Turing Tumble: Build Marble-Powered Computers

Ages: 8 and upManufacturer: Turing Tumble LLC

Turing Tumble (named for the father of modern computing) is an exciting, new approach to building computers. The set includes an upright circuit board (mechanical, no batteries required) plus ramps, switches, and gears. A 110-page manga-style storybook manual tells of a young explorer stranded on a faraway planet who must repair the planet’s central computer so she can escape and return home. The computer is powered by falling marbles, but the logic is the same as the silicon-based systems on Earth. Working through 60 puzzles, player/learners help fix the machine and get the explorer on her way.

Employing the same terminology used in an introductory digital logic course, kids learn about gates, switches, bits, binary counting, registers (a place to hold data), multipliers, and comparators. Puzzles are rated in difficulty from a half star (learning to route the balls down the ramps) to seven stars (the comparator). One-star puzzles may take only a few minutes, but advanced puzzles will require time, creative thinking and the development of debugging techniques. Some puzzles need to be worked backwards to ensure the correct output; others require clever testing procedures.

Turing Tumble is incredibly compelling. The extra layer of motivation provided by the plot kept our testers working straight through, reluctant to put it aside. We had fun discussing approaches to solving puzzles and talking about how these would be implemented in silicon-based computing; we were eager to see every circuit run to completion.

A fantastic set for kids who like toys that make them think, especially those with a computing bent, Turning Tumble lets kids step away from screens and consider what happens behind them.

Emily Crawford ©2018 Parents’ Choice

Emily holds a BSE in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and a Master’s in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. She is a homeschooling parent and lives with her husband, three children, five cats, and thousands of LEGOs in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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