It was one of the first major crazes of the 1980s and, along with synth pop, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, deelyboppers, and the ZX Spectrum, gave youngsters hours of enjoyment.
What was it?
Rubik’s Cube, of course.
Invented in Hungary in 1974 by one Erno Rubik, the original name of this puzzle was “Magic Cube”.
Magic Cube hit Budapest toyshops just before Christmas 1977.
In January and February 1980, Magic Cube made its international debut at the toy fairs of London, Paris, Nuremberg and New York. But there were problems. The Cube did not conform to Western World safety and packaging standards.
Magic Cube was remanufactured - and a lighter and easier to manipulate version produced. I have an old Hungarian Magic Cube which I bought on eBay, and it is much heavier than the 1980 version.
The new lighter cube was renamed “Rubik’s Cube” by Ideal Toys and the trade mark was registered in Britain on 7/5/1980. However, a tremendous shortage ensured that supplies did not start arriving until just before Christmas, and even then the country was not fully stocked until the spring of 1981.
From then on the Cube was everywhere. It winked and smirked at us wherever we looked. Brightly coloured, so friendly-looking, like a tiny tot’s toy - surely it was a doddle to solve? But hours grimly twisting away at it convinced us otherwise.
I was a pupil at the Manor School (now Manor Community College) in 1981, when the school was beaten in the Rubik’s Cube contest with Chesterton School (now Chesterton Community College) detailed in the CEN article above.We wanted to be "good sports", but there was some anguished wailing and gnashing of teeth around the Manor. It was not a good end to the school year for us!
Still, the Rubik's Cube craze continued...
In December 1981, the CEN reported:
For toy shops and some lucky manufacturers 1981 has undoubtedly been the Year of the Cube.
Appropriately enough, the last day of the year is the date for a lecture on the subject by Dr Frank H King as part of the Cambridge Holiday Lectures Association’s programme for 11-19 year olds at the Engineering Department in Trumpington Street.
“So you know how a Rubic [sic] Cube is made; you can unbundled it in a minute or two and you can produce a host of pretty patterns…” run the programme’s notes, which are plainly not addressed to the likes of me.
Such has been the demand for Dr King’s lecture that there have been two extra printing runs of tickets. By the beginning of the week 422 young people had applied.
To me, it now seems amazing to recall that back then just about everybody you met was absolutely fascinated by, absolutely mad to solve, a small plastic puzzle.
Whilst the trademark was registered in the UK in May 1980, Rubik's Cube did not actually hit our toyshops until just before Christmas. Aware of the tremendous amount of interest from consumers, the British Association of Toy Retailers named it Toy of the Year 1980 - a title it won again when the country was fully stocked in 1981.
2005 - a 25th anniversary Rubik's Cube.