Turing Tumble Review
I had seen the Turing Tumble on Twitter before and I was intrigued but didn’t investigate further until our library purchased 6 to use in our makerspace. I took one home over the school holidays to build, learn and play. Here’s what I discovered.
What is the Turing Tumble?
Designed from Alan Turing’s Turing Machine, the Turing Tumble is a computer. Using switches and marbles you can actually build a mechanical computer and solve problems, and run calculations. It also lets you see how a computer codes. You are coding and learning about computers at the same time.
You can find a lot more information, videos, background story, Kickstarter campaign and how-tos on the Turing Tumble website, so I won’t duplicate that here.
My first reaction was to be impressed by the little video snippet I had seen on Twitter. It looked fun, hands on and not too hard. It was colourful and said it taught coding and about computers. Great. But a lot of tabletop computer and coding games say that and they are limited or hard to work.
When I got the box I was also impressed. It’s sleek, nice graphics and bright and colourful. It’s also pretty big.
Let’s just say the packaging is impressive. From a layer of tissue paper (seriously), to the cool stand holder and carefully bagged parts, everything is nicely presented.
The book included in the pack explains the set-up. I suggest, if you are using it with students, you get this done yourself before hand. It took me a while to get everything together. It’s super simple and the instructions are very easy to follow, but there are a few parts and even just the process of snapping the metal balls into each of the 30 green ramps takes a bit of time. If you are working one-on-one with a child, there is no reason they couldn’t do the setup themselves.
Once the board was set up, I dived into the comic book. I love the idea of combining story with coding (it’s what we do as makerspacers, right?). But this takes the whole thing to the next level. Initially, I thought I would be bored and flip through the story to get to the “how-to-code” bits, but actually the story became my favourite part of the whole experience.
The graphics are beautiful and the story engaging. We follow Alia as she explores a new planet and discovers a malfunctioning computer. She begins to repair it. This is where the activities come in. On black pages with yellow text, you are given an objective, a starting setup and a list of parts. Alia offers a few hints in her callouts.
The challenges start easy, with just the green ramps and, as the story progresses, and the challenges get harder, more parts are added. I made it until challenge 15 before I was turning through the pages to see if solutions are included. They are. And I made it to challenge 21 before my eyes glazed over and I thought, wow, this is hard. So, at that point I left the challenges for later and I just continued to read the story (seriously, it’s really good). When they say ages 8 to adult, they are not joking. On the Turing Tumble website they suggest younger kids enjoy the first 10 challenges, ages 8-12 enjoy up to challenge 20-30 and adults get really hooked at challenge 40. There are 60 challenges in total, but once you know how the parts work, there is literally no limit to what you can do with this machine. There are even more puzzles available on the website.
Can we just talk about pack-up for a minute. There is not one detail overlooked in this game. The box comes with a insert that has a position for each bit, ramp and ball. There is even an insert so the book and its spiral binding fit neatly. Wow. It did take a bit of time fitting each part into its home, though, so I’m more likely to just throw all the parts into the larger space they have left (I’m assuming for that express purpose).
While you could give this to a group of students, I think the best engagement is going to be a 1 student to 1 tumbler or pairs working together, just for access around the board.
There are lots of parts in this game. You are given spare clips for the board set-up and a spare ball to insert into the green ramps. The game comes with lots of the red and blue balls, but they bounce, so I’m assuming we will lose them quickly. I can’t see anywhere on the website to order new parts, but there is information about 3D printing, so lost parts might be able to be replaced in that way. There is also a community discussion board where this might be requested.
You can find the Turing Tumble for under $130 in Australia.
I’m impressed. The story is amazing. The concept works really well and the challenges range from the basic to the extreme, with plenty of levels in between. I’ll let you know how we go during makerspace time. I’m guessing we will copy just one or two of the challenges for kids to use during the lunchtime settings, while the story and progressive levels would be better suited to a lesson structure and time allotment.