Friday, November 12, 2004

They don't make 'em like they used to...

I was playing Mouse Trap with the young 'un this evening. Mouse trap is the game where you construct a mouse trap using plastic parts & attempt to trap your opponent under the basket.

I don't know how long the design has been around but I can remember it vividly as a nipper back in the 60s. Whilst the construction progressed, I was trying to encourage logical reasoning for the orientation of the various parts, something somewhat tricky considering the illogicality of the construction. It occurred to me that in some ways, the design had been over simplified to the point where it was not as reliable as the toy on sale four decades ago.

Firstly, the stop sign assembly that kicks the boot that knocks over the bucket- the basic alignment is now poor and there is insufficient force to knock over the bucket other than resonances and displacement after a few attempts. Increasing the tension via the elastic band just deforms the assembly. It is marginally more visually attractive, having decals of a hand on the stop sign and a lamp on the lamp post but the boot has less mass.

The breaking down of the crazy stairs into a three piece assembly has made it more fiddly but essentially sturdy enough for purpose, provided the boot kicks the bucket correctly. A steel ball has been retained for the design, although the larger bowling ball probably has lower mass. The helping hand assembly used to be spring loaded so that the steel ball would cause it to move upwards once displaced. The current simpler design just relies on downwards displacement although the bowling ball is precariously positioned adequately enough that the sharp force causes it to roll down, despite non-intuitive mechanism in use.

When it comes to the diver, however, it has been seriously skimped. It doesn't sit comfortably on the pedestal and generally doesn't land in the diving pool in a precision backflip, instead, it clouts it as it falls short. This is enough to initiate the cage ratchet effect, however, and the mouse is invariably caught.

The piece colours have changed from my boyhood memories, I recall the crazy plumbing being red instead of yellow, the stairs being red instead of blue and the boot being blue instead of green. The rules have been enhanced (?) by the introduction of cheese pieces although all they really achieve is speeding up the end game by providing the opportunity to trap the opponent more.

As a child I thought it was a very clever piece of engineering (at least for a couple of days, when I managed to cause a structural integrity failure of the crazy plumbing). I'm delighted that MB Games still sell this, although they also made some real stinkers, such as Buckaroo! and Ker-Plunk. The latter game first wised me up to the deceptiveness of advertising, it didn't make a ker-plunk noise at all, it was more of a crash- rattle rattle. It is still going & even harder to put the sticks in in the modern incarnation.

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