Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tinker Toys

Do you remember Tinker Toys? Boy, I do! Each set was packaged in a brightly colored cylindrical box about twice the height and the same diameter of that classic Quaker oatmeal box. I received a box of them one Christmas when I was 7 or 8. At first I was not impressed but when I opened it up, I was rewarded with this vast assortment of wooden spools and spokes of different sizes each with their own glorious color making it easier to match them up by length, the orange sticks were 1.25 inches long, yellow - 2.15, blue - 3.35, red - 5.05, green - 7.40, and, purple - 10.85 inches. The smaller spools were 1.35 inches in diameter with 8 holes of 0.30 inch depth around the edge and a hole through the middle of the flat side. Later Tinker Toy sets included larger spools, spoke extenders and plastic parts.

As it turns out, the manufacturer built the spokes to various lengths so that it was possible to build 45-45-90 right triangles. They did this by making the ratio from one length to the next when including adjustments for spool diameter and hole depth to be the square root of 2. The ends of the rods were split in order to make it easier to poke them into the holes in the spools. I was mesmerized and spent the next few days building and tearing down all the contraptions my imagination could come up with. I quickly found out that I could not build equilateral triangles from them because of the hole spacing at 45 degrees. That forced me to design my creations to right triangles, a limitation that chaffed at me a lot. But I think it prepared me well for graduating with a degree in engineering.

I am suspicious that the guys that invented Tinker Toys; Charles H. Pajeau and Robert Pettit back in 1914 had in mind stimulating children’s imaginations but by the time I got my first set, it included instructions for building all sorts of things from block frames that resembled city skylines to Ferris Wheels with moving parts. I must admit that I built some of the simpler designs but never completed the penultimate design, the Ferris Wheel. I didn’t have the patience, or the parts for that matter; that required 5 boxes to have all the parts.

What happened, was that I branched off, designing all sorts of things from bowls to swords, (hey, what can I say, I was all boy!) I played with that first Tinker Toy set so much that the holes in the spools enlarged and the ends of the spokes compressed so much that my creations wouldn’t stay together. I even tried sticking bits of paper into the slots on the end of the spokes and that worked for a while but eventually the wear and tear took its toll and no matter what I tried, my creations wouldn’t hang together. Time for another set of Tinker Toys; the timing was right, my birthday was fast approaching. Hmmmm, do you think that was by design?

When the sticks and spools got so warn that they would not hold together at all, I had one final use for them. I broke out my handy bottle of Elmer’s Glue and built permanent Tinker Toys creations. Some of those were still in the closet when I left home for college. Oh MY!

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