The Exploratorium's Adam Tobin talks about what makes a great toy and shares ruminations from a Muppet colloquium.
Dan Brodnitz: I read that you also create mechanical art. What’s that work like?
Adam Tobin: After I sold the first toy company, I had a few larger-scale projects I’d always wanted to pursue. The first thing I wanted to make was a clock that told time with rolling marbles. I’d wanted to make it since I was a kid. And I started making it and ended up making a few other contraption-type pieces. It was just such a joy for me, after years of designing things to be mass produced to say, “I’m just going to make one, and I’m not as concerned about how you can make 10,000 of these.” In essence, they were very large one-of-a-kind toys.
The Exploratorium's Adam Tobin talks about growing up as a child-inventor, the Exploratorium workflow, and the challenges of summoning an "ah-ha!" moment on a deadline.
Dan Brodnitz: Do you remember your first invention?
Adam Tobin: I started as an electronics tinkerer. I made a burglar alarm to keep my sister out of my room. I took an old car radio that had been abandoned from one of the old family cars and got inside it and wired up quadraphonic sound in my bedroom. I began making wooden toys when I was young as well, like whirligig and rolling marble toys.
DB: Were you raised in a family of inventors, or was it something you got into on your own?
AT: I don’t know where it came from. My father can’t pick up a hammer…. For some reason, with me, I was just a tinkerer from the get-go.
DB: How did your parents respond?
AT: They encouraged it — it meant that things around the house might get fixed that otherwise wouldn’t. I remember I was seven or eight years old and somehow I was the only one in the house that could fix our stove.