I loathed educational toys. They always carried the dreary stink of school.* The worst offender was Texas Instruments’ Little Professor, a so-called plaything that resembled Mattel Football and the other electronic handheld games I loved. But it was really just a crummy calculator–worse than a calculator, in fact, because it quizzed you with problems, inviting you to do the math for it. No thanks!
My toy box was full of horrors like Little Professor. There was nothing quite like the disappointment of unwrapping a present anticipating a snazzy new toy, only to find homework masquerading as one. Every time, I resented that the grown-ups in my life thought I was too dumb to recognize schoolwork when I saw it. Who did they think they were dealing with?
So it’s testament to the genius of Capsela that I fell in love with it anyway. Receiving my first Capsela set was a confusing experience. The box’s promise of a “Science Construction Toy System” was a dead giveaway of the contents’ insidious educational purpose. But Capsela’s round transparent capsules reminded me of nothing so much as the play sets for my Micronauts, a bona fide playroom classic. Plus the capsules were full of cool-looking gears that actually rotated. One of them even had a motor inside. My schoolwork didn’t look like this. What the hell was going on here?
Soon I discovered Capsela wasn’t just a toy, but dozens of toys, if you had the right imagination. I was already familiar with the concept of construction toys from my Legos, which I found boring and impossible to shape into anything besides an ugly plastic lump. Capselas, on the other hand, moved.
You could see how they moved. You could learn the function of each capsule and put that knowledge toward building your own mad creations. And unlike my blocky Legos, Capsela’s look was neat, elegant and futuristic. No matter how you put them together, they always looked like something out of Logan’s Run. This was power my Micronauts could only dream of.
I kept my Capselas in a cardboard box. Every year, I would receive a new set and add it to the other Capselas in the box, enabling me to build grander, wilder creations. Each set came with a number of suggested projects detailed in a booklet that I immediately lost. It was far more fun to make my own projects, anyway.
When my bedroom got too hot in the summertime, I attached a propellor to my Capselas and built a fan. When I wanted a boat to patrol my backyard kiddie pool, the propellor and Capsela’s round yellow floats gave me what I needed. I even discovered Capselas could make a viable submarine, despite the instructions’ warnings that the motor wasn’t to be submerged. Probably the crowning achievement of my Capsela career was an insane dual-motor car that would hit a wall, flip over and drive back in the opposite direction–or at least, it would’ve if the motors were strong enough.
Watch this Capsela commercial
Recently I became a father. High up on the list of things I am looking forward to doing with my son was introducing him to Capselas, but I was dismayed to learn they aren’t manufactured anymore. I’ll probably end up getting him a similar toy like K’Nex, but it won’t be the same for me. I’ll continue to miss those clear plastic capsules, those round yellow floats, those connectors that often wedged onto the capsules so firmly that you couldn’t even pry them off with your teeth. I guess the up side is even with those other construction toys, I’m still likely to see him experience the same joy I felt as I built my Capsela creations.
He may even learn something, too. I think that’s why I find Capsela so brilliant: It was the educational toy so entertaining that you forgot it was educational. My parents and teachers insisted that school’s purpose was to encourage my natural curiosity and creativity and channel them into learning, but that always struck me as an endeavor at which Capselas were far more successful.
* A major exception was Texas Instruments’ Speak ‘n Spell. That thing could talk, plus you could make it spell out rude words.