Everything You Need To Know About Your New Soma Cube

Everything You Need To Know About Your New Soma Cube

“I consider Hein’s invention, like many puzzles, to be a work of art...I created my own version of it long before I even imagined making the [Rubik’s] Cube.” 

- Erno Rubik


In Cubed, Erno Rubik’s 2020 book about his life and work, the creator of the best-selling puzzle of all time spends several pages writing about the Soma Cube. He details his own attempts to make one from scratch, and how it was one of two inspirations for the shape of his own iconic puzzle (the other, if you’re curious: MacMahon’s Cubes).


Rubik wasn’t the only person inspired by the Soma; when it was first released in the early 1930s, it became a hit in Hein’s native Denmark; but it wasn’t internationally well known until 1958, when Curiosity Box favorite Martin Gardener wrote about the Soma in his famous Scientific American column. Suddenly, the cube exploded in popularity; fans created hundreds of new shapes that could be made with Soma pieces, and Parker Brothers, who released a version of the cube in 1969, even published a magazine called “Soma Addict.” (if you’d like to find more shapes and figures to create with your cube pieces, the magazine is full of them, and you can read past issues here.)


For decades, the story behind the Soma Cube was that Hein came up with the idea for it when his mind wandered during a dense 1936 lecture on quantum mechanics by Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize winner and namesake of the famous Uncertainty Principle. As Heisenberg started to talk about space being sliced into cubes, Hein’s mind wandered, and he thought about ways to put a bunch of shapes together to form a cube.


It’s a great story, involves two great thinkers, and shows the value of daydreaming. But... here's the thing: recent scholarship has found that Hein’s first patent was issued in Denmark on December 2, 1933 - three years before the alleged lecture. Further research shows that Heisenberg did actually give his famous Nobel lecture on quantum mechanics in 1933 - but on December 11, nine days after the patent was issued. This is why your box says that’s how the cube was “legendarily” created. That said, it’s possible that Hein came up with the idea during a lecture that wasn’t by Heisenberg, or that it was an early lecture by Heisenberg on a different subject, so we can’t completely discount it;  Hein never corrected the story, probably because it was good press. As, for example, was the other legendary story about the cube: it’s name.


Many places - including Wikipedia - repeat the story that the cube is named after “Soma,” the recreational drug from Aldous Huxley’s famous 1932 science fiction novel Brave New World. In the book, Soma is a drug given to the populace to keep them happy and in line; it smooths out feelings and emotions, and in larger doses lets people go on a soma holiday, where they completely tune-out. The idea is that the cube is so addictive, it’s like taking a drug.


But it’s not clear where that story came from. Hein himself, on the original Soma package, claimed that “SOMA is the ancient Indian symbol for life's diversity and the universe's hidden connection.”  Of course, that doesn’t seem to be the case, either. Its a Sanskrit word, but for a juice or drink made from the sap of the Cynanchum viminale plant, which was used ritually and medicinally in India. Hein presumably liked the word for it’s exotic and mysterious connotations, as did Huxley.  


In fact, hidden meanings and cyphers were at the core of Hein’s part in the anti-Nazi resistance during WWII. After the Germans occupied Denmark, Hein said he had two options: flee to Sweden or join the resistance. He stayed, and became famous for a series of poems he called Grooks, which he wrote under a pseudonym that translates to “tombstone” and published in the newspaper Politiken. The grooks were really coded messages of resistance and hope for his fellow Danes; their subtlety allowed them to escape the Nazi censors. Hein’s most famous grook may this one, titled Consolation; it translates into English as:


“A person who loses one glove,

is fortunate compared to the person

who loses one, throws away the second,

and then finds the first one again.”


The message is that once you’ve lost one glove - your freedom under the occupation - don’t lose the second by becoming a collaborator. Especially if the war ends and people find out (i.e. finding the first glove again).

Hein survived the occupation, and went on to an extremely successful career as a furniture designer, puzzle creator, and artist. Today, the cube is still popular - enough to have it’s own Guinness World Record category, “Fastest Time to Complete a Soma Cube”! This isn’t a dusty old record: the newest one was set just a few weeks ago, on October 22, 2021! It’s held by Ye Jiaxi of China, who was able to solve the cube in an astonishing 1.4 seconds; beating the previous record holder, Lim Kai Yi of Malaysia, who solved the cube in 2.4 seconds last April. You can see the latest world record here.


Our unique take on this legendary puzzle celebrates seven of our favorite hues of blue, matching nicely with the book Blue, In Search of Nature’s Rarest Color. We’ve provided the perfect tool - now can you break the new world record?

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