So, you find this contraptions toy. You look at the outside of the box. You say to yourself: “sweet, this looks like a really interesting toy, like one of those marble run toys, imbued with a multitude of complex physical properties for the edification and exploration of school age children and adults, also even.” Prompted by the many intriguing constructions amply and enticingly adorning the sturdy box, you drop your $50 bucks into the nearest cash register and scurry gleefully home.
You open the box. You see 200 wooden pieces, all exactly the same, and two ping-pong-like balls. And a set of instructions. Well-illustrated instructions, carefully and clearly written with most pedagogically sound minimalism. And 200 wooden pieces. And two ping pong balls. Granted, the wooden, plank-like pieces are well-made: splinterless, yet with just enough woodiness to offer buildworthy friction; thick enough, with sides flat enough to be able to stand on any edge. And that’s it. That’s the whole set. That’s all you get. That’s all she wrote.
So, OK, you’re invested. So you start playing with the stuff. You look at a couple of the pictures until you find a construction that seems simple enough, and you build it, and you roll a ball down it, and, well, it’s like wow. Because it works. And it’s fun. And it’s so easy to make. And because the pieces are all the same you don’t have to look around to find just what does what. You make things do pretty much whatever you want them to do. You make ramps and towers and things you can roll the balls down, and drop the balls into, and bounce the balls across, and make the balls knock down. And, what, 4 hours already? And you’re still just starting to appreciate the whole thing, how all this simplicity lets you create all the complexity you can imagine, how well everything is made, how delicately intricate your creations, how genuinely fun watching the balls roll and bounce through the cunning tunnels, the complex tracks, manifesting so vividly your sheer brilliance.
There are many reasons for contraptions being as fun as it is. For some people – the people who can set aside their technolust and gadgetpassion, who can appreciate the sheer beauty of the concept, the clarity of the instructions, the elegance and simplicity of the materials, the intelligence of the design, the art, the dexterity, the freedom, the empowerment – for those people, children, adults, contraptions is simply brilliant.