You, of course, remember the original, Major Fun award-winning Q-BA-MAZE. And you were probably wondering what could have happened to this marvel of marble-dropping merriment. Wonder no more. Or, wonder again at the wonderment now once again available thanks to Mindware‘s new release of Q-BA-MAZE 2.0? Similar in every way to the original Q-BA-MAZE, yet significantly more affordable.
Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 comes in two different packages. The “starter sets” include a more than ample 36 lovely acrylic pieces and 14 steel marbles. There are two sets which are identical except for color. One set features cool colors (green, blue and clear), the other warm (red, yellow and clear). And the there’s the “Big Box,” which combines both of the starter sets into one gloriously absorbing multi-marble-fall construction kit.
Each set includes three different block styles to choose from (nine bottom-exit cubes, 18 single-exit cubes, and, my favorite, nine double-exit cubes). These double-exit cubes feature a truly ingenious structure which often makes the marble hesitate for an unknowable period just before it makes up its steely mind as to which exit to take. When you drop a whole bunch of marbles into your construct at the same time, the varying delay creates precisely enough suspenseful randomness to give you a different result each time.
There are also two ways each of the blocks go together, which, combined with all the other transparently blocky affordances, turns out to be precisely enough flexibility to engage you in many, many hours of creatively constructive engagement. Furthermore, there are no dead ends. No mater how complex your construct, the marbles will inevitably find their way out, one way or an other.
I asked the designer to explain more about the improvements in the new version. He generous answer will probably tell you more than you want to know, but, in case you wondered:
This new partnership between Q-BA-MAZE and MindWare is a great match. It contributes all of their skill and experience in the production, distribution and customer service side of brainy toys, while it frees time for me as the inventor to dream up new ideas.
I have always thought of the cubes as the base of an ever-expanding marble run construction system. Now that vision is poised to become a reality. I am currently working on half a dozen new Q-BA-MAZE extensions and am so excited for these to get out into the hands of creative kids everywhere!
ENGINEERING THE NEW CUBES
The engineering of the new cubes was the first step in the partnership with MindWare.
Since we were making new molds, it made sense to take the opportunity to let the design evolve and improve upon the original.
Q-BA-MAZE cubes have both “bottom pegs” and “side joints.” I’ll discuss these separately below. Some of the points are pretty technical and difficult to state succinctly.
A: BOTTOM PEG SHAPE: If you compare the original Q-BA-MAZE cube and the new Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 cube, you will see that bottom pegs were originally cylindrical but are now more like rounded squares with the greater roundness facing the outside corners.
This change in shape has two effects:
STACKED FOUR PEG CONNECTION:
When stacking Q-BA-MAZE cubes vertically, they are meant to be stacked with a “four peg connection” and not a “two peg connection”. The rounded outside corners of the new bottom pegs give a visual and tactile cue to the user that the “four peg connection” is the way to go and the “two peg connection” is like putting a square peg in a round hole.
The original cylindrical bottom pegs provided no such visual or tactile cue to avoid the “two peg connection.” Q-BA-MAZE structures are most stable when relying on “four peg connections” and “side joint” connections and avoiding “two peg connections.”
When cubes are horizontally offset, the way to connect them is with the “side joints” which are super stable (ie the joint is nearly 3/4″ tall on a 1 1/2″ tall piece and thus does a great job of resisting rotation in all directions). The new squared off look of the bottom pegs, in addition to the diagrams in MindWare’s new instruction pamphlets that come with each set, will help ensure that people learn to build with Q-BA-MAZE using the stable “four peg connection” and using the super stable “side joints” rather than “two peg connections”
As this new bottom peg design points people toward this most stable way of building, they will create more stable structures.
2) ROTATION RESISTANCE CONTRIBUTED BY THE BOTTOM PEGS IN SIDE-JOINED CUBES:
Take two single-exit cubes and then attach them using the side joint of the upper cube so that the side joint of the lower cube is immediately under the upper cube. You will notice that the upper cube rests on top of the lower cube’s side joint.
Now if you compare the original cubes and the new Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 cubes in this configuration, try rotating the upper cube clockwise or counter-clockwise in the vertical plane of the abutting faces of the two cubes.
You will notice that the new cubes are resisting this rotation for some reason and not “popping out” the way the original cubes do under similar rotational force.
Look closely at the side joint of the lower cube when you are doing this rotation. You will notice that the “bottom peg” eventually comes into contact with the side joint of the lower cube. Due to the squared off nature of the new bottom pegs, the bottom pegs of the upper cube engage with and do not slip past the side joint of the lower cube during this rotation.
Do the same inspection with the original cubes and you’ll see that the cylindrical bottom pegs roundness makes them slip past the side joint of the lower cube during this rotation.
This greater resistance to rotation is helpful especially when making Q-BA-MAZE structures with longer cantilevers and for holding these cantilevers in a more stable and orthogonal orientation.
B: BOTTOM PEG HEIGHT: The new bottom pegs are a little taller than the old bottom pegs – so they sink a little deeper into a cube below.
SIDE JOINT FIT: The side joints of the new Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 have a more uniformly snug fit than the original due to increases in the draft angle of the cube walls and side joint. The increased draft angle makes it easier when tuning the production mold to get that “just right” Goldilocks balance in which the cubes are neither too loose nor too tight.
Individually and together, these engineering improvements to both the side joints and bottom pegs provide even greater stability than the first generation Q-BA-MAZE cubes.
What’s more, all the rich library of detailed plans created by the designer of the original Q-BA-MAZE are still available, online, on Andrew Comfort’s Q-BA-MAZingly generous website.