One of the great things about being a GeekDad is being able to expose my children to the interesting, the esoteric, and the odd. And while I love sharing my personal interests with my kids, it is sometimes hard to reconcile that they are not simply small versions of myself–that listening to NPR, Robert Johnson, and The Clash in the car doesn’t preclude them walking in the door one day asking me to download Kesha or Justin Bieber (two bullets we have thus far dodged), or, as in my case, that one would end up preferring K’NEX to Lego.
Growing up, I was a Lego kid. Sure, I had Lincoln Logs, but after the house, barn, fence, jail, and really tall tower that collapsed every time someone walked by, there wasn’t a whole lot left to do with them. I even dabbled a bit in Tinker Toys and erector sets belonging to my little brothers, but I always came back to that giant tub of Legos*, handed down and added to over the years.
So, when my son started asking for K’NEX sets, I was surprised at how much fun they were. Once I got over everything being wireframe, I started to see the attraction. There was much more movement, more engineering and physics, than sticking bricks together. How do you build an eight-legged creature that doesn’t pop legs off when you move it? Sure, that tower looks fine now, but when you add a fulcrum and turn it into a trebuchet, you have to widen the base and add in more cross-supports. Or, in the case of his newest sets, take into account the force of a small plumber driving in circles.
We were super excited when the Mario Kart K’NEX sets were first released. A quick glance at my son’s room, and you’d understand why. The two main themes of his room are Mario and K’NEX. Mario wall decals, posters, toys, and games littered his walls and shelves, and scattered across his floor like a dungeon full of Koopa Troopas are a half-dozen kinetic K’NEX sculptures in various stages of construction and operation. Unfortunately, while these Mario Kart kits are fun to build, when it comes to actual playability, they combine the difficulty of keeping the K’NEX from falling apart with the vapidity of watching cars go around in circles.
Like most building toys, though, the key to enjoying the kit is to recognize it is a module for creativity, not a standalone toy; enjoy the fun of construction, and then use it as a part of a whole, combined with other Mario Kart kits, the big bucket of K’NEX pieces, Mario chess pieces, Hot Wheels, building blocks, and whatever else is lying around. His latest acquisition was the Mario & Yoshi vs Stone Bowser Building Set. From the pictures, it appears Bowser needs a few more weapons at his disposal. I’m thinking an Ewok-style Swinging Log of Death, which, come to think of it, would be a good use for those Lincoln Logs.
* Sorry, the only way the Lego company is going to get me to stop calling them Legos is to invent time travel and threaten 6-year-old me with sticking together all my thin flat pieces unless I agree to call them Lego bricks.