Author Archive

It’s been a slow season for adding more sets to my collection.  There’s been a number of good sets listed, but a surprising number of bidders.  At this point, I’m keeping my bids limited — if someone wants to out-bid me for a set, that’s fine, I’ll bid on the next one.  I’m also keeping my maximum bids lower — I don’t “need” more sets at this point, so I’m not going to run up the prices.

The most recent acquisition is a good example:  the set was originally listed at $50 + $25 shipping, and saw no takers ($75 used vs $155 new).  The seller re-listed it at the same price, but with the “Buy it now or Best offer” option.  I offered $25 instead of $50; he countered with $40; I countered with $30; he accepted.  That’s ~$100 off the new + shipping price.

Recent Acquisitions:

  • Millennium Builder ($10.00 + $14.50 shipping)
  • Chaos Tower ($30.00 + $24.95 shipping)

Current totals:

  • (1) Starter Set
  • (2) Intermediate Set
  • (4) Master Set
  • (1) Millennium Explorer
  • (2) Millennium Builder
  • (3) Chaos Tower

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This month I have picked up the following sets on eBay:

  • Millennium Builder ($29.99 + $14.00 shipping)
  • Master Set ($19.99 + $17.50 shipping)

At this point, I’ve got at least one of each of the base sets that were produced.  Current totals:

  • (1) Starter Set
  • (2) Intermediate Set
  • (4) Master Set
  • (1) Millennium Explorer
  • (1) Millennium Builder
  • (2) Chaos Tower

At this point, I’m only going to buy Master Sets, and the newer sets that include the chain elevator; the older screw elevators aren’t as useful as the chain elevators.

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September’s been a good month for buying used sets from eBay. This month, I’ve bought:

  • Intermediate Set, new in box ($19.90 + $20.67 shipping)
  • Master Set, new in box ($34.99 + $20.00 shipping)
  • Millenium Explorer ($29.99 + $16.00 shipping)

I’ve also seen some Chaos sets on Craigslist, but Edmonds Washington is a long drive from Virginia…

So why keep buying sets?  A couple of reasons:

  1. The biggest limiting factor with the sets seems to be the medium and large tubes; I have plenty of stunts and track, but not enough tubes to build a large framework.
  2. Parts break.  The rubber in the trampolines dries out with age; plastic becomes brittle and snaps unexpectedly.
  3. I hate to see these sets go unused — better to buy them myself than have them go to the rubbish heap.
  4. The used prices are so good, it’s hard to resist them…

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Chaos Toy doesn’t seem to believe in keeping any historical information on their site; once they’ve sold all of their stock on an item, it vanishes, never to be seen again.  If it weren’t for the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I wouldn’t have nearly as much information about the older sets and parts.  The Internet Archive works by scanning websites and archiving as many publicly accessible pages as possible.  If you don’t want your site scanned, you can use the robots.txt file, but by default, it will scan and archive everything.  After 6-14 months it will appear in the archives.

You can see all of the archived copies of the Chaos Toy website here. Some of the better ‘leaping off’ points for Chaos Toy information are:

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I took my Chaos Machine to Tad and Craig’s Excellent Party, and had a blast. There was lots of interest from adults as well as children, and I’m definitely going to take the machine back next year.

We arrived at the hotel around 5:00pm, and after some negotiation with the staff, got the machine into the function space. I started off with a framework that was about 7 feet long, one foot wide, and roughly five feet high. I put a screw elevator at one end, and a chain elevator at the other, with collector track feeding each elevator. Then I started with some simple runs and stunts (a double loop-de-loop for one side, a simple trampoline for the other). Working alone, that took much of Friday night (with breaks for dinner and socializing).

When I came back after breakfast Saturday morning, people were already playing with the machine, making the runs more interesting (complicated) and tweaking things. This continued off and on throughout the day on Saturday, and again on Sunday. Saturday afternoon I replaced the screw elevator with another chain elevator (the 9-segment screw was prone to jamming), and the double loop got downsized to a single loop, and eventually removed, again due to reliability concerns.

It took about an hour on Sunday night to pack everything up again (not including delays due to socializing). Having individual bins for each of the different types of parts really made it easy to clean up, and stacking the bins in the tubs made them easy to move (the tubs fit nicely onto the hotel carts). I know I’ve got some cleanup to do (there was the expected amount of breakage over the course of the weekend), but for now the machine is stored in my garage.

There were a lot of small children, but for the most part they were well behaved. The hard part was convincing their parents that neither I nor the Chaos Machine were babysitters. I found it odd that after a while most of the kids were referring to the balls as ‘chaos’ and that adding more balls to the machine was ‘adding more chaos’. A couple of times I had to remind the young kids that the machine was fragile, and twice I had to explain that the support tubes weren’t intended to be used to make rifles or swords. All in all, the kids were well behaved … for kids.

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Back in March I put together a small chaos machine to use as a test-bed for the work I was doing on the Chaos Controller. At one point I made a short video and uploaded it to YouTube; here it is:

The chain lift carries balls up to the top of the machine, after which they hit a pendulum switch and go either right or left. If they go right, they hit a xylophone key, then go down a steep slope to the loop-de-loop. If they go left, they get dropped onto a trampoline, and then bounced into a catch basket. Either way, they end up on the catch track at the bottom, and return to the chain lift.

You’ll notice that during the video, several of the balls leave the track. That’s because the loop-de-loop in my set was warped — it’s pinched together at the top of the loop, causing balls to either stick, drop, or fly off the track. Now that I have several sets, this won’t be a problem.

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I just won another eBay auction for a used Tower set; $43.25 + $19.10 shipping — not a bad deal compared to $120 + $23.26 for a new one. Hopefully it will arrive in time for TCEP so that I can have multiple chain lifts. (Only the Tower sets use the chain elevator — all of the older sets use a screw elevator.)

All told, eBay has been very good to me when shopping for used Chaos Toy sets. Most of the sets have been in good condition (though not necessarily complete). Some of the sets have had extra pieces (which means that originally there were multiple sets that got combined and munged). The Intermediate set cost me $6.50 plus shipping — an excellent price compared to its original price of $100; each of the Master sets cost me about $30 (plus shipping) which compares well with the original $135 price tag.

Most of the sellers have (IMO) been underpricing their sets, but there’s one seller who has been overpricing: he’s got a single Starter Set (original price: $60) that he listed for $89.99 OBO, then $69.99 OBO, and now it’s listed at $39.99 OBO. In the meantime, larger sets have been listed and sold for much better prices.

[Edit: Now the price has dropped to $29.99 OBO; still not worth it for me, but maybe someone else will find it useful.  In the meantime, my new Tower Set has arrived and is in good condition.]

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At this point my collection of Chaos Toy sets is fairly large:  I have a Tower Set, a Starter Set, an Intermediate Set, and two Master sets, plus some miscellaneous parts picked up along the way.  That’s more than 1700 parts, and it fills 3 storage tubs, and then some.  After working with Steve Jackson’s machine and the Penguicon machine, I really appreciate the merits of organization, so I set out to organize my machine (or at least the parts).
more information and pictures after the break

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One of the challenges of building a large chaos machine is that each of the elevators (either the old screw-style or the new chain-style) requires a separate power brick. If you’ve got 4 or 5 elevators, then you’re going to need a lot of power strips and/or squids. Until now.

Today my wife and I went shopping at the local Micro Center, and while I was checking out, she went next door to Michaels.  When I went in after her, I noticed an interesting widget in the seasonal decoration area:  a 1A, 4.5V power brick that had three (3) separate output jacks.  Just the thing to drive three elevators at once.  The manufacturer is Lemax, and they have them in black (Halloween) and white (Christmas).  (Wait until AFTER the holiday if you want the bargain prices.)

lemax-black-power-bricklemax-white-power-brick

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My first encounter with a Chaos Machine (aka a large conglomeration of Chaos Toy sets, along with other additions) was at Penguicon 5.0 (2007).  Steve Jackson brought his Chaos Machine, and it took up a third of one of the ball rooms.  I ended up spending at least a quarter of the convention fiddling with the machine, improving its reliability or engineering new stunts.

My second encounter was at Penguicon 6.0 (2008).  Steve couldn’t make it, so Penguicon bought 2 or 3 Tower sets and some extra parts, and set people to work in the hotel lobby.  Due to the space available, this time the machine had to go vertical, so we built it in stages, and then carefully lifted the top stage onto the bottom stage.  The result was over 10 feet high, and I spent 3-4 hours standing on a step ladder, making sure everything was working.

A couple of months before Penguicon 7.0, I got involved with hobbyist micro-controllers, and ended up volunteering to build some accessories for the Chaos Machine (specifically, a ball counter and micro-controller controlled switch).  Towards that end, I bought my own Tower set, so that I could build and test my accessories.  After a lengthy develop-test-modify cycle, I took my Chaos Controller (Mark I) to Penguicon 7.0, where it was a qualified success.  This year, the Penguicon Chaos Machine was built straddling a knee wall, so once again I spent way too much time balancing on a 6″ wide ledge.

Shortly after returning from Penguicon 7.0, a friend of mine stopped by to give me a find from Goodwill find:  a Chaos Toy Starter set in excellent condition that he picked up for $5.  While I was busily examining the new (old) set, my wife Carrie was browsing the web, looking for deals on used Chaos Toy sets.  Courtesy of eBay, and other sources, I now have a Starter set, two (2) Intermediate sets, four (4) Master sets, an Explorer set, a Builder set, and two (2) Tower sets.

And thus begins Craig Trader’s Chaos Machine. This site will be used to document the history of Chaos Toy, the parts that make up a Chaos Machine, and all of the wonderful, crazy, and bizarre things that people will think up.  Here’s to Rube Goldberg, and the spirit of weird invention!

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