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Happy 40th birthday, Rubik's Cube!

How has the portable puzzle aided character development onscreen?

Rubik's Cube, that symbol of fast thinking, intuitive intelligence, turns 40 today. Google has celebrated with a virtual player of the game on its homepage. (DISCLAIMER: we haven't managed to complete it yet).

It was invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor Ernó Rubik, who sold the licence six years later to Ideal Toy Corp. By January 2009, 350 million of the toys had been sold across the globe.

The puzzle permeated the world of performance too. Owing to its reputation as a leisure pursuit reserved for total brainiacs, the Rubik's Cube has been used in films over the years to aid character development and inform audiences that the people you see onscreen ain't no ordinary folk.

Critically acclaimed Swedish rom-horror flick Let the Right One In follows the tale of Oskar, an ostracised boy on an estate in Stockholm, and his friendship with Eli, a vampire child who moves in next door. At first Eli insists that they cannot be friends, as she's all too aware that she's... a vampire. The above scene with the Rubik's Cube represents the landmark moment when the two children become truly close. Oskar finds the Rubik's Cube that Eli had borrowed – it's completed. Amazed, he seeks out Eli. The two share a seat in the snow and exchange names to a soundtrack of haunting, slow moving piano. Oskar offers her the Rubik's Cube to keep, an offer that Eli declines. Instead, she shows him how to complete the puzzle – "Start with the corners," she says. It's a defining scene in a beautiful film.

Chameleon Street is a 1989 film, written by, directed by and starring Wendell B Harris Jr. The film is based on the life of Detroit con artist William Douglas Street Jr, who successfully impersonated people across a number of leading professions – surgeons, doctors and reporters. Ashley Clark of the BFI said of the film: "Chameleon Street functions as one of the most complex screen accounts of the psychological realities of the 20th-century black American experience." In 1990, it won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

In the above scene from the film, the con artist successfully solves a Rubik's Cube in seconds during a job interview, lending weight to the perception of the character as someone born with a natural, astonishing level of intelligence.

In Wall–E the Rubik's Cube makes a short cameo alongside a spork. As Wall-E is pottering about in a dystopian wasteland in 2805, the Rubik's Cube is by now a relic, a mere memory of human existence. Let's be honest though, if anyone was going to be able to do a Rubik's Cube really quickly it's Wall-E. Ever seen Johnny Five read a book?

The Pursuit Of Happyness, a film starring Will Smith and his son, was released in 2006 to sighs and groans from critics who eventually (reluctantly) admitted that it was slightly better than they thought it was going to be. Still, as with most Will Smith films these days, it didn't set many pulses racing.

In a scene that appears to have been lifted right from Chameleon Street, Smith's character, homeless salesman Chris Gardner, solves a Rubik's Cube in a cab, thoroughly impressing his future employer in the process. Cue the driver and his future boss looking dumbstruck. Who'd have thought someone like Chris Gardner could do a Rubik's Cube?