10:28:41 pm on
Sunday 17 Jan 2021

If I Were an Inventor
David Simmonds

If I hadn’t already made my fortune as a weekly columnist with the Wellington Times, I would like to have made it as an inventor, but not just any inventor. No improved industrial sludge separators or high efficiency potato peelers for me.

I prefer to invent a toy.

Not just any toy, mind you. It would have to have been a toy that was elegantly simple in its conception and involved no computer coding prowess. In other words, I would like to have invented the Rubik’s Cube.

The multi-coloured block manipulation puzzle was instead invented in 1974 by Hungarian university professor Erno Rubik, who was looking for a way to interest his students in mathematics. Launched worldwide in 1980, the Cube has sold hundreds of millions; by one estimate, 350 million units by 2001. The Cube seems to have gained a foothold that not even computer gaming can’t dislodge. 

The Cube is six sided, with nine panels per side. The panels come in six colours. The Cube can be reconfigured simply by twisting a row of panels in any direction.

The aim of the Cube is to take a random configuration and twist it back into a state where each of the six faces is filled with one and only one colour. It sounds simple, but there are forty-three quintillion panel combinations. In fact, there are more combinations, but I’ve rounded the exact number to the nearest quintillion. Small wonder that I have never been able to solve the puzzle in forty years of trying. 

There is a Cube subculture. There are said to be forty-thousand YouTube channels dealing with Cube issues. A World Cube Association was formed in 2017 to bring order to Rubikian.

Special cubing skills are recognised. For example, the speed cubing world record is held by a 22-year-old Australian man. He solved it in 4.22 seconds, smashing the old record of 4.59 seconds.

The thrill of stunt cubing.

The stunt cubing records are more eye popping. One fellow solved 254 cubes while running a marathon, eight cubes underwater, while holding his breath and 5,800 cubes in a single 24-hour period. The record for ‘blindfolded cubing,’ where the cuber gets to inspect the randomly configured cube, but solves it blindfolded, is 48 in one hour.

Rubik has a legacy of which he can be proud. He has also done well for himself financially. To add to the revenue, he has received to date, he recently sold the rights to the Cube to Spinmaster, a Canadian corporation, for $50 million.

The sale price will buy him an ice cream sundae at the dairy bar every day for the rest of his life, with change left over. It compares on the high end to the $75 million the Disney corporation paid to acquire the Muppets in 2004 and on the low end to the $13 million Spinmaster paid to acquire the rights to the Meccano toy in 2013.  

Did Spinmaster pay too little or too much? Spinmaster, based in Toronto, is a big corporation, with a presence in sixteen countries and $1.5 billion in annual sales; it can look alter itself. Spinmaster has experience buying legacy toys, as in addition to the Meccano buy it picked up the rights to the Etch a Sketch in 2016. If Rubik is happy with the sale price, so should we all.

Successful toys are valuable commodities and toy licensing is big business. The Lego group has annual revenue in the order of $6 billion. The Super Soaker water gun has brought in over $1 billion. Playmobil generates about $750 million a year.

In annual revenue, Barbie generated over $1.1 billion in sales in 2019. The biggest of all might be the Transformer toy. Highly profitable, anyway, it became a movie franchise that has brought in profit of over $3 billion.

The key word is successful. The road to hell is no doubt littered with good toy ideas, which for one reason or another couldn’t be turned into successes. Yet, without the idea, you’ll never succeed as an inventor. 

What is left to invent?

Is there anything left to invent? After all, we’ve already had the Yo-Yo, the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee and the Slinky, all of which are still going strong. The Rubik’s Cube confirms there is always room for another simple product. All it takes is the person with the imagination.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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