucky ones. And if you can resist the call of the tint-spinning toy, then you, too, can consider yourself fortunate.
The rest of us, meanwhile, are going to blow endless collective hours today on Google‘s interactive Doodle that turns on both a toy’s design brilliance and a puzzle’s powerful nostalgia.
On Monday, the tech titan presents a playable (and shareable) Doodle to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Rubik’s Cube, which was created by Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor Erno Rubik in the spring of 1974, when he spent weeks trying to solve his own invention.
“It was wonderful to see how, after only a few turns, the colors became mixed, apparently in random fashion,” Rubik, a 29-year-old at the time, once said. “It was tremendously satisfying to watch this color parade.
“Like after a nice walk when you have seen many lovely sights you decide to go home, after a while I decided it was time to go home — let us put the [26 linked] cubes back in order,” recalled this design-scholar son of an engineer father and poet mother. “And it was at that moment that I came face to face with the big challenge: What is the way home?”
The next year, Rubik applied for a patent, which was approved in 1977. By making a deal with a toy company, he was able to get his block beyond the Communist bloc, and popularity skyrocketed, as the once-wooden toy, initially dubbed “the Magic Cube,” was honed, perfected and renamed till it became a small, colorful, kitschy symbol of the go-go ’80s — and reportedly the bestselling puzzle toy ever. Roughly one out of eight people on the planet, by some estimates, have tried their hand at solving the cube.
Mr. Rubik himself would demonstrate his cube at toy and trade shows, and said he could routinely solve the puzzle within a minute — a slow time comparably, he has admitted, given the sub-six seconds record that has since been set. (His elegant object spawned not only Rubik’s Cubism art, but also the competitive sport of Speedcubing.)
Because millions of us are north of the inventor’s time, much workday production will be lost — though perhaps not as much as several years back, when Google offered an interactive Pac-Man Doodle. By one estimate, at least, nearly 5-million collective hours were lost to the video game as playable home-page art.
“Erno has always thought of the Cube primarily as an object of art, a mobile sculpture symbolizing stark contrasts of the human condition: bewildering problems and triumphant intelligence; simplicity and complexity; stability and dynamism; order and chaos,” according to the website Rubiks.com.
“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you,” Rubik, now 69, has said. “If you are determined, you will solve them.”
Today, by the millions, curious minds will turn to Google. And how many will turn so often that they will determinedly solve the Doodle?
That, for teachers and parents and employers the world over today, will be its own challenge of a puzzle.