LONDON -- For six years the maddened millions have been twisting interlocking cubes to line up their colored faces. Now just when you thought you had mastered the Rubik cube, in wriggles the Rubik snake.
'This will be a biggie,' says importer Mike Clarke. 'Easily as popular as the cube.'
Rubik's cube, as nearly everyone must know, is a cunning construction of 26 smaller cubes which has caused divorce, postponed marriages, spawned a library of how-to-solve-it books and has infuriated and fascinated addicts all over the world.
Rubik's new snake is 24 pyramids. In its see-through case it looks like a cubistic globe. But it unwinds and re-forms into more than 1,000 shapes -- dogs, birds, geometric sculptures, and a 'snake' some two feet long.
'It will drive you mad,' said Britain's biggest toy store. Naturally it placed an enormous order.
The infamous cube, designed in 1975 by Hungarian teacher Erno Rubik, is roughly as common as rain in England. More than 10 million have been sold in the United States. West Germany is cube crazy, and so are other nations.
All this little 'adult amusement' requires is that you twist its separate cubes until each face of the full cube is a solid color. Mathemeticians say there are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible permutations.
'With a bit of mathematical know-how and a few hints, it's possible to solve the cube in a few days to a few weeks,' says David Singmaster, a London mathematics professor and cube fanatic. 'It took me two weeks, on and off.'
A West German holds the world championship by solving it in 24 seconds. Briton Nicolas Hammond, a mere 16, did it in 28 seconds and has written a book called 'How to Solve the Cube in 37 Seconds.'
'I think its attraction,' says Hammond, 'is that people don't like being beaten by a block of annoying plastic.' Hear, hear.
Singmaster says Erno Rubik is probably the only man involved who hasn't made a fortune out of the cube.
'The last I heard, he couldn't even afford a telephone,' Singmaster said.
Rubik's latest product, widely pirated even before it officially went on sale in Britain, is less complex, less competitive and presumably less maddening.
'I have seen and played with the snake,' said Hungarian embassy official George Endressy. 'It is much simpler. It keeps you busy for an hour.'
But toy sellers think differently. The cube was voted 'Toy of the Year' last year, and importer Clarke says of the snake: 'Demand is fantastic. This is going to be a whole lot bigger than Rubik's cube.'
Heaven preserve us all.