Don't call it a comeback: Rubik's Cubes are still cool after all these years.
Forty-four years after the perplexing toy was created, the first Red Bull Rubik’s Cube World Championship will take place Saturday at the Cyclorama Center for the Arts in Boston, where more than 40 cubers from more than 12 countries will compete for the title – squaring off to solve a variety of twisty puzzles as fast as possible.
The current record-holder for what's known as speedcubing, Feliks Zemdegs (4.22 seconds), is expected to attend, along with the Rubik's Cube inventor, Erno Rubik. Players from the U.S., China, Germany, Russia, India, Japan and other countries will vie for a portion of the $30,000 prize pool.
"It's very special. It's the first time that there were qualifiers all over the world. We're organizing a visual event that's great for the participants and for the wider public," Rubik said.
Titles will be awarded in four categories, one of which is "Fastest Hand," where players solve the Cube using one hand. For the first time, there is a category that consists solely of female competitors.
"The whole thing has traditionally been organized by boys, but we have assembled a competition that's inclusive for girls as well so we can have the first woman champion," Rubik said. "It's the first time that's being done."
The decision to have a separate competition for females is aimed at encouraging women and girls, age 16 and older, to participate in the tournament.
While speedcubing competitions have been run by the World Cubing Association (WCA) for more than 10 years, this weekend's events are organized differently. WCA allows cubers to solve several times, and the best average time wins. Red Bull will have its competitors solving the Cube head to head, in knockout rounds.
Winners will receive diamond encrusted championship rings made of yellow gold and sterling silver with a Rubik's Cube in the center made of precious gems.
"It’s just an honor that I get to meet other young cubers, especially those who are faster than I am," said competitor Tanzer Balimtas, a 21-year-old college senior from Baltimore.
In August, Balimtas held the North American speedcubing title for just six days with a time of 4.64 seconds. His victory was achieved at a World Cubing Association sponsored competition in Pennsylvania. "We aren't geniuses or anything. It just comes down to practice," Balimtas said.
Invented in Hungary, the Rubik's Cube first hit the scene more than 40 years ago and quickly became an international sensation appearing in films such as "Armageddon," "Dude, Where's My Car" and "The Pursuit of Happyness." In 1991, Homer Simpson played with the Cube in the first of six "The Simpsons" appearances. The Rubik's Cube also appeared in the "Viva Forever" Spice Girls video and was recently inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame.
"After it reached New York in the '80s, the more dynamic growth started. Close to 300 million copies sold in the first few years. There was a big boom. After that, it slowed down, but right now it has a new life," Rubik said.
Last year, the Rubik’s Brand enjoyed a record year with sales reaching $250 million, up 164 percent from just three years prior, according to a company representative.
"You’ve got what we call evergreen products. These are products that really pass the test of time," said Richard Gottlieb, founder and CEO of Global Toy Experts, a New York-based consulting firm that specializes in toy industry insight. "These toys, like the Cube, Slinky, Magic 8 Ball and Barbie, go from the typical boom and bust cycle, beyond being nostalgia pieces, to products that any generation can engage with."
"It's really cool. It definitely hasn't died out," said Mallory Milloway, sales manager at Kidding Around, a toy store in Grand Central Station in New York City. "We can't keep them on our shelves. The classic version is our best seller."
Milloway said that a "mixed batch" of people ranging from early preteens to over 40 come in to buy the toy. "We just had a little boy around age 10 or 11 come in. He said he wanted to be a street performer, and he would use the Cube to do tricks. It was so cute," she said.
The colorful puzzle has sold almost a half-billion units worldwide, but Rubik said his most significant achievement occurred before he sold a single one.
"When I solved the problem that was created by myself, that was the greatest moment for me," the Hungarian inventor recalled.
In 1974, the then 29-year-old architecture professor set out to create a movable cube-shaped device that could be twisted and turned without breaking for his students. Constructed from wood, he added 54 colorful stickers to each of the six sides, giving the puzzle its iconic look. Once it was created, Rubik spent more than a month figuring out to crack the code to his gadget.
It took another three years for the "magic cube" to go into production for the mass market.
There are 43 quintillion, or 43,252,003,274,489,856,000, ways to scramble a Rubik’s Cube, according to its creator, and each can be solved in 20 moves or less. He said that's part of the reason he thinks people are memorized by the toy.
"It's like holding a small universe in your hand. The possibilities are endless," Rubik said. "It's connected to the secrets of us. In life, you find an answer to one question and that just creates new questions. It's very exciting and entertaining."
In 2018, the Rubik's Brand placed Cubes into the hands of 800,000 students in the U.S. through the You CAN Do the Rubik’s Cube Program, an education initiative, introducing a new generation to the tactile cube.
The program helps kids learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics and provides lessons to teachers for free.
"I was a teacher for more than 20 years. I have some knowledge about learning and teaching as well. I can flex my belief that the best way to learn is by doing," Rubik said about the program. "I encourage students not to memorize sentences and facts but to discover the connection between them."
What's next for Rubik and his cube?
He said he's working on a book that will reveal secrets behind his creation, and he plans on releasing it within two years.
"I'm curious about the future all the time. I like surprises. I like to see unexpected things. So that's what I'm looking for, and that's what I look forward to," Rubik said.
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown