Have You Lost Your Marbles?

Nestled quietly amid the several headlines for the Presidential Inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington last week, the Associated Press (AP) reported an incident of marble madness near Indianapolis: “… a truck carrying 38,000 pounds of marbles lost its trailer… the marbles were on the shoulder and in the median… there were no injuries, but a lane of traffic in that area was affected by the cleanup during much of the day.”

I was lucky to catch the marbles story on my news feed.  It rolled in and rolled out (ha) in the space of about twenty minutes, making way for the more important headlines of the day.  A spill of 38,000 pounds of marbles!  That’s a whole lot of little glass orbs, people. Your average marble weighs 0.16 ounce (proving once again you can find anything on the Web), so with sixteen ounces to the pound you have a nice “round” estimate of 3,800,000 marbles commanding chaos on that Indiana highway.

79-convex-1As short as the AP article was (you’re reading just about all of it in the quotes above), I love the handful of details. One, the marbles were “on the shoulder and in the median”. In other words, they cleaned up themselves by rolling both directions off the convex surface of the asphalt. Two, “there were no injuries”. My first thought was the image of windmilling arms and dancing feet caused by a pail of marbles thrown in front of someone (I guess cars don’t react the same way). Finally, we have “… the cleanup during much of the day.” How the heck do you clean up 3.8 million marbles? My first choice would be a gigantic ride-on monster vac, preferably something designed by Dr. Seuss.

79-convex-2This story resonates with me because I had a childhood obsession with marbles – and marble games.  In the 1960’s the toy company Ideal came out with “Mousetrap”, one of the first mass-produced three-dimensional games.  Mousetrap was a fascinating contraption which – when completed – moved marbles and other game pieces in a start-to-finish process attempting to trap another player’s mouse.  When I first saw Mousetrap in action I became an instant marble enthusiast.

Mousetrap surely inspired the Matchbox game “Cascade” (which I was lucky enough to own).  Cascade consisted of three small trampolines arranged in a row between a tower and a scoring tray.  The tower included a clever “marble elevator” – a corkscrew raising the marbles to the top – only to dump them down a chute where they would bounce one-two-three on the trampolines and land in the scoring tray.  I’m not sure where in this endless loop you have a “game” but Cascade was sure fun to watch (see video here).  A more advanced version of Cascade came out the same year in Ideal’s “Bing-Bang-Boing”.

79-convex-3Countless marble contraptions have been designed since the games of my youth (the Web is full of fun videos), and let’s not forget Nintendo’s famous video game “Marble Madness”.  But as an adult I prefer the more elegant applications like Chinese checkers and marble solitaire (above photo), and the wooden box mazes I write about in Back in the Sandbox.

79-convex-2In the spirit of storm-chasers, I’d love to race down the highway to watch the next truck to lose its marbles somewhere in this country.  But maybe I’ll just stick to the marbles I own myself.  After all, what’s the saying?  A marble in the hand is worth 3.8 million on the road?  Or something like that.


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