Saturday World’s recent post about handheld LCD games made me think of some of their mechanical equivalents. Most of these involved getting small steel bearings through a maze or into holes, they also often had a timing devices of some kind. The higher quality games were made by Tomy, though there were a real glut of cheap-o ones too. In fact, you can still often find ones similar to the cheap-o ones at dollar stores today, usually attached to a tube full of candy.
I remember having two different maze ones by Tomy (actually the same game, rebranded). You would pull down a slider to between 5 and 20 seconds, then try to get the ball through the maze before the table came up & squeezed the ball against the window so that it wouldn’t move anymore.
I also had this fishing one. The idea was to rock the fisherman back & forth with the slider, knocking all the fish into the hole, before the time ran out. You could actually cheat though by turning the switch to “stop” before time ran out, then taking as long as you wanted to get the fish out.
You can find listings of most of these games at Tomy Pocket Games – The full List
In the realm of the cheap-o games, most of them were some variation or other of “pinball”. This confused most of us, since there were no flippers, bumpers, nor anything else we associatie with pinball these days. Instead, these all had either spring loaded launchers or tensioned plastic arms to launch the balls (of which there were many) up into the field & try to get them into high scoring holes or cups. What most of us didn’t realize is that this was how pinball originally worked (the “pin” in “pinball” comes from the fact that nails were used as obstacles & to form the cups). These were actually outlawed in the 1940s because they were viewed as being gambling games. Flippers were lated added to transform them into games of skill & make them legal again, thus leading to the pinball machines we’re all familiar with.
These toy “pinball” games are essentially a throwback to the old days of pinball. Interestingly, the japanese game Pachinko is very close to both this original pinball concept & to the toys.
While not really “games” as such, there were also handheld puzzles that worked in a similar manner. These were commonly in the shape of a transparent cube, with a piece of opaque plastic in the middle and one or more small bearings. Sometimes the goal was to get all the bearings to the other side of the opaque plastic, sometimes it was to get them all into holes, sometimes it was to get plastic rings (free-floating within the cube) around each of the bearings. You can often still find these puzzles in dollar stores too.