Reflections on the Mouse Trap Game

by Billy Gard

You may remember it. Around 1963, this great board game came out. But what was drawn on the board wasn't the interesting thing (it was kind of, more on that later), but what sat on top of it. It was a fantastic machine where you do something with the first part, and it trips another part, which does something to a third part, and it just keeps going. They call this a Rube Goldberg contraption, named after the man who came up with this ingenious whimsical sort of machinery.

The Mouse Trap game is the first game in common circulation that utilized this Goldberg principle. At a certain point in the game, you would turn a crank. It would pull back a rubber-banded gate and release it. It would hit a stick with a boot. The boot would kick a bucket over. A steel ball would roll out of the bucket and down rickety stairs, then down a gutter. It would land in a small bay where it would run into a plumb rod. This releases a spring which pushes the rod up. A hand on top of this rod pushes up on a lever thingy and a larger ball rolls off of it and falls through a bathtub. It lands on a see-saw, and the man standing on the other end of it is made to dive into a wash tub. This shakes the wash tub which causes a cage to scurry down a pegged pole and trap a hapless mouse.

Somehow it seems to me that the older I get the funnier this gets.

The timing of this game was highly significant in my life, since its release was the year I was born. I spend the wee years of my life in a house where I would periodically see this toy set up, partially or fully. By late childhood I was as familiar with the game parts as most people are with a pencil or a can of coke. The colors of the pieces also affected me in a deep and sneaky way. While most of the parts of the original game were red or yellow, there was a lime green diving man, and at the end of a red rod is a little hand that was a deep blue. If you read my webpage called The Blue Mystique, you may have properly guessed that this is my favorite piece in the gameset.

Around when I was 5 or 6, some pieces went missing, as tends to happen when you let kids play with them. While there was that big round wash tub, which was yellow with a textured side, I remember that there was a similar piece, same color and texture, but it was tiny and fit on the top of the stairs. The bucket. I asked mom and dad to get me a replacement bucket. I don't know if they understood what I was talking about at the time.

And I knew that we were also missing that red rod and the blue hand that attached to it. That's the part I remember playing with as I was in my sister's room pulling the hand off and putting it back on over and over. Ever since then, I would often remember back on this little blue hand, and have that overwhelming oooooWOOOOOH! moment, where the memory of that little solid hand with its deep blue color just came back with full force. Because of this, there was a letdown whenever I saw newer editions of the game with a yellowish-green hand or some other color. It had to be that deep blue. Otherwise it is like substituting caramel for peanut butter in a Reeses. I'm still racking my brain over why that had to be one of the few pieces with a different color, when most of the rest were unchanged.

I also came upon a much newer version of the game where the colors got a complete makeover. Most of the parts that were red are now a light blue (or as I call it, well-tempered blue), including the rod, and the hand was a rich green (better than yellowish-green I suppose). The rod no longer had a spring to be released by a tab. This time the tab was facing the other way, and when you knocked the rod off the tab, the hand would jump up a little and push the thingy above it. Another silver ball replaced the original big ball. I must admit the game had more colors on it than the mostly red and yellow original. However, it only takes one blue part to hit the sweet spot, if it's that really deep blue (or what I call just-blue).

While thinking of whatever else needed to be replaced in the game, I noticed that on the game board, which had images of all the game parts, had dotted black arrows showing you how to fit the pieces together. I asked my sister if I could also get a set of these arrows for my game, just like the ones you see in these pictures. She must have thought that was a scream. She said "Billy, that's like asking for words."

It's because of experiences like this that I value the use and choice of color in children's toys. They should be designed so as to give those kids that ooWOOH moment when they have future memories of that toy.

* * * * *

Sometime while I was at Mrs. Burrough's house, who was my regular babysitter, either she of one of her kids there pulled out a new toy I nad never seen anywhere else. But I recognized at once something highly significant about it. It had several pieces. It had stairs looking like the ones on the Mouse Trap game, but longer and curved. It had a gutter like the Mouse Trap, but shorter. It even had a tip-over bucket similar to the one on the Mouse Trap, but it was blue and much too large to be fitted on the Mouse Trap stairs (I tried). It had some other unique parts like a broom, a cat, a bed, and some other "base" pieces with elaborate ground textures. I knew that this strange new game was some kind of spin-off on the Mouse Trap. I don't think anyone there ever managed to put it together and demonstrate it for me. There may have been missing or broken parts (this house had kids too you know).

If anyone is following along who recognizes my descriptions, you probably know I'm talking about the Crazy Clock game. This got released a year later than Mouse Trap. My memories of seeing its parts at Mrs. Burroughes's house are cherished much like those of the Mouse Trap game's blue hand. I may add that the second game had many more blue parts on it than the first. It was almost evenly devided between red, yellow and blue pieces. And yes it was the same rich blue as the hand.

Based strictly on what I remember after putting one together recently and working it, it goes like this: You turn a key to wind a clock. A boxing glove on the clock retracts and hits a broom. The broom hits a cat at the top of the stairs, which releases a marble down the stairs. It pushes open a door at the bottom, which moves an umbrella, which releases a wheel with four feet on it. This rolls down two rails and hits another ball on a golf tee. It falls off and rolls down the gutter. It hits a golf club, which hits some long johns that shoot up a pole and hits a crow in a nest. He relases a third ball which falls down into a bucket, which falls over and the ball rolls across a pool table, and down a groove where it moves a gate with a Do Not Disturb sign on one end and a candle on the other. The candle moves up to the foot of the sleeper, which releases him and he pops out of bed.

I guess anyone who has lived with me knows it is as hard to get me out of bed as it is to catch a mouse.

This game has not been circulated as highly as the Mouse Trap game, which is why many people may have never heard of it. This game also has no board. But the pieces are assembed on any flat surface.

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