Rube Goldberg couldn't have done it better

August 08, 2012

I don’t know how many of you ever played the board game Mousetrap. For you children under the age of 48, the point of Mousetrap — well, there really wasn’t any point, unless it was to prove that the people who designed it must have been on acid.

You would spend half the day putting together the game’s infrastructure, which would, when the time was right, activate a tall gear that would trigger a mallet, slapping a steel ball down a crooked staircase into a winding gutter, where it would set in motion yet another steel ball balanced on a rickety plastic pole high above the game board.

This ball would amble into a suspended bathtub and the weight would tilt it (the bathtub) forward, allowing it (the ball) to roll out the bottom at its (the bathtub’s) far end, and drop it (the ball) onto the high end of a see-saw.


Which would mean that the “down” side of the sea-saw would of course snap into the air, sending the plastic old-man figurine diving into a tub, the ensuing motion of the delicately balanced tub being enough to activate a cage that would slowly descend (much like the ball on New Year’s Eve) down a notched poll, thus trapping the mouse.

This was the climax of the game, which, for reasons I can’t remember, no one ever got to. Because someone would always get bored with the game itself and set the mousetrap in motion just to stave off the tedium.

(Hi. Your columnist here. Sorry about the interruption, but I felt you deserved a word of explanation. I started out to write a piece on our new company cola machine, whose various arms, levers and elevators deliver the bottle of product to you in the most convoluted manner imaginable. I thought “Mousetrap” would be a good illustration, but as more bad childhood memories are getting stirred up, I have become so mad at the game that I can’t let it go.)

Worse, Mousetrap was a game you could not play on a surface that had any type of tilt, as did our kitchen table. That gravitational inconsistency would throw off the mechanism, and instead of rolling into the chute, the aforementioned steel ball would roll straight off the table and under the couch.

Also, I don’t know if Mousetrap had to be calibrated for altitude or atmospheric conditions, but at our elevation I guess the air was a little thinner and three times out of four the old man would go sailing entirely over the tub, failing to activate the trap.

(No really, I don’t mean to give the soda machine short shrift — it has all kinds of impressive moving parts. Kind of reminds you of something you would see in a Dr. Seuss book:
“Down comes the soda with pulleys and bleezers;
Pinions and jimjaws and celebulleezers.”
I mean really, the only thing missing is the signature Dr. Seuss boot on a stick to kick the plastic bottle out into your waiting arms. Matter of fact, of the $1.35 price, I’m guessing we’re paying 15 cents for the beverage and $1.20 for soda-machine technology.)

So you would have to get your dad to try to fix the game, and he would put on his reading glasses and, using paper matches for shims, he would very seriously go about raising and lowering the plastic contraptions and running “test traps” every so often, to see how close he was to success.

He was never all that close, to be honest, but his efforts were far more entertaining than the game itself ever was. In return, every so often, we would bring him a soda.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or by email at

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