Cuboro

Cuboro is what people in the trade call a “Grandparents’ Toy.” What they usually mean by this is that it costs more money than most parents are willing to spend for a mere toy.

As a grandparent myself, I, too, would classify Cuboro a Grandparents’ Toy. However, I’m not planning on giving it to my kids. Or my grandkids. I’m keeping it for myself. I figure it’ll be another ruse I can use to get the grandkids over. And, in the mean time, I get it all to myself!

Cuboro is a beautifully made wooden construction toy that is used to create marble labyrinths. The blocks are made of beech, precision cut and sanded smooth. In the Standard set (54 blocks, $122.95), 26 of the blocks are just that – well-made, solid wooden blocks that serve as the foundation for the constructions. The remaining 28 provide an assortment of 12 different “functions.” By carving channels and tunnels into the blocks, the designers create the elements of wonder. Each of the functional blocks provides part of a marble path. Some channels and tunnels curve. Some cross. By assembling the elements in just the right way (and there are literally hundreds of “right ways”) you get a complete marble track.

Playing with Cuboro is a process of building and testing. Adjusting. Testing again. Adding. Adjusting. And again, testing. It challenges mind, eye and dexterity. It combines creative play with scientific exploration. This is really what makes Cuboro such a deep, playworthy toy. It engages the players on so many levels. And, just when you think you’ve exhausted the permutations and combinations of the Standard set, you can purchase sets of new elements, each of which combines with every other set, each providing a whole new collection of possibilities.

It’s important to note that Cuboro is very different from construction toys like Lego and Erector Sets, and equally different from dedicated marble run toys like the beautiful Scalino system. It’s open-ended. There are no plans included for creating specific structures (though a clear and well-conceived book of such plans is available to the appropriately desperate). Cuboro is designed for both flexibility and complexity. It lends itself to creative, scientific exploration as well as a more closed-ended puzzle-solving approach. This is part of the reason why I feel this toy is so valuable. Its open-endedness and intricacy is a paradigm for the kinds of experience I find most conducive to building playfulness and community.

Cuboro is the most expensive toy so far to earn a Major FUN Award. The elegance of its design, craftsmanship and functionality create a new standard for the kind of games and toys we hope to be reviewing in the future. As you become more familiar with the standard set, consider investing in an expansion set. Cuboro Duo ($84.95) adds double tracks, so you can race two marbles at a time. As amazing as it is that they managed to carve all those curvy tracks and tunnels into hardwood, the added game play is even more amazing. The words “quantum leap” come to mind. There are also “Six Packs” available, at $19.95 each, for yet more amazement.

Finally, trivial as it may seem, I also really appreciate it that the manufacturers invested in a box that was hefty enough to store this significantly hefty toy.

In case you were wondering, “Cuboro is manufactured…by a small, family-owned woodworking and toy company in Switzerland. The beech wood that the Cuboro blocks are made from is harvested by the family in an ecologically sound manner. The excess wood left by the manufacturing process is not discarded; rather it is burned in the kilns that methodically dry the blocks to ensure that they maintain their precise shape and character.”

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