Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Cup and Ball, and the Art of Staying Mum
This is not a toy, this is a mental torture device meant to make you feel incompetent, clumsy, and cursed with bad hand-and-eye coordination.
I can’t believe they made toys like these back then, because it’s no fun at all. There’s only frustration. Although come to think of it, that hasn’t stopped me from fiddling with the cup-and-ball over and over again. So far, I’ve been able to shoot the ball inside the cup (the burger-face) only three times out of a hundred tries, and I still haven’t developed a technique. What I do is forget there is a string attached and focus instead on where the ball is going. That doesn’t work every time though.
For maximum frustration, there are bowls too on either end, as well as on the handle, which become increasingly smaller and shallower, the analog equivalent of levelling up. It looks impossible to get the ball inside those tiny bowls, but I've got a friend who did all four levels in under 10 minutes.
So anyway, this classic toy has been around since the 16th century, back when toys were still made of wood. This here is a plastic version I bought from a thrift shop for just 20 Pesos. Not bad. The gameplay is a torture, yes, but try replicating this on a smartphone or tablet screen and it’s nowhere as frustrating and good.
In his Confessions book, Jean-Jacques Rousseau said something about the cup and ball:
“Should I once more mix with the world, I should carry in my pocket a cup and ball, to play with it the whole day, to dispense from talking when I have nothing to say. If everyone did so, mankind would be less wicked, their friendship more certain, and I believe more agreeable.”
Nowadays we have our phones for that, and everyone carries one. Less discreet but just as potent.