Turing Tumble Is a Mechanical Marble Game That Teaches Kids to Code

Kids learn how computers work without any electronics.

by Dave Baldwin
Originally Published: 
turing tumble

Toys that teach kids to code are hot right now. Parents recognize that to give their kindergartener an edge in the 2033 job market, they need to start teaching valuable STEM skills today. The thing is, a lot of the programming toys on the market involve dragging and dropping blocks of code on a tablet, usually to make robot dog bark while it jumps around the kitchen. And while they teach kids how computers (and robots dogs) “behave,” they don’t explain how they actually work. That’s the premise behind Turing Tumble, an innovative new game that takes a fresh approach to explaining computer thinking — by not using electronics.

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Designed by a father of three and former professor at the University of Minnesota, Turing Tumble looks like a Plinko board from The Price is Right. Colored marbles drop from the top and bounce their way to the bottom. Technically, though, it’s a mechanical computer powered by said marbles that a can count, add, subtract, multiply, and divide, among other functions. It comes with 105 parts and the premise is simple: Successfully complete logic puzzles by arranging the pieces ⏤ be they ramps, gears, or bits ⏤ on the board to steer the marbles. So, if the goal is to get all the blues to the bottom left side, they may tell you which pieces to use, but you have to figure out how to arrange them. It’s one of those learn-by-osmosis games where by simply by playing, kids inadvertently “build logic and critical thinking skills.” You’ve been tricked into being smarter, kid!

Coolest thing: the entire game is based on a 20-page comic book story filled with 51 puzzles, each of which builds on the next. So the skills your kid learns in one puzzle will come in handy further along. The book was drawn by an art/computer science major at UM and tells the story of space engineer trapped on a deserted planet. It’s up to your kids to solve the puzzles and bring her home.

The puzzles become increasingly more difficult as the story unfolds and are designed, at least by the end, to challenge even seasoned software engineers. So don’t think because you’re an adult that you’re going to blow Turing Tumble away ⏤ it should be challenging. A couple of examples: Build a computer that counts up to eight in binary (which is introduced by puzzle 19) and arrange the marbles in the following sequence: two blue, one red, four blue, one red, eight blue. Good luck.

Not surprisingly, considering how different it is from other coding games, Turing Tumble has destroyed its $48,000 Kickstarter goal, raking in $234,129 with a few weeks still to go. While you can pre-order today, they, unfortunately, don’t ship until January. Then again, that should still give your 8-year-old a good 15 years to get ready for that 2033 job market.

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