Friday, 27 February 2015

Marble run mania: Go to the M.A.D. Museum

When it comes to museums, my family is firmly split down the middle. My daughter and husband will spend hours in them until they’ve absorbed every micromolecule of information and left no fossil unturned. Me and my son, however, whizz round in minutes looking for things to push, pull, bash or fiddle with, like chimps on speed.

When we stumbled across the entrance to this museum in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, it was no different. 
"Can we go in?” squeaked my daughter. “Oh no … can we just have a look around the shops or something mum?” squawked my son.

So we were about to divide into our usual 2-2 formation that we use in these situations, when something about the sign, something about the video playing in the entrance, made me hesitate.

“Let’s just have peep inside the door,” I said to my son. “Before we decide”. And that was all it took. Me and my son were itching to get in there too. 
Because it didn't really look like a museum. It was, well, a bit mental. More like walking into an old-fashioned amusement arcade. Or the shed of Caractacus Potts, the eccentric inventor from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
by Stephen Curry/CC BY-NC 2.0
You are immediately drawn into an intricate, intriguing, ingenious world of mesmerizing marble/golf ball/tennis ball runs ... 
... and every other kind of moving, rolling, flipping, revolving, spiralling, zigzagging, swinging, clapping, sandwich-eating creation.
What's more, you are positively encouraged to – in fact most of the time you HAVE TO – push buttons, pull levers, clap, wave or point to operate the machines. Perfect for the chimpy-fingered members of our family. 

This 'musical typewriter' machine, for instance, was connected by wires to glasses in a cabinet so that when you hit the keys they chimed. Instructions showed you which letters to press to play Baa baa black sheep!
“It’s brilliant, but bonkers,” said my husband. “What kind of person spends time in their garage making something like that?”  

Well, looking at their website, various bonkers people from all over the world it seems – although they prefer to call themselves "kinetic artists". Some look exactly as you might expect ...
 Others, not so much ... 
But my absolute favourite piece in the whole museum was made by the founder Richard Simmons. It’s called The Kitchenator: a golf ball run made entirely out of kitchen utensils and equipment, right down to a pair of oven gloves and an iron. 
I loved it so much I have half a mind to try and make (a much, much simpler version of!) it on my garden fence in the summer for kids  or adults  to play with.

I also loved how when one of the machines went wrong, instead of putting an 'out of order' sign on it, a man appeared straight away and started tinkering with it. It made it all seem so real-life and unmuseumy. I think he may have even been wearing a boiler suit!
The museum is quite small. We were there for just over an hour. But it clearly stayed with my daughter a lot longer because several days later she announced suddenly, "I want to make a marble run. FROM SCRATCH." "Okaaay ..." I said, stroking my chin. 

But two hours later we'd made this DIY marble run along our landing, round the corner and down the stairs just with stuff out of our recycling box!

Now to that garden fence idea ...

Visit the museum's website here.


  1. This looks like so much fun. My husband occasionally visits a nearby office, so perhaps next time we'll go too and stop off in Stratford.

    Thanks for sharing this post on the Weekly Adoption Shout Out x

    1. Definitely worth a visit if you're going that way. They've just added an interactive 'make your own marble run' wall for kids now too.

  2. Oh my goodness! I love hearing the explanation of the marble run. This is fantastic! The museum looks quite wonderful too.

    1. Yes, she gave a good 'Guided Tour' her marble run, didn't she?!

  3. Claire...... Thank you for the kind comments. The project is a sort of 'retirement gift to myself ' run by my son and nephew. Everyone who goes is learning bits of physics and art in a fun way and hopefully realise there is life beyond playstation and fiction.
    Very glad you came up with the 'home landing marble run' idea, I will get the staff to suggest that to youngsters leaving...adding in thoughts viz kinetic and potential energy, acceleration, velocity, gravity etc etc....

    1. A very wonderful and unique retirement gift too, Richard! I bet it keeps you very 'unretired' though!

  4. We better not show the marble run to our husbands - the house would be taken over!

    1. Ha! You're probably right! Though that might be rather a cool house!

  5. What an amazing museum!!