Even at the tender age of 29, Erno lived with his mother. The architect professor spent many an hour in his Hungarian bedroom fiddling with things: puzzles, games, and mazes of his own invention. His most intricate contraption made him the only millionaire in Hungary. By tediously hand carving and sanding 26 little "cubies" out of the finest wood, designing a tricky intricate internal structure, and adhering the stickiest of colored adhesive paper to each of the six sides, Rubik's Cube, the icon of innocent pastimes, was born.
Erno describes the cube, in Eurobabble, as "a wild beast at rest, a tiger in repose, its power lurking." The tiger hasn't frightened many folk, but the task of unscrambling its baffling mosaic is no small charge. In fact, exploration of the most effective solutions has captivated droves of bored mathematicians, particularly a hoity-toity British nerd by the name of Morwen B. Thistlewaite. Thistlewaite discovered the mode known as God's algorithm, which provides a solution in a minimum of 52 strokes of the wrist. Of course, Thistlewaite's method pales in comparison with the peel-off-the-stickers technique, but it doesn't disable your cube as that method does.
Rubik's Cube is perhaps the most widely appreciated piece of pop art in the past century. Copyrighted by Ideal Toy in 1980, the estimated number of discombobulated cubers peaked at 100 million by 1982. Even at 8 bones a crack, it was deemed the fastest selling toy on the globe. This lifeless, sexless hunk of non-biodegradable material became the subject of songs, hundreds of books (1st, 2nd, and 4th places simultaneously on the New York Times paperback best-seller list), a Saturday Night Live commercial (Rubik's Grenade), a Saturday morning cartoon (Rubik the Amazing Cube), and physics and math classes world-wide. Competitions inevitably followed, spawning expert solvers called "Cubic Rubes." The champion rube was a 16-year old Vietnamese who completed the feat in a record 22.95 seconds. With an estimated 43 quintillion wrong solutions, that's fairly impressive, even if he used a lubricated cube.
Just as the first of the $4 million started pouring into Rubik's poetic pockets, havoc stormed the American Federal Courts when a man by the name of Larry D. Nichols claimed to have patented a similar puzzle in 1972. He charged The Man with patenting Rubik's ingenious design four years after his own. A federal judge supported Nichols's case, and $60 million for damages is still pending. In any case, the public's short-lived sympathy for Nichols was overshadowed by its enthusiasm for Rubik's new products, such as the key-chain version of the original and Rubik's Snake.