Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nintendo Block Crater (任天堂ブロック クレーター, 1969)

In 1969, the American space program Apollo reached its climax, when mankind set foot on the moon for the first time. The whole world went space crazy, and the moon landing became the television broadcast with the largest global audience up until then. In Japan it was broadcasted by NHK, using a satellite link with the United States.

In that same year, Nintendo released a space themed toy called Nintendo Block Crater (任天堂ブロック クレーター).

Crater was part of the Lego inspired Nintendo N&B Block series.

The Crater set came in a big, colorful box of around 30 by 38 centimeters. The set's product code is 'NB 1800-CR', and it was sold for ¥1,800.

Nintendo Block Crater (1969)

The construction set includes parts to build a lunar vehicle as well as three 'mines'.

The vehicle runs on two rubber tracks, driven by an electric motor.

Two C-cells are included to power the motor.

The step-by-step building instructions make it easy to assemble the vehicle.

The completed vehicle is an intriguing mash-up of a tank, jet plane and space craft.

The battery house is integrated in the back of the vehicle.

The rubber tracks allow it to traverse rough, uneven terrain.

The metal lever sticking out in the back is used to switch the motor on and off.

Although driving the vehicle by itself is already fun, the real excitement starts when we introduce the mines into play.

Three mines are included in the Crater set; a red one, a yellow one and a blue one. Each mine consist of two parts: an outer ring and a spring element in the middle.

That little pin in the middle sets off the mine

The mine's clever trigger mechanism was patented by Nintendo. It would also be used in the first version of Nintendo's Kousenjuu SP Jumping Bottle.

US Patent 3,564,756 for a 'Toy Mine'

Besides a Japanese patent, a United States Patent was also acquired, even though Crater was never sold outside of Japan.

The inventor of the mine was no other than Gunpei Yokoi, the father of the Game Boy and Game & Watch.

Yokoi even hand-signed the patent.

The mines include a powerful metal spring, which pushes up the top of the mine when it is triggered.

The mine is loaded by pushing down the top.

And there the vehicle goes, into the mine field.

A gentle push on the small pin sticking out of the top is enough to make the spring go pop.

The exploding mine make the vehicle jump high into the air.

If the vehicle does not directly crash completely on contact with the first mine, it will plow on. Onto the next mine.

Adding extra blocks to the wheels - as suggested by the instructions - makes it drive in a funny, wobbly way. This way it becomes less predictable when and how it crash on the mines.

The instructions contain some examples for building alternative models.

The Crater set provides an almost irresistible mix: building electrically powered vehicles, and watching in suspense to see them being destroyed again by the mines. Combined with the popular space theme, this ensured success. It would become one of the bigger sales hits of the Nintendo Block N&B series.

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