Pinball Wizards: Creators Of The PinBox 3000 Turn Cardboard Into Tabletop Pinball Machines

Sep 22, 2016

Cardboard has been around since the early 1800s, but a couple of Vermonters who have been working with cardboard for awhile now have come up with a novel use of the old packaging material: building cardboard pinball machines.

Ben Matchstick and Pete Talbot,  the founders of Cardboard Teck Instantute and the creators of PinBox 3000, spoke to Vermont Edition Wednesday about their pinball project.

"We started from the bottom up, and used our abilities at bending cardboard and using a laser cutter to prototype this machine," Matchstick explains. "We never really started with a box. We started with engineering.

"And there were no 3-D programs when we created this, so we just kind of used our hand-and-eye skill that we’ve been using over the last 10 years when we work with cardboard."

The PinBox 3000 measures 2 feet by 14 inches and "it's all rubber-band powered and gravity fed," Matchstick explains.

"All the pinball players, when we take it to the conventions, say this plays very well and you can hit all your shots like a normal pinball machine," Matchstick says. "You can call your shots. You can customize it.

"Each game comes with two interchangeable play fields that you can switch out, so it is a system of play. The play fields act like cartridges, so this is the Xbox of cardboard."

Pete Talbot, a co-creator of the PinBox 3000, demonstrates gameplay on the "Swamp Quest" cardboard pinball machine, featuring art by GHOSTSHRIMP.
Credit Meg Malone / VPR

Getting Imaginative

Though the PinBox 3000 doesn't constantly make noise or light up like a typical pinball machine, there is a way to replicate some of that experience.

"You make your own noises," Matchstick says, after Talbot demonstrates sample pinball noises. "This is the whole fun of it is there's no prescripted way to play it."

In addition to the imagination used during play, the user is also involved in assembling their PinBox 3000, which comes with 39 parts and takes about 45 minutes. Once the game is assembled, though, Talbot explains that users can go beyond those 39 parts by making additions to the board with objects ranging from stones to microprocessors.

"We found that everyday items that you maybe would view as recycling or something that didn't have a value after they've been used, like a paper towel tube, you can snip it and put it into the game ... The marbles fly off of it and create these incredible motions," Talbot says. "So it gives new life to everything."

"It's trying to encourage our communities to get back to tinkering on this little micro-level," Matchstick adds. "And we've found that it's easily adapted to all kinds of crafts and small technologies and broken toys and what have you."

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Matchstick also mentions that in lieu of achieving points, the PinBox 3000 is more about achieving "sequential objectives," like first trying to lock the ball and later trying to go for a target.

"I think that helps kids and makers of all types  kind of think of these different avenues and paths to get a successful game or any project off the ground," Matchstick says.

Educating Others

"I've done workshops with kindergartners where we kind of punch all the parts out together and we talk as we build it, and it's like doing a magic show," Matchstick says, describing the children's excitement as the machine's form came together.

Matchstick and Talbot stress that the PinBox can be an educational tool. Matchstick described working with elementary students to recreate human body systems through pinball.

"Of course there's a great initiative happening now around 'STEAM' or 'STEM' education – we like to put the 'A' back in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics," Matchstick says. "So we start with the engineering and putting it together, of course, and then you kind of gradually ... move into the arts."

Funding Their Product

The pair is currently trying to raise $95,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, which Talbot explains would allow them to buy necessary tools for production, and Matchstick adds would allow them to get their product into U.S. production.

It's also the only means to currently get your own PinBox 3000.

"We've initially done a run of 2,000 for our beta test, and we got a lot of feedback from the people that have got those and played with those... and we're sold out of that, of any available PinBoxes right now – but, the only way to get them, is through our Kickstarter right now, that's active," Talbot explains.

"We're really motivated to bring it into schools," Matchstick adds. "And so we want to make a lot of great deals for educators so they can get a whole classroom pack and sync it up with our curriculum ideas."

Matchstick says there really aren't the resources to produce this product in Vermont, so they've been working with a company based in Philadelphia. He adds that they have been working with a branding firm to help them get PinBox 3000s into schools.

Two examples of the PinBox 3000 cardboard pinball game pictured at the VPR Studios in Colchester. At left, is "Glorkian Warrior" with art by James Kochalka, and at right is "Monster Sweets" with art by Lisa 'Fenix' Barber. These are available through Cardboard Teck Instantute's Kickstarter.
Credit Meg Malone / VPR

The "Maker Movement"

The Champlain Mini Maker Faire will take place on Saturday, Sept. 24 and Sunday, Sept. 25 at Shelburne Farms, and Talbot touched on how their work fits into the larger "maker movement."

"We've kind of tapped into it with the PinBox, you know, providing this platform for people to easily start creating," Talbot says. "Of course people have been making, you know, their own pegboard pinball games, you know, when they're young. And I, you know, made cardboard games when I was a little kid too, but this kind of provides a jumping off point."

Matchstick also mentions new technologies available to makers, and adds that they will be at the Champlain Maker Faire event if people want to give the PinBox 3000s a try.

Next Steps

Looking beyond the PinBox 3000, Matchstick and Talbot – who are also puppeteers – have plans to continue showcasing the ways cardboard can be used, as well as getting people to play.

"The next step is we really want to create a place that people can visit," Talbot says. "You know, our website is going to have a lot of resources about what you can do with cardboard – trying to, you know, bring cardboard into people's vision as something that you can create with and it's not just this castoff ... It has so many uses, and it's an incredible resource. So we want to help people."

Matchstick echoes this sentiment and a desire to get back to the Cardboard Teck Instantute roots.

"Play is really where we come in," Matchstick says. "You know, we think as men in our society we just need more people to just kind of stop what they're doing and just sit down together and agree to some kind of narrative-constructed environment that has peaceful negotiations happening all the time and it's all around play.

"And so we feel like this is our kind of a mission, it's been our 10-year mission to kind of get people to just engage with each other, to engage with their environment, to see waste in a different way."

Correction 9:04 p.m. 9/24/16: An earlier version of the featured image caption incorrectly identified Talbot as the artist for the PinBox 3000 unit that Matchstick is playing on. The caption has been updated with the correct credit to Lisa 'Fenix' Barber for the "Monster Sweets" unit pictured.