My Act One set finally arrived yesterday, and I was very happy with it! I found it fairly priced for everything I expected out of it- high-quality parts, and about 10-15 hours worth of puzzles, working at a comfortable pace. Granted, a lot of that was assembling chains, but I was having fun, so the time flew by. I’m already considering ordering Act 2 for myself and getting Act 1 as Christmas presents for family friends.
That being said, I noticed a handful of design flaws. Nothing worth returning over, but a few of them would make me hesitate to lend my parts to children at the lower end of the age range. These problems were incredibly minor compared to the enjoyment I had, but I believe fixing them would make the next production batch just that more robust and safe for smaller hands.
The battery energy storage mechanism is robust and well designed, but the same cannot be said for the pullstring’s knob. The second time I charged the battery, the knob got caught on a chair, and snapped the loop which the string was tied to, causing the bottom (which the string was tied to) to fall out. As a result, after trying (and failing) to glue the loop back on, we simply glued the string to the inside of the knob and hoped for the best. The bottom still occasionally flies out when the circuit breaker is tripped and the knob collides with the casing, due to the sudden shock experienced by the string.
I believe the design could be improved greatly by simply adding more material on the loop which the string is tied to, allowing it to absorb more shock while also being less likely to break when the knob gets caught while the battery is spinning. This doesn’t prevent the problem of the bottom occasionally flying out, but this is much less of a problem when it is still attached to the string.
One of my switches’ magnet pads and one of my junctions’ magnet pads are substantially weaker than the all of the other components. The magnet strength varies quite a bit across all of them, but it’s most obvious on those two components, especially during the voltage doubling/quadrupling puzzles. Sometimes, when activating the switch, the stray inductance in the circuit was enough to pull the switch and junction together and cause chains to derail. This only began to occur during the later puzzles, but was annoying enough that I made a point to check that I was using the “good” switch whenever I could, as the circuit could often handle one weak part, but not two.
As the battery can hold a scary amount of force, a bit more quality control here wouldn’t hurt. Speaking of the force of the battery…
Despite my best efforts to tension the belts properly, quite often, a chain would slip, causing a short. I was surprised by the battery every time- Sometimes, I’d be holding a chain somewhere else in the circuit, and the sheer shock of the battery suddenly shorting and stopping was enough to detach a link. I currently have a small blister on my finger from when I tried to discharge a battery by holding the side of it on the battery’s teeth. Now I make a point to hold it by the top.
While I’m certain that I wasn’t in any mortal danger, with the emphasis on feeling circuits in motion (which I love!) a runaway battery is much more dangerous than the puzzle book gave it credit for. I used to be quite a clumsy 8 year old, and would have definitely gotten into a few scrapes if I had played with Spintronics at the time. An extra page on safety procedures might be warranted. Something along the lines of:
- Don’t stick your fingers on the bearing surfaces (gear teeth). Wherever possible, apply resistance to the top of components.
- Don’t alter a circuit while the battery is running! Wait for it to stop or use a switch to stop it. I quickly learned that I couldn’t rely on holding the driving chain, since I often needed both hands to replace and tension a part.
- Don’t hold the circuit at eye level- a runaway battery can break chains. (I don’t know if I’d go as far to advise eye protection, but it couldn’t hurt.)
Given how long a charge can last, A “safe discharge” button, or at least a “safe halt” switch for quick changes, would be nice to have on the battery, too. I imagine many simple solutions, but all of them would mean a major redesign, so I leave that up to Paul’s disgression.
Apologies that this somewhat negative post has gotten long. I can’t stress enough that, aside from these very minor problems, I had so much fun! I’m itching to bring my kit to my local church community and introduce some of the kids with STEM inclinations to the elegant electronic metaphor which Spintronics presents.