While WonderLab has a number of exciting and eye-catching exhibits, none has ever struck me as much as the Giant Mechanical Crane on the second floor. Signified by a yellow wire cage surrounding a building area, it’s a deceptively simple-looking exhibit. There are no instructions. Visitors, or interns like me, have to sit down and figure it out.
The Giant Mechanical Crane has a bench in front of it. Sitting at this bench gives me access to three large and horizontally-mounted wheels. Moving these wheels, through trial and error I learn the secrets of the crane. The wheel on the right controls distance – it moves the “hook” of the crane closer to you or further away. The center wheel controls the crane’s arm, moving it to the right or the left. The final wheel on the left makes the hook move up and down. Utilizing all three wheels, I can use the hook to lift and move plastic and foam boxes.
Move the box. Move the box. Move the box.
The boxes come in three sizes. There are three platforms within the enclosed space in which the crane operates. These platforms are meant to be used as the foundations for towers built by stacking the boxes. Boxes can be stacked any number of ways on these platforms to build towers that taper out or in as they grow taller. I can place a medium box on the bottom, small box in the middle, and a large box on top, even – the combinations are limited only by my imagination and, of course, physics.
Why is this fun? On the surface it seems so simple – build a tower. But the relatively easy task of building a tower is more rewarding because I’ve had to master working the multiple wheels in order to build the tower. Truthfully, I’ve sat building at the crane for over an hour without pause – and I only stopped because my butt was going numb. What is it about this assemblage of metal and string that is so irresistible?
According to Miguel Acha, author of Essex Creativity, it’s human nature. According to Acha, creating something even as simple as a tower feels like an expression of self. The way you build it, the types of blocks you used, etc, all factor in to us creating something in our image in some form or another. As Acha says, “Creating something means that you are using your knowledge, experience and motivation, so it is something that you value and feels part of being yourself.”
The Giant Mechanical Crane also allows for creative collaboration. When manned by multiple parties at once, using the crane becomes an exercise in teamwork and patience as much as creativity. Working together to ensure the three functions are able to accomplish a shared goal can be a lot of fun – though at times, sabotaging your friends can be more entertaining. Personally, I’ve often found that working all three wheels at once by myself is a rigorous workout and can help develop my multitasking skills (although multitasking is actually just switching back and forth between tasks quickly – a different subject for another time).
Working together at the crane.
Ultimately, the Giant Mechanical Crane is an unexpectedly complex and entertaining exhibit. It uses simple machines and even simpler interfaces to grant users a surprising amount of leeway to build or destroy to their hearts’ content. Whether it’s a 24-year-old intern or a group of 3rd graders playing with it, whether someone is working on their own or with a team, whether towers are being built or torn down, the Crane grants users of all ages the ability to express themselves in a new and exciting way.
The Writer: Samuel Zlotnick is 23 years old and is a self-described “scifi/fantasy geek”. He just began an internship at WonderLab in its Marketing/PR department which he feels will compliment his eventual Bachelor’s Degree in Professional & Technical Writing. He spends as much of his free time at the Crane as he can.
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