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Curiosity Cubed

How Erno Rubik invented one of the world's most famous puzzles—and why we can all benefit from play and curiosity.

Simon Moricz-Sabjan
Simon Moricz-Sabjan

Imagine being the first person to come face to face with a Rubik’s cube—and confront the challenge of creating six orderly colored sides from utter chaos. This singular experience belongs to the cube’s inventor, Erno Rubik. Born in Budapest, Hungary, Rubik carried his love of puzzles from childhood through his career as an architecture professor. His cube, created in 1974, emerged from the desire to illustrate a geometric problem—and it took him about a month to solve. The cube has since exploded in popularity, becoming an enduring phenomenon and sparking competitive speed-cubing—whose champions can now complete the puzzle in under five seconds. Rubik’s book, Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All, chronicles his journey.

Why do people love puzzles?

Puzzles bring out important qualities in each of us: curiosity, concentration, play, the eagerness to discover a solution. They aren’t just entertainment or devices to kill time. For us, as for our ancestors, they point the way to our creative potential.

What really interests me is being surprised by little things that we would normally take for granted. Of course, we’re surprised when a magician pulls a rabbit from a seemingly empty hat. We have no idea how he does it, but we do know that there must be a simple explanation. It was the opposite when an apple fell from a tree and Newton thought to ask, “Why?” An inventor needs to ask how and why about things people take for granted.

I believe that curiosity is a natural attitude throughout our lives. But the knowledge we painstakingly acquire can suppress the tendency to question “facts” that we’ve already learned. We need to consciously cultivate curiosity and never feel too tired or embarrassed to ask question after question.