These toys were an absolute BITCH to play with. They could give anyone blisters from all the connecting and disconnecting. For some reason, their color-coded connectors gave you some clue about how much pressure you had to apply to get the rods in. The orange connectors never seemed to have any real purpose other than to annoy you by being there. There were also wheels and gears, but being only 8 years old, I really didn't understand the general mechanics of gears and how higher RPM by gears could actually help me in the long run with the motors.

They are plenty more fun once you break out the rubber bands, duct tape, and assorted Lego pieces. The ultimate of geek toys.

The apocrypha has it that K’NEX were invented by two engineering students who had nothing better to do while smoking pot and scarfing pizza than to play with the pizza box lid lifters and their plastic drink straws.

K’NEX consist of rods and circular connectors. There are eight connection points on a full circle connector. Connectors are available in 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8 connection pieces. Rods vary in length. An isosceles right triangle built from connectors and rods will have a hypotenuse equal to the size of the next larger rod. Other parts include wheels and pulleys. At first, connectors and rods were color-coded by length. This practice is slowly ending as the designers color the pieces in order to color the model.

What we have here is a building toy that models support structures. While LEGOs model walls and floors, K’NEX models the skeleton of a building, something that even LEGO technics never quite does well. If some third party were to make a cross-connector for these two systems, they would rule the world.

However, most of the sets that the K’NEX people are designing are dinosaur-like monsters, that have small motors the make them walk. Other, smaller sets, have rubber bands that, when wound up, drive wheels or flap.

For the fall toy season of 2001, K’NEX, under license from FASA, will release sets of the 'mechs Mad Cat, Shadow Cat, and Cauldron Born.

The K'NEX History

I hate to rain on anyone's parade, but I will. The charming but apochryphal tale of two bored students developing the idea whilst stoned and playing with straws, is not the official K'NEX story.

It all started with a chap named Joel Glickman, then co-owner of the Rodon Group (plastics injection-moulding specialists). He was a guest at a wedding, and uncomfortable dancing, so he withdrew from the hurly-burly, and began idly playing with straws. An imaginative man, he soon began to see the possibilities, and started the process of designing and manufacturing a revolutionary new construction system.

The initial concept was for plastic rods and connectors. Joel and his brother Robert applied their plastics expertise, and soon came up with the original system, and test-marketed it in 1992. It was highly successful, and quickly gained in popularity after the launch. Since then, many other features have been added - wheels, cogs, pulleys and motors soon followed on from the basic system, and the success of the toy was almost guaranteed. The development of CyberK'NEX, a programmable system, has added a new dimension to an already versatile toy, bringing it into the 21st century.

Winner of over 150 awards, and the world's number one non-brick construction system, K'NEX is now sold in over forty countries, and the company is the second largest maker of contruction toys in the world, Lego being the biggest. According to the company's website, the toy "offers exceptional play value through building and bringing models to life. It inspires creativity, builds self-confidence and encourages interaction among children and parents". This is backed up worldwide - the company and the toy have won awards in many countries, from children's groups, the media, industry standards bodies, educators and design groups.

The K'NEX Company

Based in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, the privately-owned company is dedicated to providing quality educational toys, and is "financially successful while behaving in a socially and environmentally responsible manner". The company distributes its products through Hasbro. Started in 1992, by the Glickman brothers as an offshoot of the Rodon Group, both companies have worked together, to their mutual benefit.

The company continues to research new designs, working with real-world engineers and real-world children, with the stated goals of providing "a safe, effective, innovative, and distinctive construction set that...tickles the senses of humor and wonder", all the while respecting "the intelligence of our customers by providing products and designs that do exactly what we advertise they will..."

"Look, mum! Look what I made!" I grab her hand, and pull her towards the lounge room, to be greeted by a big, friendly pile of multicoloured K'NEX. She frowns at the mess, but I don't see her. I'm too excited - I can't wait to show her ROBODINOSAUR.

I drag her closer to the big pile of K'NEX, and let her hand go. I point at a jumbled heap of connected plastic sticks. "Look! It's Robodinosaur!" Mum looks confused.

"Where, honey?" She asks. I get a little bit impatient.

"Here, mum! See?" I gesture at the creation in my hand. "There's his tail! And his head! And that big one is his eye!" I point to separate parts of my Robodinosaur, hoping desperately she can see what it was meant to be.

"Wow, honey, that's great," She says. She says it unenthusiastically, I can tell she doesn't like it.

"Oh... Okay. Thanks mum," I say. She goes back to her chores. I feel dissapointed. Robodinosaur isn't good enough for mum. "I'll show her!" I say, and I flick the switch on Robodinosaur's engine. He buzzes to life! *CLICK-CLICK-CLICK*. His leg starts to spin around slowly. It gets caught on one of his neck spikes - OH NO! His leg snaps off, which disconnects his back, and his tail, and his neck. Robodinosuar is no more.

I was seven.

Since the death of Robodinosaur, I haven't been interested in K'NEX. Until now. We have to make an invention for science. An invention that can do jobs. I have a plan. I take out the K'NEX and lay them on the floor. This time, I make sure there isn't a huge pile of mixed pieces. I collect all the white snowflake looking connector bits, and put them in a pile. I do the same with the yellow half-ones, and the red ones with three bits. I finish sorting. This is gonna be great!

Finally I've finished. I've got really sore thumbs, but that's okay. Oh, and I've replaced the little green ones with razors.

NAME: Razorslice.

DESCRIPTION: A sturdy build, its main feature is the large circular-saw-like attatchment on its head. Looks deadly.

JOB: Slices bread.

"Look, mum! Look what I made!" I grab her hand, and pull her towards the lounge room. I gesture towards Razorslice and she seems impressed. We take him into the kitchen. We take out the bread. I flick on the engine, and his razor starts up. I slowly move the bread through the razor. IT WORKS PERFECTLY. Mum is impressed.

The next day, I take Razorslice to school. Everyone thinks he is really cool, including Miss. Miss asks if she could please take Razorslice home with her, because she cuts her bread with a clumsy knife. I shake my head, and suggest she orders sliced bread at the bakery.

These days, Razorslice lives in the kitchen next to Robodinosaur. That's right, I've remade Robodinosaur. His job is to keep Razorslice company. I think he's really cool.

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