Many of us in the United States frequently browse the shelves of Toys R Us for things to hack on. Sadly that era will soon end with the chain’s closing. In the meantime, the entire store becomes the clearance shelf as they start liquidating inventory. Depending on store, the process may begin as soon as Thursday, March 22. (Warning: video ads on page.)
While not as close to hacker hearts as the dearly departed Radio Shack or Maplin, Toys R Us has provided the hacker community with a rich source of toys we’ve repurposed for our imagination. These toys served various duties including chassis, enclosure, or parts donor. They all had low prices made possible by the high volume, mass market economics that Toys R Us helped build. Sadly it was not able to keep its head above water in the low margin cutthroat competition of retail sales in America.
As resourceful consumers, we will find other project inspirations. Many projects on this site have sourced parts from Amazon. In commercial retail, Target has started popping up in increasing frequency. And no matter where new toys are sold, wait a few years and some fraction will end up at our local thrift store.
We’ll always have some nostalgia for Geoffrey the Giraffe, but toy hacking must go on.
If you have access to a drill press, saw, and sander, and are looking for a great present for smaller children this holiday season, [Jonny] may have you covered. He’s come up with a pretty good how to on making some simple block and dowel building blocks similar to the Tinkertoy building sets.
This is a fairly simple build if you have the shop tools, and if you only have hand tools available, is still quite doable. The blocks consist of square wooden blocks with holes drilled into them and a bunch of wooden dowels cut to size. [Jonny] adds a wooden box with a hinged lid for storing the blocks in as an added feature of the build,.
There are no LEDs lighting up, no Arduino-powered microcontroller involved, and they don’t connect to the internet, but that doesn’t make them any less of a great toy. Even without the shop tools, these could be made pretty quickly even by someone without prior experience with woodworking. If you’re interested in building block toys, check out this write-up about a way to combine different types of building blocks together, or check out this write-up about creating the frame of a DIY CNC mill with a metal building set.
Continue reading “DIY Wooden Building Blocks”
Within the last few years, a lot of companies have started with the aim to disrupt the educational electronics industry using their LEGO-compatible sets. Now they’re ubiquitous, and fighting each other for their slice of space in your child’s box of bricks. What’s going on here?
The main reason for LEGO-compatibility is familiarity. Parents and children get LEGO. They have used it. They already have a bunch. When it comes to leveling up and learning about electronics, it makes sense to do that by adding on to a thing they already know and understand, and it means they can continue to play with and get more use from their existing sets. The parent choosing between something that’s LEGO-compatible and a completely separate ecosystem like littleBits (or Capsela) sees having to set aside all the LEGO and buy all new plastic parts and learn the new ecosystem, which is a significant re-investment. littleBits eventually caught on and started offering adapter plates, and that fact demonstrates how much demand there is to stick with the studs.
Continue reading “LEGO-compatible Electronics Kits Everywhere!”
There was a third-party multiplayer upgrade pack for one of the Quake games back in the ’90s that included a whole slew of non-standard weapons. Among them one of the most memorable was a gravity well, that when thrown into the middle of a crowded room full of warring players would suck them into a vortex. Assuming its user had made it to safety in time, they would then be left the victor. The hyper-violent make-believe world of a first-person shooter is probably best left in a Pentium server from the ’90s, with few direct parallels in the real world. Maybe laser tag, or Nerf battles, are the closest you’ll get.
If you are a Nerf enthusiast, then you’ll appreciate [Giaco Whatever]’s CO2-powered remote-control Nerf bomb as an analogue of that Quake gravity well. It fires twelve darts at the press of a button on an infra-red remote control. The firing tubes sit in a nicely machined manifold connected via a solenoid valve to a little CO2 gas bottle. In the hectic world of a Nerf war it is slid out into the field of combat, its operator takes cover, and the other participants are showered in foam darts. There are probably kids who would sell their grandparents to own this device.
The build is detailed in the video below the break, along with a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek movie segment demonstrating it in action.
Continue reading “Remote Controlled Nerf Bomb”
Once tried, even grown-ups just can’t let go of that hilariously funny Chewbacca mask. Also, the speaking toy literally cries out to be hacked. Weary of the whining Wookie, [John Park] set out to bring variety into Chewie’s mode of expression, expanding the mask’s memory and vocabulary to unprecedented levels.
Continue reading “Chewbacca Mask Hack Cheers Up The Whining Wookie”
A large part of the world still educates their kids using a system that’s completely antiquated. Personal choices and interests don’t matter, and learning by rote is the norm. Government schooling is woefully inadequate and the teachers are just not equipped, or trained, to be able to impart useful education. [Arvind Gupta], a science educator, is trying to change this by teaching kids how to build toys. His YouTube channel on Toys for Science and Math Education has almost 100,000 subscribers and over 44 million views. It’s awesome.
[Arvind] graduated from one of the finest engineering schools in India, the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, and joined the TATA conglomerate at their heavy-vehicles plant helping build trucks. It didn’t take him long to realize that he wasn’t cut out to be building trucks. So he took a year off and enrolled in a village science program which was working towards changing the education system. At the weekly village bazaar, he came across interesting pieces of arts and crafts that the villagers were selling. A piece of rubber tubing, used as the core of the valve in bicycle tubes, caught his eye. He bought a length and a couple of matchboxes, and created what he calls “matchstick Meccano”.
This was in the 1970’s. Since then, he has been travelling all over India getting children to learn by building fun toys. The toys he designs are made from commonly available raw material and can be easily built with minimum resources. These ingenious DIY toys and activities help make maths and science education fun and interesting for children at all levels of schooling. All of his work is shared in the spirit of open source and available via his website and YouTube channels. A large body of his work has been translated in to almost 20 languages and you are welcome to help add to that list by dubbing the videos.
Check out the INK Conference video below where he shares his passion for education and shows simple yet entertaining and well-designed toys built from trash and recycled materials.
Continue reading “The Toy Maker”
For the 20th anniversary of the Movie “Hackers” [Jamie Zawinski], owner of DNA Lounge in San Francisco, threw an epic party – screening the movie, setting up skating ramps and all that jazz. One of the props he put up was an old payphone, but he didn’t have time to bring it alive. The one thing he didn’t want this phone to do was to be able to make calls. A couple of weeks later, he threw another party, this time screening “Tank Girl” instead. For this gathering he had enough time to put a Linux computer inside the old payphone. When the handset is picked up, it “dials” a number which brings up a voice mail system that announces the schedule of events and other interactive stuff. As usual, this project looked simple enough to start with, but turned out way more complicated than he anticipated. Thankfully for us, he broke down his build in to bite sized chunks to make it easy for us to follow what he did.
This build is a thing of beauty, so let’s drill down into what the project involved:
Continue reading “My Payphone Runs Linux”