Vermont Arts Council

Games for the Holidays

It’s time for holiday shopping, and the Council is here to help. We’ll lead you straightaway to Amazon to buy the Skylanders SuperChargers Starter Pack. With this popular video game you can DRIVE EVIL CRAZY (so says the product description, complete with caps). “You’ll maneuver an unstoppable fleet of incredible vehicles to embark on epic adventures over land, under sea, and through the sky.” You can order that right here.

Here’s another choice: The PinBox 3000 made by the Cardboard Teck Instantute in Vermont. Wait. Cardboard?

It’s Cardboard

junktiques-top-lo-resIIThe PinBox 3000 is a tabletop, build-it-yourself, fully customizable, modular pinball kit (again, straight from the product description). It comes with pre-cut cardboard pieces, marbles, connectors, and rubber bands. Assembly time is about an hour and the game is human powered. Allow extra time to make the playboard; designing and decorating the center piece where the marbles roll is entirely up to you.

Two local artists, Ben t. Matchstick and Pete Talbot, are the minds behind this game. When I talked to Pete, he was at a cardboard die cutting facility in Burlington, ready to begin work on a couple thousand kits.

Grottoblaster First

Just over a year ago, Pete and Ben were working on an “immersive puppet show, live video game, hip hop concert, and house party all rolled into one fantastic spectacle” called Grottoblaster. The cardboard arcade games had an employee-to-patron ratio that Pete says was “well, pretty bad, but a lot of fun,” and afterward they were left with “a big awesome fun piece of recycling.” Of all the games, the idea of a cardboard pinball machine had their attention. Pete said, “Once we worked out the flipper system we saw what was possible.”

In January, 2015, Pete and Ben were awarded a residency at the Generator in Burlington. They got two months’ rent, a $1,000 stipend, and a key for 24 hour access. By the end of the first weekend, the two makers had a proof of concept, and in two months they had the first major prototype. “Yeh that thing was big,” Pete says about the first machine. It was about twice the size of the games they are building now. After the residency, they kept the studio at the Generator and Ben and Pete have continued working solid since January.

studiovan-blogThen… “I signed you guys up.”

Lars Hasselblad Torres, executive director at the Generator in Burlington, sent an application on behalf of Ben and Pete to the National Maker Faire in Washington, DC. Five days before the fair in June, 2015, Ben and Pete were notified they had been accepted to exhibit. “I had to essentially quit my job.” The last three words of that sentence come out slowly; the first time Pete has hesitated in talking about any of this. They raised $1,800 from local donors in 24 hours through gofundme–enough for van rental, hotel and gas.  “We had planned on doing a Kickstarter campaign anyway, and now it seemed like we should do it there [at the fair].” Ben and Pete piled in a van with boxes of cardboard and headed for DC. The van became a studio for making pinball games and editing video. “Ben was running the exacto knife and glue gun while I’m driving, then we switch and I’m on Ben’s laptop and using my phone for a hot spot and editing the Kickstarter video.”  At that fair, the space they were assigned was “tucked away,” but drew a big crowd as the Kickstarter campaign launched.

With three ribbons from the National Faire, they headed to the World Maker Faire. This time, they were positioned in the Rocket Rotunda next to the Microsoft exhibit. “Here we are in this scrappy little tent from Vermont, next to Microsoft and we’re packed the entire time.” The machines were a big hit again. As Make Magazine talked about featuring the PinBox 3000, they presented Ben and Pete with ten ribbons at the Faire and later on, a purchase order for 750 units.

In Production

There are some differences between laser cutting and die punching cardboard. Die punching is the method they’ll need to use for mass production. Two manufacturers turned the PinBox down saying it would be impossible, but Rob Achilles at Franklin August Trading Company (they make custom packaging for shipping special and fragile items) said “no problem.” That is the facility Pete was in when we talked. He was there with 25,0000 sheets of cardboard ready to make 2,000 games.

A product launch party was held at Woodbury Mountain Toys November 17; the games for Make Magazine and the one you might decide to purchase are available to order now. It’s amazing to see the progress Cardboard Teck Instantute made in one year and impossible to say what will happen next. Pete doesn’t sound worried. “I’m excited to see how this year goes.”

Order your PinBox 3000 here.


–Susan McDowell