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Published on October 31st, 2009 | by Greg


Ubercool Construction with Uberstix

Uberstix is a new kind of construction kit that encourages cross-compatibility and construction. Made with recycled plastic, Uberstix are basically pieces with lots of holes and slots that can be connected to anything from recycled materials such as straws and paperclips, to other kits like Legos and K’nex. We tried out two of their sets: the large-scale Uberarc 1600 and the Uberpult.

Uberarc is for those with architectural aspirations. Though it follows their philosophy of allowing you to create whatever you like and is compatible with other materials, this 1600-piece set contains detailed plans for a multi-colored skyscraper. As with most construction kits, the most difficult part was reading the instructions. Rendering intricate 3D constructions into 2D images can be rather complicated. Reading said diagrams was even more so, and I don’t think the average 10-year-old could do it without a parent to guide them, especially since there was not much in the way of written instructions.

Having bought a few Japanese construction kits in the past, it was somewhat refreshing to see that Uberstix understood the international appeal and made the instructions visually-based, requiring little in the language skills. However, the diagrams could have been more detailed and step-by-step and the instructions could have been more user-friendly. A few of the diagrams were displayed in typical “floor plan” style – a nice touch considering the architectural bent – and in those cases were often to scale, allowing you to check your construction against the diagram directly. The instructions are even rolled up in a classy tube, and there is a cute building permit process that adds some fun – though we hope they consider adding more red-tape, delays, and bureaucracy to truly make it a learning experience!

The skyscraper is a rather tall construction and so I would advise against moving it too often, perhaps make sure that your building area is “zoned” properly before construction. Luckily it is not very wide and so does not take up more space when finished on a table than, say, a puzzle. Aside from interpreting the instructions and a few tricky parts, the actual piecing together of the building requires little more than the ability to count and make sure you have the right number of pieces. The hardest part of construction is in attaching the ends to one another and attaching the different levels to one another, a process repeated often enough that it just gets easier.

The Uberstix Uberpult is a kit with 181 pieces and contains instructions for making a catapult. Surprisingly, this was far more difficult to construct than the Uberarc – though certainly not as time-consuming. There were a variety of different pieces — 8 different types in all — and the construction actually requires a small addition that isn’t included in the kit — a plastic spoon. It is part of their science series and so contains lots of “labs” on how to improve the design once it’s made and some background on simple machines, so it ends up being very informative for budding engineers. It also includes some basic instructions for assembling parts with one another to give you some guidance if you go “off-book”.

I would highly recommend going off-book, especially with younger kids. The pieces are very diverse and allow for a bunch of different creative constructions, but the instructions can leave some parents and kids feeling frustrated. The kit itself encourages the construction of other items. The catapult only takes up half of the pieces, leaving the rest for improvements and your imagination. And we all had a much better time experimenting with the kit than following its directions.

Having read a few online reviews, I was afraid the pieces were not well-made. We were delightfully surprised that that was not the case. Though some pieces are rigid, they fit together very smoothly and the recycled plastic does not seem cheap. When the pieces are put together they have a great deal of flexibility as well and we tried to break them through stressing the constructions we made, but they seemed pretty sturdy. Perhaps my only qualm is that when moving a construction, the parts are likely to shift around – they come off as easily as they are put together and that’s especially difficult when constructing the Uberarc.

The cross-compatibility behind the Uberstix series is really a wonderful idea and the concepts are very well developed. The Uberarc is available for ~$140 on Amazon and the Uberpult is available for $18.95 on Amazon.

About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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