Everyone has heard of the infamous Rubik’s Cube. This six-sided mathematical puzzle, originally invented in 1974, is the world’s best-selling puzzle. Now, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has a giant Rubik’s Cube. Conceived and built by two mechanical engineering teams consisting of undergraduate students, this was a completely student-run capstone senior design project. It was Kelsey Hockstad, Dan Hiemstra, Martin Harris, and Samuelina Wright, the first team, who came up with the idea and started the design and construction of the cube. The idea to make a giant version of the puzzle was inspired by a sculpture on the central campus at the university.
When it was time for the students to graduate in 2016, the project was passed on to a second team consisting of Jason Hoving, Ryan Kuhn, and Doug Nordman, and it was their task to iron out any kinks as well as design and build a stand for the piece to be exhibited on.
The project took 3 years to complete and was unveiled at the university as part of a mechanical engineering exhibition in 2017. The cube was constructed to be a fully functional replica; however, the students have made some key modifications to the original. Aside from the obvious upscaling proportion, the team has added a complex series of rollers and transfer bearings to drastically reduce friction when rotating the puzzle; this type of mechanism is called a kinematic mechanism. These design modifications were necessary due to the problems discovered by the students when enlarging something designed to be handheld. The changes make the giant cube much more user friendly and able to be solved by hand. Another alteration made to the original design is the exclusion of the white side of the cube. The students instead chose to replace the color with purple to make the cube all the more colorful.
The cube is often falsely claimed to be the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube, although these claims are generally made engage audiences and encourage publicity. The cube is, however, recognized by the World Record Academy as the largest free-standing Rubik's Cube.
Currently, according to the Guinness World Records, the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube belongs to British puzzle designer Tony Fisher; his cube measures in at 1.57 m by 1.57 m by 1.57 m long. Better luck next time, Michigan, I guess you’ll have to build one a bit bigger if you want to beat that record.
Not to take away from the achievement of developing such an impressive feat of engineering, though. The location of the piece at the University of Michigan couldn’t be more fitting, as it serves both students and visitors as a learning resource. The cube is fully interactive, and available for anyone to solve, although it may take them quite some time as the cube was primarily constructed out of aluminum, so as you can imagine it is very heavy.
Michigan’s cube weighs in at whopping 1,500 pounds, making one of the heaviest Rubik’s Cubes in the world.