A Look at U-M’s 8-Foot Tall Rubik’s Cube

A senior project by a group of engineering students at the university lives on as both sculpture and plaything. Give it a go or just watch as puzzle tourists — yes, that’s a thing — take a spin.
rubik's cube
This giant Rubik’s Cube can be found at the G.G. Brown Building at the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus.

What Is It? 

One of the world’s largest stationary but playable versions of the famous puzzle invented in Hungary in 1974 by sculptor Erno Rubik. It strays from the original toy only by replacing the white side with purple. The project cost $40,000 in materials, according to mechanical engineering professor Noel Perkins, the faculty member who advised on the project.

Where Is It? 

The G.G. Brown Building, home of the University of Michigan’s Mechanical Engineering Department, at 2350 Hayward St. in Ann Arbor. The building is generally open to the public during the day. At press time, there were no COVID-related restrictions to using the Rubik’s Cube beyond the masking and distancing requirements of the building itself, Perkins says.

How Big Is It? 

Including its massive frame, it weighs 2,400 pounds, mainly of aluminum and steel, and stands about 8 feet tall. Each side of the actual playable cube itself is 4.5 feet across. 

The Backstory:

The interactive sculpture, unveiled in April 2017, took two teams of students three years to construct. The aim, co-creator Samuelina Wright told the Detroit News, was “to bring joy and inspiration to anyone who ever uses it and solves it. If it does that, there’s nothing I’d rather leave behind at U-M.” It suffered so much wear and tear in its first week that it had to be disassembled and fortified with stronger bolts to withstand public use, but since then U-M’s chapter of Pi Tau Sigma, the National Mechanical Engineering Honor Society, has elected two “Cubemasters” each year who are responsible for maintaining it.

The Legacy: 

Perkins says it’s an attraction that has drawn enthusiasts from around the country. In summer 2017, for instance, a couple of U-M alums in their 20s who met in the school’s Rubik’s Cube club came to play. “They solved the thing lightning fast and barked commands to one another,” he recalls. “It turned out, this was the day before their wedding in Ann Arbor and the entire wedding was Rubik’s Cube-themed. This was a part of their wedding ceremony, to come to North Campus to solve it.” 

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Steve Friess is news and features editor at Hour Detroit and a contributing writer for Newsweek. A Long Island native who earned a journalism degree at Northwestern University, Friess worked at newspapers in Rockford, Illinois, Las Vegas, and South Florida before launching a freelance career in Beijing, China, where he served as chief China correspondent for USA Today. After his return to the U.S. in 2003, he settled in Las Vegas, where he covered the gambling industry and the American Southwest regularly for The New York Times, Playboy, The New Republic, Time, Portfolio, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. During that time, he created and co-hosted two successful and groundbreaking podcasts, the celebrity-interview show The Strip and the animal affairs program The Petcast. In 2011-12, Friess landed a Knight-Wallace Fellowship for mid-career journalists at the University of Michigan. That was followed by a stint as a senior writer covering the intersection of technology and politics at Politico in Washington, D.C., In 2013, he returned permanently to Ann Arbor, where he now lives with his husband, son, and three Pomeranians. He tweets at @SteveFriess and can be reached at sfriess@hour-media.com.