Largest hand-solvable Rubik's cube unveiled at University of Michigan

Posted at 4:33 PM, Apr 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-13 16:33:29-04

Tough to master, but easy to get hooked on, the Rubik’s cube became one of the hottest selling toys of all time in the 80s and has intrigued, angered and out-smarted millions of Americans ever since.

On Thursday, the largest known hand-solvable Rubik’s cube was unveiled inside the engineering building on the north campus of the University of Michigan.

“It’s an iconic puzzle that people love, and it’s something that people can share and enjoy,” said Samuelina Wright, one of the original engineering students who started the project.

As Wright explained, the idea for the project blossomed out of the famed “cube” near the student union on the main campus. Wright told 7 Action News that she played with it as a child growing up in Ann Arbor, so when the idea of building a giant workable Rubik’s cube came up she jumped at the idea.

At the time she and the others involved — Martin Harris, Kelsey Hockstad and Dan Hiemstra — likely bit off more than they could chew. The engineers explain that upscaling a small object like a Rubik’s cube comes with more challenges than you’d expect.

In order to supersize a hand-held game to a 1,500 pound mammoth sized aluminum, and steel, structure takes a lot of work. Countless designs and ideas were burned through early on trying to solve the friction problems that account for the enlarged cube. Engineering professors on-hand called it an amazing accomplishment.

“I’ve had a long career, but to work with a group of students like this is unbelievable,” said Noel Perkins, a professor of mechanical engineering.

He’s not referring solely to their work as engineers, but also the drive they had to complete the project.

Wright had a job waiting for her in Seattle with Boeing when she graduated. She called them and told them to put the job on hold because she had unfinished business with the cube. The other students similarly turned down internships, and jobs, because after a few years of work they realized that what they were building had the opportunity to be a lasting legacy on a historic campus.

Eventually the team, nicknamed by some as the fab four, ran out of credit hours and time. They had to move on, but the project didn’t die. It expanded.

“Now they’re called the sublime seven,” said Perkins, referring to the three additional students who took on the project and helped it to the finish line.

Jason Hoving, Ryan Kuhn, Doug Nordman and the original four students were all on campus Tuesday to reveal the Rubik’s cube. Family, friends, even a pre-school teacher showed up for the special occasion. As soon as they unveiled the project, people gathered to take pictures, video, and eventually try out the Rubik’s cube.

“That’s what makes me the happiest,” said Wright. “I love seeing people interact with it, it reminds me of being back with my team.”

The oversized Rubik’s cube is now on display inside the GG Brown building on the second floor of the atrium for anyone who wants to play with it. There has been some talk of a gazebo-type structure being built so that the art display can be kept outside, but away from the elements.

Regardless of where the structure stands, those involved said it was a day they started to doubt would come. The hope is that the Rubik’s cube becomes a lasting legacy to the hard work, dedication and friendships they formed over a years-long project.