Pete Talbot and Ben Matchstick are the two person tornado of creativity that is The Cardboard Tek Instantute. Together, (with the help of lasers-LASERS!) they are bringing Pinball to the masses with the Pinbox 3000- a table-top pinball system made of precision cut cardboard with interchangeable and fully customizable play boards. Grab the kids and a hot glue gun, raid the junk drawer or the bottom of the toy box and make any version of the classic game you can imagine. Dinosaurs vs. Aliens? Life on Mars? Breaking Bad? You know, whatever the kids are feeling.
Last month they introduced their creation at The National Maker Faire in Washington DC, then came home to crush a Kickstarter goal.
Sara: What did you feel was the overall impression from parents? Did they have to explain what pinball is to their kids?
Pete: The parents are totally familiar with pinball like, "Oh my gosh. This is really cool." A lot of the kids, especially the younger kids had no idea what pinball was. They'd be like, "What is this thing?" They'd come out, and the parents would be like, "Do this. This is how you interact with it."
The parents really saw this way to connect with their kids and kind of this nostalgic bridge. They could say like, "This is the thing that I used to do when I was a kid. We can take all of your broken toys and then integrate them onto the playfield," and then boom, it's this awesome thing. The kid's like, "Wow. Cool." That was really fun. It was cool to see the parents battling the kids with the PinBox.
Sometimes, with the technology, kids are like, "Ahhh. Don't help me do the Minecraft stuff," or whatever, what the kids are into these days. I don't know. Kids that are below a certain age, they wouldn't really be able to assemble The Pinbox as easily. Parents get to help them work on this thing a lot.
It comes flat packed and then put together. We're going to provide an idea book, so that people that are creating their own playfields won't be totally frozen. It will have suggestions about what to use, recycled materials, how to create ramps out of a cereal box. You could take a sponge and cut it a certain way or you could take all the broken toys and junk drawer miscellany and hot glue them onto playfield. Repurpose them and give them a second life instead of just being on a shelf or in a box like in the bottom of a toy chest or something like that.
If you have projects where kids take recycling and then make some playfields from it, they'll have a totally new appreciation and perception of the waste stream. They'll say, "Oh my God. We were just tossing all the stuff out. Now this is my favorite toy."
We have more of that sort of junk sitting around our house than I'd care to admit. So many birthday party favors and prizes. Things that break and can't be fixed.
Pete: Yeah. And that's a benefit to building with cardboard. It's a simple system. In that way, it's very easy to be fixed. You can fix it yourself. With other electronic things, you can't really repair the inside of your Game Boy if that breaks.
I would never even try in that case.
Pete: There's also a gamer aspect to the PinBox which isn't screen-based. Kids are working with actual tangible things. There's also the education side of things. Ben wrote a curriculum. Basically, it shows how you can marry the STEAM and STEM requirements of the classroom today with the PinBox. It's got everything that a diorama has, but you also get to play it.
I love the integration with the learning aspect because there's so much that kids are forced to sit down and learn factually these days when what they really respond to is exploring and having that experience of figuring it out.
Pete: Yes. You solve a problem. You put a ramp somewhere and then you're like, "I solved the problem of getting the ball to go up a ramp," and then three other problems are created by that. It's like, "We'll get stuck behind the ramp. I have to take care of that." You're creating, you're going on this journey of constructing this whole working mini-ecosystem of the game.
How the idea got started
Ben: In 2004, I lived up in the Northeast Kingdom. We had a thing called the Hand and Foot Powered Carnival. I built this cardboard arcade and I wanted to make a pinball machine. I made a really junky one of scrap wood and a bunch of cardboard. A bunch of us painted it. I called it "Oh What a Civilization." It was just tons of garbage and then you have to navigate around.
The next year, I made one called "On Top of Spaghetti." We toured with one on a bike circus in the back of a bike trailer.
Eventually, we started doing these shows called Grottoblaster. They were interactive puppet shows. We had a cardboard arcade that started every show. People would hang out and play these cardboard arcade games. We started making pinball machines out of that.
A girl named Erin Rodell made a whole exhibit of cardboard pinball machines that you could take off the wall and play with. She collaborated with a bunch of artists. It was a model for us.
Once we got the laser idea of constructing all the parts on a laser and being able to iterate the design without having to hand cut all these funky and very fine parts, the project took off in Pete's hands, I had to say.
I read that you're basically doing everything with recycled materials, is that right?
Pete: Yeah. The cardboard is totally recycled.
I love that. It's not like there's any shortage of cardboard in the world.
Pete: The only things that aren't recycled, these little plastic rivets that we get from this guy in California who has a whole garage full of them, and then rubber bands. Since we use readily accessible thing like rubber bands, people can fix the Pinbox.
Ben: You can just trace it on another piece of cardboard. Trace it and then you cut different piece and you reinstall it. There's nothing preventing anybody from taking the one that they have and tracing it on a different cardboard and making a duplicate. We're not saying, "Don't do that, or we'll sue you." If somebody has that much energy for it, they should totally do it.
Ben: And recently we met a guy whose traveling to South Africa. He saw the Pinbox at an event and wants to take them to the orphanages he's visiting.
That's so awesome.
Ben: He was staring at it. He turned to me and he was like, "That's what I want to do. How do we make that happen?" I'm meeting with him tomorrow. We're hoping we can create a connection there and have a way to mail them stuff and Skype with them. It would be just amazing. They'll cut up an old can and turn it into pinwheel and stuff. Just imagine what they could do if they had a pinball machine.
Connecting all those little pieces and people from all over the world, that's an amazing tool. I love the idea that someone's taking it all the way around the world and sharing it with other kids. That's fantastic.