When a character needs to be shown as a genius without devoting an entire scene to backstory or problem-solving to demonstrate this, the creator will have them solve or play around with a Rubik's cube. This is done to quickly establish the character's intelligence in as little time as possible so that the plot can start as quickly as possible. The quicker and more casually the character manages to solve the puzzle, the more intelligent they are meant to be. This trope can be employed in any genre and has been around for nearly as long as Rubik's cubes.
Real life is not quite so. While it is basically impossible to brute-force solve a Rubik's cube, you can figure out how to manipulate the blocks into any orientation you want if you're well-versed in set/group theory... or just if you look up the shortcuts on the internet.
Another use of the Mysterious Cube of Rubik is to show that humans are baffling to outsiders.
- Batman. The villain The Calculator has been known to carry a Rubik's cube around to occupy his time, as he's apparently so smart that he gets bored easily.
- Played with in the Tales from the Darkside comic "Black Box": Brian Newman has a habit of playing with Rubiks cubes, and invariably solves them in the space of a few panels - if not immediately. However, this isn't because he's a genius: it's because he's a Reality Warper with zero control over his powers. For good measure, it's common for the "solved" cubes to instantly turn completely black, usually as a sign that his Enemy Within is getting troublesome.
- In Final Crisis, the crippled New God Metron keeps solving a Rubik's Cube. In this particular case, it's not that he manages to solve it - it's that he managed to do so in an impossibly low number of moves.
- Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Subverted. Albert Einstein is seen playing with a Rubik's cube. He appears to have solved it, but finds one tile out of place and smashes the whole thing in frustration. note
- WALLE. After EVE has arrived on Earth, WALLE takes her to his "house" and shows her the (unsolved) Rubik's cube. The camera moves away following WALLE and when it returns only a few seconds later, EVE has solved the Rubik's cube.
- The Amazing Spider-Man: Peter Parker begins solving a freshly scrambled cube his uncle handed him. Because of how casually it is done, it is implied that Peter has solved the cube before and this is something that Uncle Ben does regularly.
- Armageddon: In an interview, a few main characters are asked to solve a Rubik's cube. Rockhound solves a Rubik's cube. Upon completion he says that it was a "piece of cake" and flippantly tosses it aside, his entire demeanor suggesting that he considers it insulting. Then he lays out his entire resumé, from child prodigy to globe-trotting oil-drilling Kavorka Man geologist.
- Being John Malkovich: Charlie just fiddles around a bit with a Rubik's Cube for a few seconds. A cuber's habit is to toy around with Cubes while not solving them. Charlie throws up the Cube while it spins in the air, and then catches it.
- Brick: The Brain is playing with a Rubik's cube when he's introduced.
- Donnie Darko: While Donnie is lying down in bed, thinking, he is playing with a Rubik's cube. Notably the Rubik's cube is a black and white one, quite possibly with M.C. Escher paintings on each side of the cube, instead of the regular white-blue-red-green-orange-yellow ones.
- Dude, Where's My Car??: Inverted. Over the course of the movie Chester solves a Rubik's cube, which is revealed to be the Continuum Transfunctioner the aliens are looking for. This is done despite the fact that Chester and Jesse are shown to be complete idiots.
- Hellboy: Subverted. Abe Sapien is recovering in his aquarium and tries to solve a Rubik's Cube. He talks with Liz Sherman and complains about his inability to solve the Rubik's Cube despite being indicated as highly intelligent as a member of the Genius Book Club. Furthermore, he claims to have only solved two sides over the course of three decades.
- Let the Right One In and its American remake Let Me In: Eli/Abby is shown to have solved a Rubik's cube prompting Oskar/Owen to inquire how she solved it.
- The Pursuit of Happyness: During a taxi ride with Mr Twistle, Chris says that he is able to solve a cube; after Mr Twistle states that it is impossible, Chris solves the whole cube. This opens Mr Twistle's eyes, and Chris is later invited for an interview.
- Chris's actor, Will Smith, has stated in interviews that the jump cuts weren't there to help him cheat; the director made sure he leaned to solve it properly.
- In Citizenfour, Edward Snowden plays with a Rubik's Cube as a predetermined signal to identify himself in a restaurant to a person he's never met.
- In Megaforce, one of the Mega Force troopers solves a Rubik's Cube in a matter of minutes, while en route to a mission.
- Subverted in The Galaxy Game by Phil Janes, in which Gloria, who has previously been portrayed as The Ditz, solves a Rubik's Cube, leading the other characters to think she's a Genius Ditz. It turns out nobody told her how a Rubik's Cube actually works, just the desired result, so she just swapped the stickers round. Wolverton suggests to her that there are different kinds of intelligence, and this may demonstrate a skill at lateral thinking.
- Barney Miller. Made shortly after the Cube became a national phenomenon, Wojo has one he's playing with. A Perp of the Week is a Mensa member who is a professional thief who had broken into the Mensa offices to steal. He doesn't particularly want to be smart, he always wanted to be one of the guys. Just before he's taken away to Manhattan South for processing he picks up the cube and solves it quickly. "Sorry, force of habit."
- The second episode of The Pretender had a scene where Jarod found one on a colleague's desk and solved it in about a minute. The fact that Jarod was kept isolated from popular culture from a young age and had never seen one before makes it even more impressive.
- Turned Up to Eleven on one episode of Scorpion, where Walter and Sylvester are racing to see who can solve TEN cubes the fastest. Walter shows off by solving the last one behind his back.
- On one episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Neil deGrasse Tyson walked onstage with a solved Rubik's cube. Once he'd done his bit, Jon Stewart tells the audience that they'd given Tyson the cube thirty seconds ago.
- An episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had Will impress an Ivy League college interviewer by solving a Rubik's Cube in a few seconds like it was nothing. The trick does not work when Carlton tries to adopt the same laid back attitude as Will for the interview, and fumbles around with the Cube without actually solving anything.
- Deconstructed; one of the Tropes Examined By The Myth Busters. Exploited, although not exactly "busted" by the MythBusters. They demonstrated that there are numerous ways for a not-particularly-smart person to succeed at solving a Rubik's cube just for appearances.
- They also invoked the trope during the first Viral Videos episode as a means of demonstrating how easy it is to create misleading video footage. The finished clip shows Adam and Jamie each quickly solving a Rubik's cube, Jamie while blindfolded and Adam using only his feet — after showing the clip, however, they explain that they'd actually started with solved cubes and filmed themselves scrambling them, then played the footage backwards to make it look like they were solving the cubes, even taking the pains to have a third character walk through the scene (backwards in real life, so that it looks "normal" in reverse) to "prove" that the footage wasn't doctored.
- Channel Four TV clips show Rude Tube gathers together Internet clips of note. One was of an American muscle-builder displaying proficiency at one-handed push-ups - whilst solving the Rubik's Cube one-handed with his free hand. He performed the feat in about thirty seconds.
- Death in Paradise: Played with in "Stumped in Murder". Humphrey finds a Rubik's Cube in the evidence and starts attempting to solve it to take his mind of his personal problems. He fails completely until he has his Eureka Moment. He rushes to The Big Board and starts rambling to himself, twisting the cube without looking at it as he does so. Florence then points out that he has solved it.
- In The Big Bang Theory, while Amy's dealing with the pressure of a serious dilemma and Sheldon-being-under-pressure, Leonard has Sheldon himself "distracted" with a Rubik's Cube. At being asked if, knowing Sheldon, he'd know how to solve it, Leonard reveals he's switched some of the colored stickers so he should keep awhile. Sheldon shortly announces that he's "solved" exactly which ones were switched.
- Subverted in Star Trek: Voyager episode "Think Tank". A Rubix-like puzzle called Sheer Lunacy is driving the crew to frustration, even though Seven of Nine says the solution is easy. This appears to indicate Seven's genius (which is why the Think Tank want her) but she later reveals this easy solution is to cheat by scanning the device. This gives Janeway a Eureka Moment on how to defeat the Think Tank.
- Star Trek: Picard. In "The Impossible Box", Narek is shown playing with a tan zhekran, a Romulan puzzle box that looks and works like a wooden Rubik's Cube. His argument with his sister Narissa over the box is used to highlight their differing attitudes to the mission they are on.
Narissa: I've never understood your fascination with this toy.
Narek: It's not a toy. It's a tool. It helps me think.
Narissa: The only thing it ever made me think of is smashing it open with a hammer to get the prize inside.
Narek: The key to opening the tan zhekran is taking the time to understand what's keeping it closed. Listen, feel, move each piece ever so slightly, and then once you're sure... (he shows her the tan zhekran with the pieces in the right place)
Narissa: Am I supposed to be impressed?
Narek: Patience, sister. A quality you never had. (The tan zhekran then opens)
- In Zeno Clash Golem carries around a Rubik's cube. It helps mark him out as very different from the Zenos. Firstly because it shows he's more intellectual (as opposed to their Might Makes Right form of government). Secondly because it completely clashes with the Stone Punk aesthetic of every other piece of technology. Zeno Clash 2 reveals it's also a sign he's incredibly bored (from standing guard to make sure none of the Zenos leave Zenozoik).
- In The Sims 2, Knowledge Sims will sometimes play with a Rubik's Cube when idle.
- In MapleStory, Kinesis, a character with Psychic Powers (and of the Magic User class, which usually has very high Intelligence Scores), is shown solving a black and white using telekinesis in the cinematic opening where he is introduced.
- Subverted in this strip of Awkward Zombie. Marth and Roy both fail at solving a Rubik cube. Then, Link (Ocarina/Melee Link, who is an Idiot Hero in the comic) grabs the cube and solves it immediately, prompting a key to spawn. Hey, he's good at puzzles.
- In TRU-Life Adventures, Bert solves one while explaining to someone why speedcubing doesn't qualify as a suitable challenge for his title of the King of All Gamers.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, the rabbit student shows his new cube to his fairy friend 'Snuffles', who's never seen one before. She solves it in her head in only 30 moves, despite not being to count past ten. He claims he can do it in 20.
- Agatha from Girl Genius is seen solving a Rubik's cube in the Radio Theatre interludes.
- From The World is Flat; in one of comic, a teenage girl attends a masquerade party social dressed as one because she wants to date someone smart. "You have to be smart to get into these pants!" she exclaims.
- Ironically, this Trope was Deconstructed and Defied in Rubik, the Amazing Cube, a short-lived series meant to capitalize on the toy's popularity. Pretty much every character could solve it within a minute, and while the main cast had an excuse (Rubix was powerless if his colors were scrambled, which happened by accident rather often) it made little sense for anyone else.
- The Dating Guy. VJ shows his simultaneous smarts and lack of social skills by solving a miniature Rubik's Cube inside his throat.
- In one episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Jimmy uses a device that turns Sheen into a genius. One of the things Sheen did after that was solving a Rubik's cube blindfolded in about 5 seconds.
- The Simpsons. When Homer becomes of above-average intelligence, he solves several cubes while not even thinking about them particularly hard.
- Spongebob Squarepants: Parodied. In one episode, Sandy makes a Rubik's cube that solves itself.
- In Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones?, Robot Jones (being a superintelligent robot) is the front runner in a Rubik's Cube competition. His rivals, the Yogman twins, cheat by switching two of the tile labels of Jones' cube to make it unsolvable.
- In the Gravity Falls episode "Little Gift Shop of Horrors", one of the signs of Waddles' increased intelligence during the "Abaconings" segment is that he's able to solve a complicated puzzle box, the What-The-Heck-Ahedron, that Dipper was struggling with earlier.
- Subverted in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, where Billy's father solves a demonic Rubik's Cube in seconds by switching the stickers around.
- In Ducktales 2017, Black Heron demonstrates the effects of an intelligence-altering ray on a pair of Mooks, who go from holding Rubik's Cubes to gnawing on them. At the end of the episode, one of the organization's leaders is shown performing a quick-solve before realizing the cube's wet.