July 23, 2008

Bing Bang Boing development

Filed under: development, learning studio, P.I.E. — learningstudio @ 4:31 pm

It all began with a commercial on youbute for Ideal’s 1972 open-ended action game, Bing Bang Boing! Here it is:

We thought it would make a nice addition to our host of activities, so after a successful (if painful) eBay bid-war for the original set, and encouraged by other people’s efforts, we decided to develop our own PIE-flavored Bing Bang Boing.

Another source of inspiration was PythagoraSwitch, a wonderful Japanese educational television program that showcases intricate and delightful Rube Goldberg-type contraptions, like these:

First of all, we looked into ways of making the HumDrums that came with the game functional, plus make our own bouncy buckets.

We tried stretching latex over the original HumDrums (which were missing the rubber that originally made them bouncy), and securing it with zip-ties. Also, just a rubber balloon, cut at the stem and stretched over the drum, works pretty well, and actually has a high degree of bounciness.

We realized that the lip at the opening is important in keeping the rubber taut and secure, and that’s what makes cream cheese containers particularly good as homemade HumDrums. It also confers them rigidity to resist warping due to the tension from the balloon.

Other containers that worked well tended to be of rather sturdy plastic or aluminum. This on the left is a dried soybean snack container from SuperTokio, I believe. Rubber bands also work quite well in securing the latex. Tall containers provide a lovely sound as the balls bounce on them.

One of the first pieces from the original game got us excited was the BangleVator. This is a gravity-powered elevator: a weight provides stored energy to power a swinging arm, which catches the ball at the bottom, brings it up to the top, and releases it down the chute. The mechanism is really nice in that it can be wound a few times and, thanks to the dual arm design, it can catch and release a few balls before having to be wound again.

We tried some homebrewed versions of the same concept. One used the same principle of the gravity-powered swinging arm.

Magnets provided an easy way to adjust the weight, so that it could account for heavier marbles, if one decided to use them.

The catch holds the swinging arm down, and is released by an arriving marble. The whole arm is lifted by the magnet weight coming down.

The real breakthrough was the development of a “brake” to slow down the ascent of the swinging arm. The tension from the rubber band kicks in just as the arm starts speeding up, and deposits the ball at the top with a gentle motion.

Then Walter started thinking about ways to collect all the marbles that had started bouncing around the room in an automated way. This lead to the development of the splendid continuous marble elevator:

An earlier version did not include the escapement mechanism, which turned out to be helpful in timing the marbles being loaded onto the elevator

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