Monday, May 28, 2007

fischertechnik Universal

From their introduction in 1965 until 1990, fischertechnik blocks were gray, with red supplemental parts, as is seen in the wrecker here. Gray was also used for the beams and strips, introduced in 1970. After 1990, blocks became black, beams and strips yellow, which combined with the red to be a little much for me. But after long resisting the gaudiness, I finally succumbed.

For a techno-geek, fischertechnik's Universal sets are almost irresistible. Well, maybe not "almost." The original Universal was introduced in 1994, with 450 parts of 119 different type, to make 24 different models. It was replaced in 2005 with the Universal II, which makes 48 models from 400 parts of 98 types. 21 of the models from the first set were carried over to the second, and it appears that none were "dumbed down " - instead, the designs are just that little bit cleverer at using common parts.

That original Universal was devoted to demonstrating how basic technologies work, such as in the garage door opener shown here, which works by turning a crank at the back - instructions are included for adding the optional motor. This model went together easily, works smoothly, and left me encouraged to try something more complicated. What more could one ask for? Ummm ... perhaps a little more glamor? The set was popular for classroom use, but may have lagged for home play. The new version adds vehicles and aircraft, and increases the number of fairground rides, for a bit more "wow factor," and perhaps more play value as well.

fischertechnik is sometimes described as "Lego for grownups," which isn't fair to fischertechnik's sets for five year olds, or nice range of products for seven and nine year olds. But they do make products for use in technical universities, their robotics sets have long been greatly admired both in schools and by advanced adult hobbyists, and their parts have been used for industrial prototyping since very early on. It's not that they aren't great for grownups, it's just that kids don't have to wait.

An excellent choice for a clever child, or for a child that might become clever with a little nudge and some Good Block Play.

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