Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Bridge

I am often thankful for bridges, and often thankful for building toys. They are good therapy.

Holidays are stressful, so I have been doing a lot of the things that help me cope. Block Play is an important part of that, and I have been building quite a few small constructions - with Lincoln Logs or Tinker Toys. Haven't much felt like photographing and blogging them though.

This afternoon I thought I would see if I could build a bridge with the Roy Toy Deluxe set. 100% American made, and located in Machias, Maine, Roy Toys seemed a better choice for Thanksgiving than one or another of the other classic American toys, now somehow made in China.

My inspiration for the bridge was a blurred & almost indecipherable image I grabbed off the Internet a while back, showing an instruction sheet from some old construction system. Maybe Miniature Timbers? Or maybe an older set of Frontier Logs.

By the time I got it working with the Roy Toy pieces, it had strayed a long way from the long-unconsulted inspiration - which is how inspiration is supposed to work.

The bridge turned out well, I believe, though there were some photographic issues, which aren't entirely rectified in the image above. At least it shows that you can go a long way from the provided examples with this set.

I hope your Thanksgiving is, or has been, a pleasant one.

We'll be leaving soon to join my brother, sister-in-law, and mom. It may be Thanksgiving dinner with a Spanish flavor, since he owns a group of Spanish food stores, and has written a Spanish cookbook. Or maybe it will be more French, to go with his latest venture. Or maybe it will be more toward family tradition. He's an excellent cook, so it will turn out well, whichever option.

I'm taking along a couple of pocketable building sets. Maybe I'll sneak off for a bit like I used to at grandma's house.

Good Block Play.

I'm not going shopping on Black Friday, not at home, not on Amazon - but Amazon would like me to link to their Black Friday weeklong deals, and pay me a small commission for any business I send them. Might help me buy something new to blog.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Punch Bridge

This is mostly an Ankerstein construction, but the bridge is not, and that is mostly what this post is intended to be about.

In their Golden Age, many Anchor Block sets were available with metal bridge parts. Many of the online plans feature bridges.

I have various old metal bridge parts in various sets. They look old and bent and rusty. They go well with the old weathered and worn stones in those sets. They don't fit in quite so well with the new stones. I prefer to build with new stones.

One can buy lovely new reproduction bridge parts from my favorite Ankerstein source, The ToyHouse. I hope to do so eventually, shortly after winning Lotto.

In the meantime, I wanted to build more bridges. I wanted to do it in a way I could commend to my readers as readily available.

One technique is based on plastic models. I may come back to that. I have posted a picture previously.

But the other day I ran across a paper punch in Big Lots that could help me make bridges out of cardstock. If you are handy with a craft knife, you can probably build better bridges than I built. But my punch technique does work, as you can see above, and I will be using it to build more bridges. I need to get some gray cardstock that will photograph better.

Aside from that, I have been building, with Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Roy Toy, and K'nex, and will be blogging some of what I have built.

Mostly bridges. I like bridges.

Good block play.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tinkertoys & Froebel's Peas

There is an evocative feel to Tinkertoys, for adults who played with them as children. A tactile memory. A pleasure.

These may not be the colors of the Tinkertoys I best remember from my childhood, but they are the size and they have the feel.

At my grandmothers house, between the two upstairs bedrooms, there was a space that was more than hallway or landing, and less than a full room. It had a south-facing window, a chair, a small table, just enough space for a child or two to play on the floor, and a set of Tinkertoys. I played there a lot, retreating from the noise and hubub of the living room and kitchen, faintly audible voices drifting up the stairs. Tinkertoys.

Tinkertoys were invented in 1913. The story of how the inventor got the idea from watching his children play with spools and pencils on the floor has been widely repeated since Tinkertoys achieved their first success. Personally, I wonder how one makes the leap from a pencil in a spool hole to the eight holes around the circumference of the spool. That would be the more interesting story.

But again and again in reading about inventors explanations of their great breakthrough, one is stricken by how uninformed the poor inventor must have been to not be aware of prior art, yet somehow through sheer luck and fortitude invent something just sufficiently different from prior art to be patentable, and to not infringe on existing patents, if any.

Okay. They make good stories.

We don't really know that Charles Pajeau was aware of Froebel's Kindergarten, and in particular Gift 19 (the later supply-oriented "gifts" are now often called an "occupations" in contrast the earlier equipment-oriented gifts). But the Froebel Kindergarten movement was still very active in America, with a lot of activity in the Chicago area, and I suspect I recall, Pajeau's hometown of Evanston.

But whether by direct influence, subconscious suggestion, or simply prior development, we must consider Gift 19, "Peas Work," to be the precursor of Tinkertoys. As these images support, again taken from Wiebe's Paradise of Childhood, 1869, 1896, 1907.

Froebel's Peas appeared in a world prior to canned or frozen vegetables, or year-round availability of fresh, so when they spoke of "peas" they would generally be understood to be referring to dried peas. These, when softened in water, could have wires or sharpened thin sticks poked into them, and two- or three-dimensional structures created.

Tinkertoys are a better idea, and it is not surprising that "Peas Work" has been all but forgotten, and no longer plays a role in our kindergartens.

Tinkertoys would go on to be a major player for several decades, until eventually bumped down a notch by K'nex, but even yet surviving in a sturdier, larger version. There are also imitators, smaller, larger, and in-between.

Long time Block Play readers may find today's bridge familiar - it is similar to a K'nex bridge I did a while back, but less complex. Which is a major part of its appeal.

I am particularly pleased with the unit blocks as bridge piers & abutments. Unit blocks are so useful, and I find they complement Tinkertoys a particularly pleasing manner. I suppose with standard-sized unit blocks, the new larger size of Tinkertoys would be in similar proportion as my smaller blocks and smaller Tinkertoys.

Good Block Play.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Roy Toy by the bag

I am really not good at developing my own designs, but I managed to do this. From a single set: Roy Toy's natural wood Earth Friendly 250 piece bag.

First I built the design buildings for the set (bottom image), then after an overnight break, dumped the big bag of parts out into a box lid. I played for a while with how they might go together. I got frustrated several times by not quite being able to work out how to do something.

At some point, I am going to make a few pieces of my own - from raw stock, and by adding notches to some of my extra pieces.

For me, one of the good things about Roy Toy is that the quality & consistency are not so excellent that my own unexcellent work can't fit in. ;)

First, though, I thought I should accept the challenge of seeing what I could create just with what came in the bag, as-is.

I actually enjoy the mild roughness and occasional flaw. It is made by real people without over-automation and strict quality control.

Sometimes you have to turn a piece over or swap an "identical" piece to get a better fit. But that's life in the big woods. Consider it flavor, not spoilage.

The most critical measurement for satisfactory construction is consistent notch spacing, and here Roy Toy does very well.

The chimney and doorsteps (flat beach rocks I picked up Friday) were forgotten as I finished up the house & took pictures. Consider that flavor, not spoilage, as well, please.

I actually started out thinking I would have two stories for at least part of the building. I can do that by mixing in my other uncolored Roy Toy. In the fullness of time.

This bag actually had a few more than 250pieces. The large image near the bottom of this post shows the buildings on the instruction slips (unfortunately tiny in my set, but recently replaced by a larger, improved sheet), with the parts I had left over in front.

The parts I had left over from today's house are at left . There are a bunch more medium length notched logs in the bag at left rear. I dump the common and easily distinguishable parts loose into the big bag, and sort out the similar & special parts into a couple of plastic bags that then go in as well. Sort of a compromise between übersorting and a complete mishmash.

Roy Toy also has a 250 piece bag with colored pieces, presumably having roughly the same parts mix, since it builds the same three (four) buildings. Well, the cabins shown for the two sets are different, but neither is the same as the one in the set I got, and it is "half way between" the two shown.

Creative endeavor. Good Block Play.

Addendum: I received today, by email from Roy Toy, an improved full-page instruction sheet (noted in revision above), which should make building the standard structures much easier. [11/16 14:41]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stump Wedgits

Wedgits in the Woods.

My Mini Wedgits 10 piece pocket subset works really well for this. I wouldn't have had anything larger or less robust with me.

Good Block Play.

Addendum: Yesterday, I mentioned Stönees rock-shaped building "blocks," and after I posted today, I realized that they might be another Block Play option to provide I useful & fun subset small enough & robust enough to carry in a pocket.

In the past I have also occasionally carried wood or plastic cubes (blank dice) in my pocket as a robust Froebel Gift 3, and have long intended to make a small set of "mini unit blocks" to be a Froebel Gift 4 for the same purpose. [17:55 11/12/09]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Froebel Gift 3

How many blocks is enough? How many different block shapes are enough? How fancy do the blocks need to be?

It often seems that "more is better" is the universal response - eg Legos or Archiquest. Today we look at the other end of the spectrum, and find out that - at times at least - eight blocks, a single shape, and the simplest shape, are enough.

This is Froebel Gift 3 - part of Friedrich Fröbel's conception of early childhood education, which he called "Kindergarten" and introduced to worldwide acclaim.

The Gifts were intended to be given to children as educational toys, were very carefully designed, and were supported with well-explained lesson plans.

Following the first Gift of six soft balls in different colors and the second gift of three important shapes, Froebel's Third Gift introduced block play with eight 1" cubes of wood fitted into a cubical wooden box, to demonstrate breaking up into parts and reassembly in the same and different forms.

Unfortunately, too many of Froebel's followers were too worshipful, too unimaginative, too rigid, and missed major points of his teachings entirely, and instead followed examples in the plethora of Froebelian books as if they were gospel. Froebel's approach fell from favor, and teh Kindergarten movement sought new directions.

The banishment even extended to the blocks which make up his instructional tools in Gifts 3 through 6 (the later gifts introduced more complex educational play - including the precursor of Tinkertoys, and hence K'nex et al). They were to be replaced by Carolyn Pratt's enlarged Kindergarten Blocks or Unit Blocks, based on the rectangular blocks of Froebel Gift 4 and Gift 6.

Admittedly, the rectangular blocks do make for better play, and some of the smaller blocks of Gift 5 present real problems, but there is still something important that can be gained by a block builder spending some Block Play time with the eight cubes of Gift 3.

Click on the small scans here, from one of the last of the books of the Froebel Kindergarten era, and you can print out larger scans of kind of designs that appeared in ever-increasing numbers in book after book. If you get caught up in them to the exclusion of exploring your own designs, you may be a rigid Freobelian at heart, or you may be like me and just enjoying the therapeutic aspects.

Fortunately, Froebel Gifts are still (or again) available from different sources - even Ankerstein, whose popular stone blocks get their start as a development of Froebel Blocks, has a set in their composite artifical stone.

Many of the designs were passed forward from book to book, and were quite quaint by the end of the era- the locomotive here, and several other topics, was about as unrecognizable in 1907 as 2009 to Americans unfamiliar with early 19th century Germany.

For a bit of a digression, I have been admiring, but not quite buying, Stönees rock-shaped building "blocks," and it occurred to me that it might be fun to select eight of the more cubish (of a single color, for me), and see how many of the Froebel Gift 3 construction one could build. My previous Gift 3 post showed that I am not too rigid in what I use, at least.

I expect Stönees to deliver - just as Froebel Gifts long have - Good Block Play.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Roy Toy Cabins

One of my projects this weekend was going to be building from two Roy Toy sets - first the two intended buildings, then something from them combined.

So above you see the #4 cabin and the smaller #3 cabin side by side. Well, you see them after Webster got out of the way.

But when I went to fool around with the parts, I realized that there weren't enough of the 3 1/2" #2 logs.

Umm ... I've got over 200 of those amongst my ten or so other sets ... but ... too complicated for this evening. I did quite a bit of work around the house and am tired.

So here you see the #4 cabin with an extra tier to make the doorway & windows a bit higher. The side logs of the #3 set are interchangeable with the front & rear logs of the #4.

I guess I'll be working into this gradually.

I think the concept is good, but the second set should be a fort. Experienced Block Players know that it is the little blocks that are most useful for flexibility, and the forts are full of short logs. Include a cabin or two for long logs, and something really interesting should be possible.

Another day.

What the heck - I still had good Block Play.

Addendum - In the course of cleaning up & putting things away, I fiddled with some pieces to see why they hadn't fit together very well.

It turned out that my #3 set was made with 13/32" thick parts, with correspondingly skinny notches, while the #4 has 7/16" thick parts & notches. Going through all my stuff, it would seem that there was a change from the thinner to thicker at some point, as well as a change toward lighter coloring (cf Lincoln Logs). This is close enough that fitting between the two ranges from almost to just barely - it actually would only slow down building a little, but I have enough Roy Toy to not need to mix, now that I know.

If you are buying Roy Toy now, it should all match reasonably well - though piece lengths seem to vary somewhat for pieces with the same slot spacing. Slot spacing is the critical measurement, and that seems to be sufficiently consistent for good building.

Added 13:30, 11/9/09

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Roy Toy Wood-Links

Back during the depression, Roy Toy was one of many toy makers that sprung up, mostly to keep a business alive and employees employed.

Many of these toys have seen a rebirth in later times, out of nostalgia for classic toys and classic qualities. Some have come and gone again. Roy Toy is one of those that has stayed around and can still be purchased.

I've posted here about Roy Toys before, but it's been awhile, and I haven't posted the uncolored version.

In the meantime, Roy Toy has expanded their uncolored offerings significantly, and moved them from being a you-paint deal, to being "Earth Friendly," without the little plastic containers of paint.

I liked the unpainted ones more for their natural wood charm than for the opportunity to paint, so I never intended to paint mine. Besides being a pleasing natural color, the uncolored pieces lack the little dashed indents that were maybe intended to let the color penetrate more evenly, or maybe to sort of simulate a raw-wood appearance. The colored pieces look like they've been run through an industrial grade hyphenator.

One of my old complaints about Roy Toy was that each set seemed to have its own dimensions between notches, so you couldn't mix and match the pieces very well. In the two structures shown here, the #1 and #3 pieces are interchangeable, but the fort has a #2 that is half the length of a #3, while the cabin has a longer #2 that is sized so its notches align with the end and halfway notch of the #3.

But I apparently exaggerated the problem, and I now making measurements of the more accessible of my sets to see how much compatibility there is. So far, it looks like there is a quite useful amount of compatibility.

Roy Toy now offers some combo sets. I'd like to see what else can be built with those - and I bet the Roy Toy folks would be interested in seeing user designs as well.

My paint-set pieces were raw cut, neither sanded or smoothed, though it looks like maybe the new Earth-Friendly line is. Either way, it seems to me that these present much more opportunity for extending the set with your own pieces, since you wouldn't have to match the colors. Most anyone with a table saw could rip 7/16" thick log strips out of 3/4" boards, so an uncle could do it, and the notches could be done with hand tools - suitable for many children. Making your own round logs for other sets would require a much more sophisticated woodworker. Even with Roy Toy uncolored, I don't think anyone would want to make any quantity, the sets are too inexpensive for it to be worth the time & effort. But a few supplemental pieces might be fun.

Webster doesn't seem as impressed with Roy Toy as I am.

But I had good Block Play.

Edited 18:18 Nov 5, 2009, to correct some misperceptions. Additional corrections pending.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Linking Logs

Ja, they look a lot like old-fashioned Lincoln Logs, but they are made by Maxim, not by K'nex (it's true - K'nex now owns the Lincoln Logs product line).

These are Tumble Tree Timbers, and I am kind of fond of them. This structure is one of four that can be built at the same time with the 300 piece set, which has reasonably decent plans for three of them, including this one. So I have no excuse for forgetting the chimney.

Admittedly, they don't have the quality of Lincoln Logs, old or new, but the quality isn't bad, as are some of the other makers. The part mix in my sets are very good - simple, versatile, and all-wood.

Though I admit to having had to add a little metal, in the form of a penny or two to keep two flat roof boards from falling into notches. Those are Lincoln pennies, by the way, and if you zoom in (most all my blog images can be expanded by clicking), you'll see Abe sitting on a log.

I find a certain charm in building with linking logs in their natural form, and you have to give credit to the Lincoln Logs folks for providing a few sets that are all wood. If somebody would like to send me a set, I'd be happy to review them. For the time being, I am happy with the mix of old & new Lincoln Log sets and similar items I have, without buying more.

I even have fun with the modern Lincoln Log sets with plastic pieces, such as the Frontier Farm below. I especially like the cow.

Modern Lincoln Logs have a flat top & bottom, which can help beginners, and are very nicely designed & made, if you accept the plastic components. And much of the time, I do. I have several of the little totes, each of which has well-done instructions for one building and pictures of variations. You can mix the sets up for more interest, of course. Fortunately, I am pretty firm about sorting the pieces back in the original totes, so I can play when I need something easy.

Square or round, linking logs is Good Block Play.

This is my 200th Block Play post since starting on June 5, 2005. There are a few posts dated before that start up date, but they are mostly older photographs to which I gave the date of the photograph. The intention throughout has been to post my Block Play of that day, or sometimes the previous day, and perhaps ramble on a bit. There are also a few more posts partially written or almost finished but needing pictures. Maybe the reason they sit unfinished is because they don't follow that theme.

Between now and Christmas my intent is to emphasize things that are currently available, to help folks trying to chose gifts - I get a lot of queries & feedback on that. After the new year I hope to explore older items more.

Disclosure: I get a commission on Block Play Store sales in the form of an Amazon gift certificate, delayed two months, whenever the commission balance exceeds $10. I got one in September, but won't see another until next year. The average recently has been about $3 per month, with $1 in October. Obviously, I do it for fun, not for the big bucks. Amazon tells me what folks buy, but not who. It might be more fun if I "knew" my customers, but Amazon is WAY better at customer service than I am.

There are other sources listed in the "Links" sidebar, and occasionally in posts. Please mention this blog if you order from them. They don't pay me anything, but sometimes I get an extra booklet or a sample to try out.