Twists of fate: Meet the Indian creating new variants of the Rubik’s cube
Manish Rathod owns over 350 twisty puzzles, has designed a number of new ones himself, and had some of those inducted into the global Twisty Puzzles Museum.
Ghost cubes, dodecahedrons, triangles… there are exciting new versions of the Rubik’s cube emerging out of India.
Manish Rathod, 50, has made 50 variants himself, and 15 of his designs have been inducted into the Twisty Puzzles Museum, an online repository of unique takes on the Rubik’s cube, by designers from around the world.
Rathod’s entries include a 12-sided or dodecahedron version with 50 movable pieces; an icosahedron with 20 faces; and a curvy ghost cube that seems at first to have no movable edges, but is made up of 20 triangles and 80 moveable pieces.
“My favourites to solve and design are the ghost cubes,” says Rathod, who is, by day, vice-president of sales with a TV network in Ahmedabad.
Ghost cubes are twisty puzzles in which every layer has to be off centre in order to move; all pieces are the same colour; and the challenge is to turn the scrambled version, somehow, back into the smooth three-dimensional structure it started out as. “The ghost cube is a shape-shifter,” he says. “You often can’t make out which pieces belongs to which side.”
Rathod has a number of ghost cubes in his collection of more than 350 twisty puzzles. He has scrambled and solved them all, though he only picked up his first Rubik’s cube in 2017. That was on a whim, at an airport bookshop. Over time, he learnt that “a cube has to be solved layer by layer, and not side by side,” Rathod says. “Just like we construct a building floor by floor, and not by making one side wall and then another.”
Then he learnt that there are 43 quintillion possible ways to scramble a standard 3x3x3 Rubik’s cube. He studied the notations (what each piece in a twisty puzzle is called) and algorithms (formulas for how the pieces move), and once he glimpsed the engineering behind it all, he was hooked.
Rathod bought every type of twisty puzzle he could find in India; studied more algorithms; bought puzzles from China. “Every new one was initially nightmare,” he says.
By 2018, he was posting tutorial videos on YouTube (@Manqube) and exploring unusual twisty puzzles for his audience. He now has three channels, one each in English, Hindi and Gujarati. His most popular videos (How to Assemble 4x4 Rubik’s Cube; and 7x7 Last Two Edge, among others) have about 30,000 views each.
By 2020, Rathod was done unscrambling puzzles designed by others, and was thinking about making some himself. All he needed, he discovered, was the kind of computer-aided design or CAD software used by architects and furniture designers, and a 3D printer. Some guidance from YouTube saw him make his first 3D-printed puzzle. “It was horrible,” he says, laughing. “The build quality was bad and there were flaws in the design.”
Amid the pandemic, he taught himself how to use CAD more effectively, and studied the principles of physics and engineering involved in designing twisty puzzles. “I had never used a vernier calliper before. I was not aware of principles such as the golden ratio, tolerances, angles,” he says.
Rathod has since bought a 3D printer, designed about 100 cubes, and 3D-printed 50 so far.
He was first inducted into the Twisty Puzzles Museum in 2022, after his Icosahedron Skewb (a skewb is a combination/mechanical puzzle styled after the Rubik’s cube) caught the eye of Andreas Nortmann, content moderator for the online archive. Since then, Rathod’s hexagonal curvy copter, inverted pyramids and ghost pentagonal bipyramid, among others, have been inducted too.
He hopes to eventually start selling his designs. Meanwhile, he’s still ordering and obsessing over new puzzles made by others. He recently stumbled upon a 16-axis cube made by the Chinese company Dayan. “There’s always tension and frustration at first. Then, as I gradually understand the moves, and how one piece impacts other pieces of the cube, I get a kick out of solving it,” he says.
Rathod’s wife Bhavini Rathod, a homemaker, supports his hobby, “even though I spend all my spare time on it”. His daughter Rutvi Rathod, 25, is proud of his obsession, though she shares none of his interest.
He believes there are life lessons to be learnt from the cubes. They’ve taught him how to focus and overcome frustration, he says; to be patient and accept that the solutions will come, in time.