I just love simple toys that are both fun and allow us to creatively use our imaginations. 27 years ago, my dad made a simple little marble game out of wood. He had made grooves in some boards which he put together at declining angles that allowed marbles to run in a zigzag pattern for about eight seconds from start to finish.
My son and daughter would load up the marbles on the top row behind a straw or stick and then release them all at once. They enjoyed watching the marbles zigzag back-and-forth as gravity controlled the marbles’ journey to the bottom of the toy. They would often play like this for 30 minutes to an hour at a time.
One day when my son Chris was nine, he came home with an assignment. He needed to come up with some type of timer that would be exactly 1 minute, and he asked if I had any ideas. I immediately thought of the marble game.
I had since bought a plastic version that was much more complex than the homemade wooden one my dad made. It was made up of many different colored curves and straight pieces that you could assemble and make really big towers for the marbles to descend. I thought if we build a high enough tower, the marble would take 60 seconds to travel down. We decided that would be a very accurate one-minute timer.
Of course one minute is a very long time, especially when a marble is moving along propelled by gravity. Chris and I worked diligently to create a travel time of exactly 60 seconds. We even used duct tape on some of the plastic pieces to slow the marble. (Hey I consider this a life lesson–teaching my son that you can fix most anything with duct tape.)
We worked on this thing for hours, and it ended up being about 9 feet tall. We carefully put it in the back of my locksmith van to get it to school the next day, and I helped him get it into the classroom and set up properly. My son came home from school that day with a big smile on his face and said that he was the only one who had a timer that was exactly 1 minute. He gave me a hug and thanked me for being a cool dad.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago . . . while I was waiting for a table at a restaurant in the mall, I wandered into a toy store. As a grandfather, I have an obligation to research what type of toys are available, right? I came across this elaborate marble game with all different types of plastic pieces including a type of cyclone, hoses, spinners and even a little marble trampoline.
I wrestled with the decision to buy it or not. I was in total agony in my mind for about 17 seconds. When I came out of the toy store with the huge box and a smile on my face, my wife looked at me and asked, “What did you buy now?”
I responded with “Something for Clara and I to play with.”
Like a lot of toys, there was some assembly required—that’s half the fun after all. Of course, it always takes longer than you expect. I was reminded of all those Christmas Eves that I would be up late assembling toys for the children. The new marble game had 173 pieces to assemble and came with 30 marbles and instructions that included 34 steps.
About halfway through my first attempt, I realized that I made a mistake. So I totally disassembled it and started over. On my second attempt, I made it about 75% complete before I made another mistake and called my son to help me. Altogether, it took about seven hours to assemble. Chris and I played with it and reminisced about the marble game we built for his one-minute timer back when he was nine.
Once it was complete, I took some pictures, sent them to my daughter, and said, “Look what I bought for Clara for Christmas!” (I justified it by saying that it was research for my blog and grandparents website.)
I can’t wait to show it to Clara. I can just imagine her watching the marbles go through the maze and seeing the smile on her face when she looks at me and says, “Again!”
Laugh, smile, enjoy the day.
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