Friday, July 20, 2007

Review: Roger von Oech's Ball of Whacks

Summary: Much ado about a neat little toy.

The publishers of the Ball of Whacks sent me a copy to review. While it's not a game - it's a toy - I thought some readers might be interested in reading about it.

The Ball of Whacks is a d30 - a rhombic triacontahedron, to be precise - where each face is actually the base of a separable pyramid. The proportion of the diagonals in the base of each rhombus is one of my favorite numbers, the golden ratio.

The pieces hold together through the use of small magnets in the sides and bases which provide a medium amount of pull.

You can buy it from


Simply taken as a toy, which is really all that this is, it's a fairly neat toy. You can take the pieces apart or squoosh them together. You can make all sorts of interesting shapes with the pieces, although they only really hold together well in their canonical configuration.


But the story only begins here.

Take a board game, add a theme and sell it for $10.00. Take another board game, add a theme and sell it for "only $199.95". Both teach the same principles; maybe one does so slightly more overtly than the other.

That's marketing for you.

The inventor of this toy was so taken by playing with it that he decided that it possesses all sorts of creativity enhancing benefits. In this, he's not wrong. It's just that ANY toy you can play with possesses all sorts of creativity enhancing benefits.

The instructions tell you to take the ball in your hand and play with it. By virtue of throwing it, arranging the pieces, considering the forms, and so on, your mind will drift away from the mental blocks you have and enhance your mental clarity. Well, I guess it will, for many people. Although why the BoW does this any better than, say, a superball, is never really made clear.

The Ball of Whacks is so called because playing with it is supposed to give your brain a whack.

The Guidebook

The ball comes with a 96 page "creativity guidebook". Luckily, only about 2/5 of the book tells you "how to play with the ball".

The next 2/5 of the book are a series of practical steps for achieving creativity, most of which boil down to trying to think about your problem from a different perspective. In each of these steps, of course, you are instructed to first use the Ball of Whacks as a meditation tool, but that's really superfluous. As a guidebook to creativity, it's fairly nice and may be useful.

The last fifth of the book is information about the geometry of the pieces, the golden ratio, and inspirations for the design.


My ball came in a single color, red. Other versions come in other colors or even multiple colors. Get several balls together and you can make more elaborate sculptures, just like if you had several boxes of Lego rather than one.

As I said, it's a neat toy, and fun to play with. It's being sold as a unique creativity tool, but don't let that bother you too much.


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