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Ernő Rubik, 1975, the Academy of Applied Arts and Crafts, Budapest.
“The Magic Cube”: Hungarian Patent No. HU170062.
26 injection-molded cubes linked to a nylon core, creating a 3 x 3 x 3 framework of interlocking parts that can potentially spawn 43, 252, 003, 274, 489, 856, 000 configurations – more if you were to dismantle it and go off-road, think outside the box. In 1980, the American toy company Ideal (‘inventors’ of the Teddy Bear!) rebranded / relaunched it as “Rubik’s Cube” for a fad-hungry Western market.
So, Rubik’s Cube: a teaching tool that became a toy that became a product – the best-selling puzzle-toy of all time, in fact – that then became a memory-object, an 80s icon-signifier of…something.
Rubik’s Cube started life as a hard-engineered object grown in an academic Design-orientated environment, then evolved – shapeshifted – into a softer-edged analogue of itself: a commodity designed to invoke neuro-addictive physical and mental engagement. But then it seems to have softened even further: the passing of Time does that to…things: it rotates them, reveals unexpected new facets. Sometimes they even disappear completely.
In 2012, Rubik’s Cube now seems less like an object and more like an idea, an image or a memory. It inhabits some weird, post-physical, quasi-historical hinterland; what’s it do? What’s it for? – somehow, it has turned itself into another kind of puzzle, one that’s trickier to solve because it no longer seems to have any solid meaning or obvious end-point. What is it, exactly, this Rubik’s Cube…thing? These days, there as as many answers as the cube has sides. Does the Rubik represent some idealised, Top100-TV version of the 1980s? Is it a celebration of abstract cerebrality? The Common Man’s version of Chess? A proto-nerd plaything – the ultimate, pre-iMac Ur-Geek Toy – the commodified embodiment of Mankind’s embedded need to solve puzzles?