By Joan Baxter
August 23, 2014
I love it when a local person gets national recognition and therefore makes history. Such was the case recently when Drew Brads, a Xenia resident set a new world record average tie for solving the Rubik’s Pyraminx puzzle at the National competition.
History is made every day of the week, and sometimes that newly made history has an interesting connection to something from the past.
The device with which Drew won the competition is not quite the same thing as the original cube, but here is the connection, another piece of local history which you may or may not know.
Rubik was not the first to develop his unique and complex cube with the many colors on each side.
A man originally from Xenia, Larry Nichols developed a similar game before Rubik’s Cube appeared on the market.
Larry, the son of Daniel and Cleo Nichols, was a 1954 graduate of Xenia High School. He went on to study at DePauw, where he earned his Master’s Degree, then to Harvard where he received his Doctorate. He became a National Science fellow while at Harvard.
As a Harvard student, he invented and produced about ten different games and puzzles, this was quite a pastime for him.
He went on to become the chief scientist for Moleculon Research Corporation of Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of the primary products of Moleculon is Poroplastic, which was invented by Dr. Nichols in 1973. Poroplastic film has the mechanical properties of a typical plastic, but is able to hold large quantities of almost any liquid within its tiny pores. Current usage of Poroplastic materials centers on controlled drug delivery and environmental health and safety products. He has invented several other products for his company as well.
As mentioned, Dr. Nichols loves to invent games and puzzles, and has marketed several through various companies.
He began to experiment with small wooden cubes, magnets, pieces of metal and scrap materials. This was the beginning of a cube which would move in many different ways. He thought this particular puzzle might have some value on the market, so he showed the invention to his boss. His boss liked it and offered to submit the idea to the Ideal Toy Company, on condition of sharing the profits from the sale of this clever device. The company applied for and in 1972 received Patent No. 3,655,201 from the U. S. Patent Office.
The clever cube design was then offered to the Ideal Toy Company, but the company expressed no interest in such a puzzle.
A couple of years later, Rubik’s Cube hit the shelves! You can imagine the dismay of the original inventor when the toy arrived on the market. His invention had been marketed by another inventor. At first, he was amused that someone else had come up with the same puzzle. He was certain that Rubik had not stolen his idea, but had come up with the idea for the puzzle independently.
But then, Dr. Nichols realized that this could have been his name going down in history. It could have been the “Nichols’ Cube”. He recalled that this invention could have been a “once in a lifetime thing” for him.
Moleculon Research, who held the patent, sued the Ideal Toy Company for patent infringement. After a great deal of “talking”, a settlement was finally reached but not in the amount Moleculon and Dr. Nichols had hoped for. The suit asked for $60 million, but the settlement was nowhere near that amount. I spoke with him a few years ago, and asked if he was satisfied with the settlement. He said he had not received a great amount, but was able to send his two boys to Harvard with what he had received.
His parents moved away from Xenia some years ago. He retired from the company and was, at one time, living with his wife in Massachusetts.
Designing puzzles and games became a lifelong hobby for Larry Nichols. One of the games he produced was called “Leapin’ Lizzards”. It is a clever game and easily played, manufacture by the Binary Art Company.
The next time you purchase a puzzle, look to see who designed it. You might find the name of another Xenia boy who made history.
Joan Baxter is a county resident, long-time local historian and guest columnist.