05 March 2006

My Favourite Toy As A Kid - The Mech Sumo Robot

I would like to share with you how I made one of my favourite toys which I used to play as a kid in the 1960s. But first, the following were characteristics of most toys of that era:

a. They were self-constructed, simple but yet highly creative.

Every part was made or assembled by hand, just like a Rolex or a Rolls Royce, except that I had to use my own hands. The toys were simple to make but yet highly creative, with much attention paid to little details.

b. They were very cheap to produce.

Not that I did not whine and pine for expensive toys (I was never that well-behaved as a kid) but my family was not well to do. Like most families at that time, we were living only at or near subsistence level. To aggravate the situation, I had 4 siblings and all of us were of school-going age. Both of my parents had to work just to keep us living from hand to mouth. Hence most kids never got anywhere with their whining and pining anyway so they made use of recycled and waste materials to make their own toys. The toys were extremely cheap to produce, costing next to nothing.

c. They were highly treasured.

The toys were highly treasured by their owners - I would carry them wherever I went. The toys provided many hours of endless entertainment and excitement for me.

d. They promoted social interaction.

We brought the toys to school to play with classmates and brought them back home after school to play with neighbourhood kids.

I did not have a name for the toy then. Now I am giving it the modern name 'Mech Sumo Robot' in keeping up with the times. Alright, I have kept you in suspense long enough. Here's how you make it:

Step 1 (Photo 1)

You will need the following materials. (If the photo bears any resemblance to anyone dead or alive, it's only coincidental.)

a. Wooden empty thread reel. It is crucial that the thread reel must be made of wood otherwise you cannot proceed. I know that it is extremely difficult to find wooden thread reels nowadays since nearly all of them are now made of plastic. However you must understand that this is a 40-year old antique toy. I managed to find one last wooden thread reel in my possession.

b. A satay stick. In the olden days, I used a joss stick end which was a waste item. (As my family practised ancestor worship, there were many joss stick ends left sticking in the urn.)

c. A triangular file. You can buy this item from any hardware shop.

d. A pen knife.

e. A large (3/4-inch diameter) candle.

f. One or two rubber bands.

g. One hair pin or stiff wire.

Step 2 (Photo 2)

This is the most tedious step. You will need to put in one or two hours of relatively hard work. (But who was afraid of hard work in the old days?) Get an adult to help you if you have a problem doing this properly. Using the triangular file, file notches all round the two ends of the thread reel as shown. Try to evenly space out the notches. Each notch should also be cut to about the same depth.

Step 3 (Photo 3)

Break the satay stick into 2 as shown. The shorter portion should be slightly shorter than the diameter of the thread reel end. For the longer portion, break and discard the sharp end.

Step 4 (Photo 4)

Using the pen knife (be very careful or ask an adult to help you), cut a half-inch section of the candle as shown. (The purpose of the candle is to slow down the unwinding motion of the rubber band.) Using the hair pin or stiff wire, make a small hole through the centre of the candle. Then thread a rubber band through the hole as shown in the photo.

Step 5 (Photo 5)

Put the longer stick through a loop of the rubber band which is sticking out from one side of the candle section as shown. Using the hair pin, thread the other loop of the rubber band through the centre of the reel. After the other loop of the rubber band is threaded through to the other end of the reel, secure the rubber band by putting the shorter stick through the loop of the rubber band.

(Photos 6, 7 and 8)

There you have it - the finished product. Wind it up and watch it go. If the shorter stick slips, stick some sticky tape over it. It the longer end of the stick slips, cut a v-groove into the candle so that the stick sits in the groove. If you have made the toy correctly, it should move slowly and it should be able to climb over small obstacles. You can even have a sumo robot duel if you make two of such toys - place them facing each other on a wooden ruler and see which one pushes the other one out of the ruler. View the video of the toy climbing over an obstacle here:

Have fun.


Chris said...

How clever Victor! But I think the name given is a misnomer. Whichever angle I looked at it, it DOES NOT look like a robot to me leh. But I guess kids in your era did have many imaginative friends, huh? LOL.

Oh, I remember other man-made games we kids played then - 5 stones that my mum sown for us with beans, the "nails-wooden-plank" game where nails were hammered on a plank in strategic lines and was played with ball bearings or marbles. Paper-cut dolls and dresses that my sisters loved to play. She could even design her own line of clothes for the paper dolls. Then there are simple games like kuci kuci (or was it puti puti?), comprising miniature plastic creatures that we pitted against each other, and the creature that ended on top of the other won.

I'm not sure if kids these days appreciate such toys. They play on-line games like Maple Story. They have X-box and Sony Playstation. And to cap it off, many of them have no time for games other then tuition and enrichment classes. Sometimes I pity the kids these days!

Victor said...

It's kuti kuti lah, what kuci kuci or puti puti. Don't make me laugh ok. In fact there was a wide variety of games that we used to play as kids: hide-and-seek; hantam bola; police and thieves; skipping rope; beh-long (hopskotch); chaptek; spinning tops; marbles, rubber bands; falling dominoes using cigarette boxes; picture cards; kite flying and so on. In fact, I think I can write a whole series on this that can last me one year on yesterday.sg, haha.

Chris said...

I'm referring specifically to hand-made games lah Victor, other than KUTI-KUTI.

Victor said...

Kuti kuti was not a hand-made game. The little plastic figures were usually bought from the neighbourhood mama (Indian brother) stalls at 5 or 10 cents for a small packet.

Lam Chun See said...

Wow Victor certainly put in a lot of effort to build this 'robot'. Yes I have seen some of my kampong friends with this toy. But too chim for me.

Chris said...

Chun See - Chim? Not at all leh. It's a piece of cake. And I thought engineers are good with their hands. No? LOL.

Victor - I know what is kuti-kuti lah and where to get them. I was closer to my childhood then you are to yours ok? So don't start your nonsense with me. Hng!

Gwen said...

hello everyone. i'm a secondary school student. coincidentally, i'm doing a history project about traditional toys/games which should be reintroduced and promoted. i was thinking of kuti-kuti, but i have no idea what the benefits are/where it originated. ^^ would appreciate if you could help me out. thanks

P.S i like BOTH kuti-kuti and MapleStory (x

Victor said...

Gwen, thanks for visiting my blog. With regards to your questions, I don't know whether writing about kuti kuti alone is good enough for your school project. You see, kuti kuti is a very simple game and hence there is really nothing very much to write about it. I also don't know where the game originated from but most kids around that time (1960s) were playing it.

As for benefits, the kids of that era played all their games only for the fun of playing them, nothing else. Therefore there is no other benefit that I can think of. More details about how to play it and its objective are found in my blogofriend Chun See's Nov 2005 post about his primary school here. (It is in one paragraph of a very long article so you have to search for it carefully.)

You may also visit our museum shop's website here where there is some description on how the game is played too.

Sorry I don't know what is Maplestory. I apologise if I am of not much help. If you look through Chun See's previous posts on his blogsite, you can find 2 posts on how he made a toy gun and a lastik (a sling). But be careful because these are dangerous toys.

I will probably be blogging about how I made a kite when I was a kid but it will not be so soon because I am quite busy during this period. Apologies again.

Singapore Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singapore Girl said...


I pushed the delete button on the above comment! Anyway, I shall recall...

Hi Victor,

I was googling "kuti-kuti" after talking to my colleagues about this childhood game and found your blog entry:
It's nostalgic and funny. Thanks

Will bookmark and return again!

Victor said...

Hi Singapore Girl,

Thanks for your very encouraging comments. Incidentally, do you fly with our national airline? :)

I do write about nostalgic experiences that happened to me as a kid (in the 1960s) but not full-time. BTW, I am one of the contributors to yesterday.sg. There are more nostalgic stories there contributed by other members. You may want to take a look. (Most of my stories about old Singapore are also replicated at http://yesterday.sg.)

Victor said...

Hi Singapore Girl,

Do you have a blog? I can't seem to access your blog via your profile http://www.blogger.com/profile/7376893 though.