Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Magic Eight Ball

The Magic Eight Ball was a fascinating toy when I was a kid.  This cleverly designed sleek plastic orb was used to tell fortunes.  Well, it was kinda sorta used to tell fortunes as long as the fortune inquiry was made in the form of a question.  It was kinda sorta good at telling fortunes as long as the question asked was had a yes or no answer.  It was indeed fascinating but only for a few minutes at a time.  Most of the time it served as a table top, desktop, bookcase, or dresser decoration.  I never had one but certainly had friends who did.

I have one now.  Being the grown-up child that I am, I downloaded an app on my phone. 

I wanted to learn more so as usual, I just took advantage of Google and searched for information.  Also as usual, Wikipedia provided most of the background information needed.  I was delighted to learn that the first use of an eight ball as an alternative to a crystal ball was actually in a 1940 Three Stooges short, You Nazi Spy. No wonder this toy has such appeal to me.

In 1946 a company in Ohio, Alabe Crafts, marketed the predecessor of The Magic Eight Ball.  Their product, the SycoSeer, was more like a opaque crystal ball.  It did not sell that well.  In 1950, Brunswick Billiards had Alabe Crafts make a black and white Eight Ball version of the toy.  Maybe it was the link to The Three Stooges or perhaps simply the general appeal of the black eight ball, but It became a success in the new format and survives to this day albeit with a lighter, probably cheaper, plastic ball.  Somewhere in the interim, Mattel acquired the rights to the product. 

The "brains" of The Magic Eight Ball is a twenty sided die.  Each side is a triangle and has an answer printed on it.   The Eight Ball itself is black plastic with a flat bottom window
where the fortune appears.  The answer ball is in a dark alcohol solution.   When The Magic Eight Ball is turned so that the window is facing up, the icosahedron with the answer floats to the top and an answer appears in the window. 

With the ball and solution being black, we cannot see the inner workings of The Magic Eight Ball thus giving the toy a very magic feel for especially for kids growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.  In this digital and electronic age, a toy could be created with eerie music that asks one the question and then could generate the answer.   For a purely fluid mechanical device, The Magic Eight Ball was a pretty elegant invention for its day.

The are twenty answers in The Magic Eight Ball.  The answers are as follows:

Ten of the answers are positive.
● It is certain
● It is decidedly so
● Without a doubt
● Yes definitely
● You may rely on it
● As I see it, yes
● Most likely
● Outlook good
● Yes
● Signs point to yes

Five of the answers are indecisive
● Reply hazy try again
● Ask again later
● Better not tell you now
● Cannot predict now
● Concentrate and ask again

Five of the answers are negative
● Don't count on it
● My reply is no
● My sources say no
● Outlook not so good
● Very doubtful

In this app happy world, I explored the App Store to see if there were a Magic Eight Ball simulator.  Of course, there were many.  I downloaded several until I found one that I liked.  It is very much like the toy I never had as a kid.  I have used it several times to the amusement of people around my age.

In reading the ratings and reviews about these apps, they were quite polarized.  The ratings were either a stellar five or cellar ones.  There were very few in between.  People that liked it were reliving their youth and thought the app was cool.  Others that liked it were under the impression, or so they wrote, that the answers and prognostications were true.  Really?  The people that gave it ones thought it was stupid and lame.  Of course, these low raters probably never played with one as a kid.

Of course The Magic Eight Ball, in 3D or app form, is not real and is lame.  I have never seen anyone play with one for more than five to ten minutes at a time.   They same applies to other iconic toys such as Slinky and Silly Putty.  They advertise well and seemingly everyone at one time or another has wanted or had them.  But, no one can play with any of them for more than a few minutes.  The toys are appealing but totally not interesting enough to keep kids, or adults, interested for very long.  People can lose hours playing video games quite easily.  On the hand, have a Slinky go down the stairs a few times or ask The Magic Eight Ball a few questions and it is on to something else. 

Will I get bored with my new Eight Ball app?
"Concentrate and ask again."

Will Ara Topouzian comment on this posting?
" As I see it, yes"

1 comment:

  1. My girlfriend had one. Looking back we'd ask questions like, "Does he like me?"
    "Does he love me?" "Will I marry him?" "Is he seeing someone else?" We used it to answer relationships. Of course it never worked, but gave us hope. Ah, to be silly kids.