Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bayko in the snow

I keep enjoying Bayko, and during recent snow have been enjoying thinking about photographing a construction in real snow -- not something to contemplate with wood blocks or Ankerstein.

I'll need to disassemble this quickly and dry off all the metal parts to avoid rust, but still ...

Christmas is coming, and Bayko has a nice Christmas look which is very much enhanced by fresh snow on the roof.

Good Block Play.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Lego Crazy Action Contraptions

I am a big fan of Klutz books, from potholders to melty beads to games. But a long time favorite was their Lego Action Contraptions. Now it is out in a new edition and is a prime candidate for a Chistmas gift.

Why Lego doesn't do a nice project set with their Technik parts, something along the lines of fischertechnik Universal? Not that I think it wiuld be better than fischertechnik, but some folks might, and others would enjoy having the alternative.

At least with these Klutz books, we have a taste of how suitable the Lego line is for this type of construction. For anyone that enjoys these projects, and wants to go further, I recommend fischertechnik highly.

There are lots of other excellent construction toys to be found in the Block Play Store -- courtesy of, and I appreciate your doing a little holiday shopping there, or anywhere on Amazon via that entry. I get a little something that makes a small but appreciated contribution towards the cost of my blogging.

An especially good deal might be an Amazon Gift Card -- good for anything on

Quite good for Good Block Play.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Bayko 1

The other day I built and blogged my first Bayko structure, but didn't manage to say much about it. Today I returned to Bayko, to build the larger structure shown above. If anything, I enjoyed this project even more than my first.

I've known about Bayko for years, and was aware of the attractiveness of the structures, and the intriguing style of assembly (right).But it took me until this last summer to actually get some. Partially because it is hard to find in the US - it may never have been sold here, or only in the smallest quantities. My set came from Canada - -whether bought there new or brought over (or sent as a gift) from the UK, I couldn't guess.

There is a wonderfully extensive web site of information at -- including full sets of manual images.

At left is a typical plan entry, from my own 1952 manual, showing the parts list, view, and plan. Note that the plan shows the stacking order of pieces top down from bottom up, which can be disconcerting at first. The cryptic abbreviations quickly become clear, and construction is not difficult -- nor is it boring.

All of the constructions, large or small, are built up on bases into which the support rods are inserted (illustration above right). There is only one size of base -- for larger structures, multiple bases are connected together with base links screwed to the bases. I am short a couple of screws (long time readers already knew that -- but this time I mean that literally not figuratively). What size of screw? I can't seem to find out online.

But even a couple of screws short, Bayko is Good Block Play.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


A small construction using an old British Bayko set.

I got this set a few months ago, after having coveted one for years. They seem never to have been imported in the US.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the "complete" set wasn't, and many pieces were broken, so it took me until last night to actually get up gumption to try building something.

Quite different from anything I have built with before.


I'll be coming back to it, for building and for blogging.

A nice variation in block play.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I got a small fischertechnik set in the mail the other day. I was a little disgruntled at first because the "new" set had only been packaged in a bubble envelope and arrived thoroughly smooshed.

But I didn't really expect any damaged parts, and indeed there was no damage to anything but the outer box.

fischertechnik parts are tough.

But I'll need to make a stiff box to slide into the smooshed ft box so it will be stackable when it eventually goes on the shelf.

Perhaps by then, I will be unblocked again, and ready to build some more with one of my larger ft sets.

Good block play
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ankerstein (ASC h26)

Anchor Stone Constructions has broken a long drought both there and here by posting a new Heinzelmännchen design, for which I am quite grateful.

Not that I couldn't have built an older design -- there are several I haven't built yet, and many more that I would like to build again -- but timeliness has its own impetus, and building a new design the same day I discover it has some real appeal.

And I needed that extra boost: Demolition and new construction next door has discouraged block play for a variety of reasons: shaky hands, shaky brain, and shaking house.

But recently things have quieted down in all regards on several days, and I have actually had the Heinzelmännchen out and on the table a couple of times, but things hadn't gotten any further.

So finding a new design this morning took me the next step, and here you are, illuminated by autumn sunlight streaming through the ripply glass of windows far older than the construction next door.

Good block play.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ankerstein NS 8

This Anchor project from the NS 8 designs may be the most difficult I have built yet.

Or it may simply be a side effect of coming out of a bad mental health episode.

Part of my theory of blocks and mental health challenges is that it is good to be able to step back in complexity without too much change in what I was trying to do.

That may have been what I was unconsciously already doing with last week's Ankerstein NS 2 exercise.

I had also been renewing my acquaintance with Challenge block sets, planning a Block Play post on them as a break from Anker, and I continued with them after I stopped doing Anchor stone building. I still intend to return to them at an early opportunity.

When things were at their worst, I went for the preschool activity of Parquetry blocks, which I consider to be legitimate Block Play, albeit somewhat of an outlier.

So why when I was ready to return to Ankerstein did I tackle a challenging NS 8 project?

Ummmm ... because that is what I wanted to build?

Sometimes motivation is the critical component.

And it was a good project, as difficult as it was.

Although an NS 8, the only notched arch required is the 93aR from NS 4. A 100aR from NS 6a is called for but a 100R from GK NF 6a works fine. And although substituting an unnotched 98R for the 98aR would mean more redesign, and probably require a few more small stones, it would not disrupt the overall lines of the building.

However the 19R and 31R notch-filling stones from the 6a are needed. Pairs or singles of 69R from the Kleine Gernegross can substitute for the 31R stones, and 19R stones are in the Heinzelmaennchen, if you have that. Or if you have GK NF 4 + 4a instead of 6, you can substitute 15R stones for pairs of 19R a couple of places.

However you go about it, it is good fun.

And good block play.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ankerstein NS 2 mini

We return again to the NS trove of plans.

For today, I am making myself an NS Set 2 counterpart from the half-size Kleine Gernegroß set and some supplemental stones.

For the unavailable pair of 69Ge "pez" stones, I had to make stand-ins from wood. For those following along at home, these should be a snit less than 1/8" x 1/4" x 1/2".

As an experiment, I am referring to KG stones by their GK counterpart numbers with an "e" for "equivalent appended. Should I include actual catalog numbers? Should I post a conversion chart?

In lieu of supplemental stones that you can't borrow from other sets, you may resort to making the 1/4" x 1/4" x 1/2" (minus a snit) stand-in for the 31G stone from wood as well.

We don't need to be perfect here, since we won't be balancing them on end or stacking them critically.

But the fit does need to be close. Sand slightly, and perhaps check by fitting in between stacked "real" stones. I checked mine with a dial caliper, but not to full accuracy -- I just happened to have the tool at hand.

The appeal of the NS plans here, as always, is the exploration of art deco -- perhaps even some Bauhaus influence -- and industrial variations.

These contrast nicely with the churches, monuments, and Biedermeier structures of the earlier Ankerstein designs.

Without a split arch option, we will have to skip some designs, or modify them somewhat. Substituting 208Re or 19Re plus 31Re sometimes works (I wish I had 31Re - I only have G).

When The Toyhouse reopens after vacation, I will probably get a couple of 124R arches to attempt "splitting" my own.

I especially like the factory on page 11, which is developed in more detail in the larger sets. I suspect you will see a photograph soon.

The split arch halves are used separately in this factory design, but mostly as extra 1Re stones (though they do provide shallower door and window openings), so we can substitute.

Of course, this would all be much easier if we simply built with full sized stones. Set 2 is a subset of Set 4, and with no large arches, the notches don't enter in, so everything we need is in Set 4 or Set 6.

The fireplace at left should appeal to Herman. It is another of the themes we see developed in larger sets. I have some fondness for them myself.

Today I am build several of the structures shown here, with recourse to GK for one or two.

I'll be photographing them as I go, so let me know if there are any you'd like to see and I will do a follow=up tomorrow

Oh -- and that picture I was taking up top?

It's right here to the left.

Good block play.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Ankerstein Big & Small

This afternoon I built with Set 8 for the first time in a while, after a warm-up this morning with my recolored Kleine Gernegroß (below).

I may favor small constructions, but that doesn't keep me from enjoying large (for me) ones now & then.

This Set 8 church is Dorfkirche St. Martin, UE 49, from the designs that Burkhard Schulz posts each month, coming from various sources.

Many of those designs are for big sets, but there have been a few very nice Set 6 and Set 8 designs recently.

The bridge, which I have posted before in its "natural" colors, is from ASC G7. Unfortunately, the picnic table I was building on had a carved & pitted surface, and I had no stiff cardboard to create a level playing field. I still like it.

Good Block Play.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Red roof, green roof

I didn't take the picture above, and didn't build the buildings, but both still have something to do with Block Play.

The town seems to be Saaleck, Germany, and the picture was taken for me by a friend on a bicycle trip. My interest in trains was the motivation for taking the picture, but the result is something much greater than just a nice train picture: The valley and the village and the patterns of woods and fieldsall entice and delight.

I have always especially enjoyed pictures like this in books and magazines, and I especially enjoyed vies like this when I lived in Germany.

But for the Block Play connection, we need to look closer - look at the colors of the buildings in the village: white with red roofs, yellow-tan with red roof. Some do have dark, perhaps gray but maybe weathered red, roofs. At least one is a new dark gray roof.

The church has a green roof - the onion dome is almost certainly copper sheeted, weathered to verdigris, the pitched roof probably is. If they aren't, then the roof treatment was deliberately chosen to resemble verdigris.

In other parts of Germany, brick houses are not uncommon, but in many areas, they also have red roofs - but typically a more orange red of tile, contrasting with a darker, browner red in the brick.

In other areas, may buildings, especially of the types often represented in Ankerstein designs, are light or dark gray, often also with verdigris roofs.

Wouldn't it be fun if we had the opportunity to build Anchor stone constructions in these alternate color schemes?

It is possible in GK to build a red roof using either red roof stones borrowed from other makers sets, or using the Anker 210R half thickness stones. Or we can build in "HK," with Kleine Gernegroß stones supplemented with loose stones.

That is what I have done in the church above, based on ASC G24 converted in color scheme and extended a bit with extra stones from The ToyHouse.

Building with a green roof, or gray structural stones would be an even bigger challenge as things stand.

Anker offers to make stones in alternate colors as special orders, with a setup fee that jacks the cost per stone up for small orders. I suspect the way to start is with some interested parties pooling to order a few basic stones in the alternate colors. Anyone interested?

Ultimately, one might hope for a special edition set or two.

To me, Set 4½ would be the ideal size - big enough to show off the roof color, small enough to be affordable. But Set 6 would probably be more realistic, with plans available for it in digital (CAD not scanned) format, which could comparatively easily be redone in different color schemes.

A pipe dream probably, but it sure would be fun.

In the meantime, my supplemented KG set lets me do some alternate-reality Anker building.

Good Block Play.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Ankerstein NS 4 (2)

When I posted on Anker Set NS 4 a few days ago, I said it looked like all the NS 4 designs could be built with GK NF 4 (the current production set) with only minor modifications, and possibly with the need to borrow one or two 19R stones (1 x 1 x 1/2) which come filling the notches in the NS large arch, and looked to be used elsewhere in some of the designs.

Shortly after posting that, I found that I was sort of wrong. Maybe.

Anker sets in numeric series always (or almost always?) contain an example of a structure of the next level, to encourage purchase of the next appropriate expansion set.

Sure enough, the NS 2 booklet contains an NS 4 design. And sure enough, it is one with the arch notches firmly integrated into the structure of the building. It would be possible to build it very much as drawn using a GK NF 4 and a Heinzelmännchen together, and it might be fun to do so.

But I think it would be a major exercise to redesign the structure to just use Set 4 stones. So instead of doing so, and instead of spilling the beans, I decided to wait until my 98aR notched large arch came.

Yep, yet again Chris Baldwin at The ToyHouse came through for me in a big way, and sold me a 98a [which went 'thump' on the porch just as I wrote that sentence], and a bunch of other stones for various other activities and experiments which will be the topics of future Block Play posts - right now I am off to building this design, which will be the title image of today's post.


I built it, I photographed it, and I like how it looks. But those center things in the windows are 31G and 69G stones, and were nasty to line up two stacks each. And of course, every time anything else moved, especially the big 5G stones on top, the little stones moved out of place.

But I might still build it again some time.

Good Block Play.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ankerstein Set 32

I see this morning that The ToyHouse is now taking orders for Anchor Set 30A, expected in late September.

This set expands your Set 30 to Set 32.

The classic GK NF numeric series has only one more expansion set after this, to take the collection to Set 34. Well over 3000 stones, well over $3000, weighing up toward 200 lb. That is a hobby for grownups with deep pockets.

My own interests remain at the other end of the scale. For me, Set 6 is a large set, and Set 8 is "very large." At some point, I think I would like to get the 8A box so I would have a Set 10 "super large" option. I wish I could get the bridge set to go with it, but I suspect that it is, and will remain, well beyond my means. A disability check only stretches so far.

Perhaps it is partly that the end of the numeric series is drawing close, perhaps it is partly backlash to the ever-more-complex sets of recent years, but there seems to be growing interest at my end of the Anchor spectrum: William Seppeler's Anchor Stone Constructions (inspiration for Kleine Gernegroß design above) subject of complimentary mention in; Donald Kenske's Don's Hobby Keep; Burkhard Schulz's new plans page specifically asking for design contributions for smaller sets.

Richter's Ankerstein production in the golden age of Anchor blocks certainly didn't neglect the low end - the huge variety of small sets produced, and the number of versions of booklets for many of these sets, suggests that the low end toy market was where the real money was then, just as it is for most toy lines now.

I suspect that more than any importance as a meaningful profit center, the high end sets were a marketing tool for the low end sets - prestige by association, reassurance that expansion was all but unlimited.

Perhaps Anker will complete the GK NF numeric series by releasing a Set 2 and Set 0 - great sizes for a desktop play break at work, inexpensive enough for trial balloons, or even - perhaps - for children's toys, if such a thing is allowed. I'd like to give each of my sons-in-law a Set O for Christmas.

Quite suitable for good Block Play.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Serpentiles is an absolutely wonderful single-player puzzle game which has both physical and mental characteristics of Block Play.

I have played with a lot of connecting tile games (there enough to fill a large book), but never found one as addictive as this one. The aspects of good block play are surely a major factor.

The tiles here are square or the size and shape of two squares together (like a domino or an Ankerstein #15 stone). Each tile shows a section of one of two different path colors, or an intersection between them. The objective is to connect two intersections with a path of each color.

I am reminded of sections of model train track or slot car track, or perhaps XTS trains. The connections between the two paths would correspond logically to two different connector systems of track.

But it might make more sense to consider the paths to represent transit routes and the intersections the transfer points where a rider starting on one route and ending on the other would change vehicles. Many urban transit systems have schematic route charts with a graphic style similar to this game.

The tiles provide a very complete set of geometric configurations for one and two-square pieces, omitting rotations but including mirror image reversals. I have seen other games and puzzles where mirror images are not included and which 'handedness' is included seems to be random, and that has bothered me.

Crossings of one path over the other, or over itself, are not included. They are not needed for variety or for a sense of completeness. In fact, they would probably expand the options enough that they could be provided in special expansion sets if this game finds the success it deserves.

The deck of challenge cards shows the tiles to use, similar to the image at right. It helps to duplicate that layout to be absolutely sure one has the correct tiles. The back shows the solution, as in the title image above.

Forty different challenges are provided at four different skill levels. There are sixteen additional challenges downloadable as printable card images, beginning at the second package level, and going one level beyond (frustratingly, the pages with the card fronts and backs are arranged in the same order so you can't simply turn the sheet over and print the backs or they will end up mismatched to the fronts).

My images do not duplicate any of the 40 or 16, so you will have 57 total.

The easiest challenges are simple but still interesting, and are primarily for learning and refreshing ones skills. The most difficult will provide a lot of interest, but are not unpleasantly tricky or irritatingly frustrating. At every level I found some solutions quickly, but took much longer with others.

Most solutions provide an "aha! moment, and generally look simpler than one was expecting. That is a good characteristic for this kind of puzzle, and seems to be due first to the two separate color paths - each is a simple shape compared to the overall pattern - and second to having all path segments on the tiles in play being part of the solution. Similar games usually have a clutter of random lines belong to unused path colors.

ThinkFun, once known as Binary Arts, has been best known for its Rush Hour series of position-puzzle games. Early games came with decks challenge cards, similar to Serpentiles, but for a while the company went to providing a shabby little fold-up sheet with the challenges and solutions which greatly decreased the visual and tactile pleasure of play. I am glad to see cards back.

The tiles provided may be plastic, not stone or wood, but arranging them and rearranging them is a great tactile experience, and physically and mentally, I think Serpentiles qualifies as ...

Good Block Play.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ankerstein 4½

At some point Richter's felt obliged to create intermediate sets in range 2 - 4 - 6 - 8 or 1 - 3 - 5 - 7.

Either the series was deemed too widely spaced, or it may have been primarily a matter of getting the large arch into smaller sets - even though Set 4 doesn't include the #98R large arch, set 2½ does.

The odd numbers were not available, being used for Kleine Kaliber sets, so the intermediate sets were numbered 2½, 4½, 6½ in the GK NF series.

Two different GK NF 4½ sets were offered at different times with different numbers of stones.

Our example is the larger (right above), which at 7½x11 "cubes" is only a little smaller than a 6 at 8x12, the smaller (left) at 6½x9 is only a little larger than the smaller 4 at 6x8½ (the current 4 is 6x9).

The set also appears as set 3½ in the "VE" series, which took over the odd numbers after the KK sets were dropped. VE sets larger than set 5 (= GK NF 6) had metal parts, and one wonders if the two series were ever carried in parallel in the same shop.

The VE 3½ demanded mention because the only set 4½ designs I have found so far are for the smaller set, but the VE sheet at right contains several models for this block mix, albeit sans layer plans, and is clearly numbered "3½."

Newer CDrom sets may have more designs for this set, with layer plans. I will need to get a set and see.

This block mix (minus two stones) was already in my workspace as a stand-in for the Bing B-5, which probably duplicated this exact block mix. Bing didn't have an alternate series occupying the intervening numbers and thus could number it with the more logical "5."

These designs should appeal to Set 6 owners looking for something a little different, with few of the Set 6 stones leftover (left).

The model in the title picture in fact uses all of the Set 4½ stones, and was quite a challenge to put together without the layer plans. Recommended for puzzle fans.

Good block play.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bing after B-4

When I posted on Bing set B-4, I only included the design pages for that set, plus the smaller set design that actually appeared as the title image, but I suggested I might return with examples from Bing sets that came after B-4.

So today's photos are of the two Bing B-5 designs included in the B-4 booklet to tempt customers onward and upward. Built here with modern Anchor Stones, to preserve my imperiled equilibrium and because I only have a Bing B-4, not a B-5.

Unlike Ankerstein, Bing went from set 4 to set 5, rather than set 6. And Bing's B-5 seems to fall between Richter's GK NF 4 and GK NF 6. A major motivation in my building these two designs together was to see what stones from GK NF 6 were not used.

So I built one, dismantled it without returning the stones to the box, and built the second. Missing from both constructions, and presumably from Bing set B-5 are the large split arch (Anker 101G/102G), the four corner roof pieces (Anker 212B), and the four half roof pieces (Anker 210B). The paired half-thick full small arches (2x Anker 110R) may or may not have belonged - both construction could have used them as a substitute for one of the full small arches (Anker 108R).

That was more or less what I guessed before I started. A few smaller stones were also left over, but of types that are represented. The real point is that Bing B-5 designs are fully constructible with an Ankerstein GK NF 6. [Bing B-5 seems to have been identical with Richter GK NF 4½, which makes sense - more on that in the fullness of time].

The second design was nasty - very unstable in the upper reaches, where the large arch is supported only by cantilevers of the split small arch. Amusing that stability had just been a topic of discussion.

It would seem that the Bing B-series sets originated before World War I, in the period when Bing may have been the world's largest toy manufacturer, and Ankerstein sets were the world's most popular commercial toy.

One can certainly understand why Bing would feel obliged to tap some of stone construction set market, and also meet the desires of their wholesale clients.

I find it interesting that the B-series design pages show blue-gray roof stones, just like Richter's, while the actual stones in the set are green. Was there a problem with Richter? A desire to distinguish the Bing sets for marketing reasons?

Or did the color change when the A-series was introduced? The green stones look even better in the A designs, and my B-4 booklet shows green stones in the A-series constructions on the cover and inside.

I'm hoping that sooner or later folks with Bing sets will stumble across this pair of posts and fill in the gaps in this information - and perhaps share some more design scans with us.

To end this post at the beginning, and go a bit beyond Bing after B-4, the remaining designs from sets before B-4 are included here as well, albeit after the ones that came after.

Good Block Play.