Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Capsela, the game that changed my life (joseoncode.com)
328 points by jfroma on Dec 26, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 92 comments

> In this vide you can see even a remote control that I never had. I read also in wikipedia that there was a model with an interface to Commodore 64, a Lego Mindstorms predecessor!

Lego Logo predated Capsela and was mostly inspired from Seymour Papert's 1980 book, Mindstorms. It ran on an Apple II through a special daughtercard and was amazing.

I got to play with Capsela as well, but only ever the basic kit without any expansions. Mostly because of the astronomical price of the parts. I wouldn't be surprised if there is someone with a 3D printer trying to design a printable modular motorized construction kit.

>I wouldn't be surprised if there is someone with a 3D printer trying to design a printable modular motorized construction kit.

Seems like 3D printing would only solve a tiny part of the problem. Some of those Capsela capsules have some pretty complex assemblies inside, which would still be a lot of manual work.

So? It would take hours to print each one. Five minutes snapping in the gears and shafts is no big deal. The children these toys are meant for have loads of free time. They could do that step themselves.

The problem is the price tag. None of those mechanisms are complicated. Simple gear boxes mostly. At the same time I was playing with Capsela I was also building those same gear mechanisms from scratch with Lego Technics.

If anyone is considering printing these, using off the shelf nylon gears would be a very good idea.

Thanks for sharing this bit of history. Very interesting given Seymour Papert is the inventor of Logo.

Do you have any link, reference or picture about lego logo?

The kit was never sold to consumers, schools only. So there were limited numbers and not much information. This was the best I could find:


My memories of it are a little fuzzy. I only got to use the system for 1 year, when I was nine years old. There was no assistance, I had to open the Apple and set up the driver card myself, taught myself logo too. I spent every recess inside just to get more time on it. (The kit went to a different school every year.) Unfortunately I didn't grok algebra until the following year, so my programs were essentially simple lists of commands with no math and (at most) limit-switch logic.

I recall using Logo in 3th grade at a Purdue University CS summer camp program. The camp was 1 week long and we stayed in the dorms like real university students - very cool! However, I don't recall any Apple computers. I think it interfaced to a PC using a serial cable. The next year the camp upgraded to Mindstorm kits and we used pbForth instead of the GUI RoboLab. pbForth's author, Ralph Hempel, came down from Canada to teach the camp. It was a true treat! Imagine a bunch of elementary students successfully learning Forth in a week!

Woah awesome. -- I remember using this at an after-school class when I was young. I'd forgotten the exact name and could never find it after.

I remember making a conveyor to sort blocks using a color? sensor. The older kids got to make and use the turtle, which just ran logo commands.

wow, It looks very nice,

thank you very much!

I remember these, they were semi-popular in France when I was growing up in the 90s. Sadly Santa Claus never brought them to me :(

Similarly engaging toys:

Meccano (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meccano), a French brand of metal rods, plates, gears, etc. that you can assemble together to form functioning small scale models (usually of vehicles). E.g.: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f4/Meccano_0...

K'nex (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%27Nex), my personal favorite as a child- rods and plastic connectors that you can use to build vehicles, small scale models, toy guns, etc. I really liked them a a kid because while LEGO are more about building static dioramas/models, K'nex is more about building dynamic/usable contraptions. For example they had really cool kits to make solar powered robots that would crawl around and were very easy to modify; unfortunately these days they seem to be more focused on branded content (e.g. Mario Kart, Angry Birds).

Logiblocs (http://www.logiblocs.com), plastic blocks from the UK with electronic components encased in plastic that are easy to plug together, allowing kids to assemble projects such as alarms or a basic voice recorder. E.g.: http://www.logiblocs.com/images/understanding_spytech.gif . Their website seems to be stuck in the 90s :)

Littlebits (http://littlebits.cc), in a way a modern reinterpretation of Logiblocs - electronic components that snap together using magnets, sold as kits.

And of course Lego, but no need to talk about these :) Although the LEGO Mindstorms series should get a special shoutout.

Those are all the ones I can think of, but I'm sure other HNers will have contributions. I wonder if there's room to do a construction toy these days, given LEGO's titanic market and mindshare. I was very excited about Goldie Blox recently, but I thought it fell kind of flat - their models aren't very extensible/modifiable in the way that LEGO or K'nex or Capsela are.

Another Addition: Construx:

"Unlike other building toys such as Lego, Construx feature beam-like pieces of varying lengths that snapped on to cubical connector knots in order to build large shapes. These are relatively secure even though no nuts or bolts were used. Panels allowed assembly of flat surfaces. Hinges, motors, wheels, and other movable parts expand the number of different shapes that can be built, and make moving creations possible."

I had two motors and could build simple robots. Due to the long size of the pieces, one could build truly gigantic things. I build really big helicopters, AT-T Walkers and whatnot. I played with this much more than with Lego. Also, the pieces had a bit of a 80ies future style look, which fit well for all the Sci-Fi things I was building.



I absolutely loved Construx growing up. I also had the motor box for it and distinctly remember my father explaining how gear ratios can increase torque by trading off turning speed using the rubber o-rings and yellow pulleys. One advantage Contstrux had over Lego is that once assembled, they were pretty rigid and sturdy toys. A great creative toy for kids.

I loved Construx when I was a kid. My brother and I would each build a vehicle, sit on the kitchen floor facing each other 10 or 15 feet apart, and ram them together. Whoever's vehicle lost the least number of parts won. We were probably 7 or 8 or so, and I clearly remember the process of coming up with an idea, building it, testing it, tweaking it, and so on, until we finally came up with what we thought was the optimal ramming vehicle. It was a great learning experience.

I knew there was something like this but when I went searching for it I couldn't remember it or find it. And now the kids are too old.

But maybe I'm not :-)

I had those, I could imagine the commercial jingle but I couldn't remember what they were like. thanks so much for the nostalgia link. awesome.

Author here, thanks a lot for the suggestion. I will definitely consider some of these.

I have a daughter and I bought her two capselas back when I wrote the blog post two years ago and she wasn't that interested. I think she expected a more espectacular outcome given the effort :)

I didn't have legos, as I mentioned I'm from Argentina and it wasn't very popular here, we had a clone called "rastis".

This year I went for the first time to US and we bought legos, but not a set, the $ 15 glasses of pieces. I did another trip in March and I bought more and last month a friend bring us another one. My daughter play with this every day.

I think legos in general and capsela are very different, but Lego as a brand has many different sets.

I agree with another commenter than "technic" is similar but it is a set and you know all the time what you should assemble and that's the reason I don't like Lego sets/models but I do like the pieces a lot.

[1]: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rasti

The technic are sold as a set but it doesn't stop kids from creating a lot of different things with them. As a kid, I almost only played with the lego technic but almost never actually assembled the object from the set.

Nice to hear that, I had that feeling too, I will buy one next time!

I always thought that meccano was originally English?

The great thing about meccano was because it was made out of steel that it could take some amazing abuse - the downside was the nuts and bolts were very easy to lose. I ended up with a whole series of beaten up plates that I could not bolt together :)

It was originally British, yes: developed by Frank Hornby in Liverpool. It's now made in France. There are still avid constructors who prefer 'original' Meccano (red/green coloured metal) as it is supposedly better build quality than today's product (blue/yellow).

The UK scene is quite active : http://www.skegex.nmmg.org.uk/

I recently bought some Meccano. I also noticed that the build quality is not so good anymore. The beams bent easily. The Capsula introduced by the topic starter look fun. And they teach an important principle of object oriented programming: encapsulation and the single responsibility principle.

FWIW, there's also Snap Circuits: http://www.snapcircuits.net/ I had this one as a kid, and I had fun with it, but I don't know how it compares to the other electronic kits you listed.


Lego Technic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lego_Technic

Technic is a line of Lego interconnecting plastic rods and parts. The purpose of this series is to create more advanced models with more complex movable arms, such as machines with wheels, in addition to the simpler brick-building properties of normal LEGO.

For some reason they changed Lego Technic to studless beams (removed studded bricks) years ago. Lego has begun to re-incorporate studded bricks back into the Technic line - that's good.

The reasons for the studless beams were a design flaw in the original studded beams and that studless beams allowed more realistic designs. More on this: http://bricks.stackexchange.com/questions/1912/why-does-lego...

I never got them myself either, but would play with it at my cousin's house.

However, I did get a set of Robotix: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robotix_(toys)

Looking at it now, I knew nothing of the comic book/TV show connection. I saw them at some children's science museum (maybe in Chicago?) and spent the better part of a day building cars and simple robots.

I had a big robotix kit and loved it. My parents kept it and I was planning to have my kids use it, only to find out a few years ago that none of the motors work anymore, and a lot of the plastic has become brittle, so breaks easily when taking things apart. sigh

Wow, I saw some pics of Robotix and it looks awesome and very similar to capsela. Thanks for sharing!

I have an old, four-motor Robotix system from my childhood. It's part of the reason I became a programmer beyond QuickBASIC for DOS. Having played with the Robotix kit, I encountered an articulated robot arm in tech ed, in 7th grade, and wanted badly to program it. I learned the basic command language, excelled in the class, found out that C++ was what it used for the advanced stuff, and started to learn C++ on my own. Sadly, we moved before I got to program it further in 8th grade.

Robotix is definitely inferior to Capsela, because the only gearings it provided were the things necessary to run the sample project toys you could build, such as the grabber arm (use the slower, stronger motor for the hand!).

Here is another one, used to be very popular when I was a kid (but too expensive for me), friends had it and I played with it at their house:


My step father had a bunch of these that he brought back to the States from Germany in the 70s. They were seriously high quality with steel bits that would stand up for large load-bearing designs which wouldn't work with plastic toys like Lego Technic.

Fortunately Capsela is still alive:


Thanks, came here to ask if this still exists. No children but I'm probably going to buy a set. Mainly because of the floating devices: I used to have close to the entire range of Lego Technics, but there was none of the things which could float.

I read the comments to see if anyone had posted this yet. I Had a few small sets of Capsela when I was a kid and by far the most fun was making watercraft. I will forewarn anyone, especially those with kids, that if you let them play with Capsela in the bath -- with soap and dirt and grime and whatever else -- they will get nasty and perhaps unrecoverably ... maligned.

Yeah, I think that's what killed mine for good. The floating things are cool, but don't use them with the electrical pieces!

Technic pieces won't float because they have no internal air pockets, but Lego has produced quite a few boat sets with floating hull pieces. Here's a list: http://brickset.com/sets/list-5930

I would imagine that you could also make a floating contraption with enough bricks stuck together in such a way as to make the internal spaces airtight, but I've never tried it.

Wow expensive.

The toys I remember best from my childhood were all the building toys - LEGO, Capsela, k'nex, and this one where you built towers with beams and blew them up with a timed bomb. I had cars and action figures and such as well but can't really picture them and remember as well as the construction toys.

It looks very interesting.

I just want to mention "Fishertechnik" as another alternative to Lego. Not sure how common it is in the US, but it seems to be available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_10/191-8762533-9514...

As a kid I enjoyed it much more than Lego. It is more about gears and motors, and back then there were also specialized kits about electronics, pneumatics and robotics.

Opps, just realized I misspelled it, it's called Fischertechnik, not Fishertechnik :-)

Also as an additional point: one reason I liked it much more than Lego is that the system for connecting the pieces is much better. It doesn't fall apart (as Lego is prone to), so it's possible to make machinery that actually does stuff.

This was brought into my school when I Was 7 or 8 for an afternoon.

Working with my classmates, it was the first time I didn't feel like an idiot. I just simply 'go it' and knew how it worked.

I was quite let down when they took it away, and fobbed me off with an excuse that I can't remember now.

It would take me over a decade to find that part of me, but we got there in the end.

Thanks for the reminder (and the name) of this great toy.

Oh gosh, I think I had a Capsela set. I didn't recognize the name but the pictures brought back a nostalgia wave.

I don't think I ever got into them in the same way I got into tinker toys or lego though.

LOVED these as a kid. I loved building all sorts of fans and paddleboat things. Only bummer was that my mom who knew jack about electronics was hyper-paranoid that I was going to electrocute myself playing with them in water. I used to sneak them into the bathroom and put them in the sink behind her back.

I tried to create a perpetual motion machine out of Capsela when I was 9 by connecting a propeller to the wheels, so the propeller turns when the wheels move. I was really puzzled when it didn't work! But I still remember that machine clearly 30 years later.

I had Legos, K'nex, Meccano, a lot of Legos, Capsellas, lose PVC pipes I screwed around with in the bath, some roller coaster ball thing I forgot the name of, two spaceship things featured in Lego mag, and probably another modular toy system I forgot about.

Capsela was really cool, but I mostly remember that the tolerances or the connectors were loose enough that some didn't connect properly, and some other just stuck together forever.

And now I program.

Correlation not causation, but...

I remember being upset my parents wouldn't buy me video games or action figures like GI Joe, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and whatnot, but looking back I'm really glad they bought me LEGO, Meccano, Capsella, etc instead.

I know LEGO still exists of course (despite LEGO's focus on movie tie-ins, Technic and Mindstorms still seem like good products) but are there other similar newer products worth considering?

Perhaps look at Snap Circuits - they're sort of like electrified Legos: http://www.snapcircuits.net/

Wow, so _this_ is what this toy was. I got several non-working pieces from a yard sale when I was in 5th grade, and had no idea what to make of it -- other than it looked seriously cool. Since it was non-functional, the pieces mainly became incorporated into Lego play-time.

Really neat to see the full extent of the product.

I had a small starter kit (basically, just a little two-legged blue robot that walked around using some clever rack-and-pinion gearing), and played around mostly with one at a friend's house.

Fast-forward 10 years, I've just graduated high-school, and I find a massive box full of them at a garage sale, for cheap. Floaters and chains and everything. Coolest damned toy in the world. :)

Wow, I had this too. Thanks for the nostalgia trip! I loved this way more than Meccano, but not as much as Lego.

It was discontinued, but looks to be available again here (old parts or comparable with new)


Not Icelandic, Swedish!

Anyway, I too had one of these and what I loved most was that you could build boats with propellers.

Thanks! I'll fix the post.

I loved propellers and floating vehicles although I didn't have a pool to test it out back then.

For me it was Capsela and Gakken Denshi Blocks:


Denshi blocks were one of the most significant educational toys that I had as a kid growing up in the 70's and 80's, and many an afternoon was spent with my Space 1999 Eagle model, a Capsela "moon base", and me "inside with the computer" (Denshi blocks) commanding 'the system'. Ah, to return to those halcyon days when modular toy systems gave my systems-management skills a sharper edge. ;)

Wow I didn't know about denshi blocks, very nice and powerful. Thanks for sharing!

You're welcome! I await the Denshi Block revival and subsequent recognition as one who was there and that, and all that. ;)

Seriously, if you do anything with Denshi blocks, let me know. I keep trying to get my local hackerspace denizens to reproduce the casing and update it with the 3d-printing and the laser-cutting and all the other potential energy to be applied, but there are always so many other interesting things to do ..

Curious - Is calling a building toy a "game" a regional dialect thing, like soda vs pop? I have never heard of Legos, K'nex, Tinkertoys, etc. referred to as "games" before.

Yes, I've been thinking about this and it was my mistake, it doesn't make sense to call it Game in English nor in Spanish (original article).

Game (juego) is often used here as a synonym of toy like in "board game". I call it "juego de construcción".

I remember these fondly! I also remember overflowing the bathtub in the name of science more then once with those water modules.

So what's the equivalent toy these days?

Hey, I had those! They were neat. I don't know that I'd have said "game" - "toy" is probably more appropriate.

Thank you very much, few others pointed out the same mistake. I'm not a native English speaker and I wrote this first on Spanish, although in Spanish is also a toy or construction toy.

I just fixed in the article without breaking the url.

Thanks again

Happy to help :)

I just spent the past hour playing with a capsela clone that we got our daughter for Christmas :-) I had these as a kid too, although the legos were better in some ways: less prone to destruction and more "abstract" in tht you could create anything you could imagine.

http://iq-key.com is the manufacturer.

I had Capsela (I, for whatever reason have always called it Capseula) as a child, too. Some of it was donated to me by a neighbour and some was purchased. That, along with Lego and knex made up my 'constructive' learning. I also had logiblocks, which allow you to build basic circuits, and I was very fond of them indeed.

Thank you for this flashback.

This is the great thing about 3d printers, as Linus Towards said:"if I had one of these (3d printers) when I was a kid, I would have done amazing crazy things".

We teach little kids basic freecad, openscad design and give them communal access to the printers too.

Some of them are really great designers. It is amazing when they start thinking on their own.

Loved this in the 80's. Wonderful thing about this toy is that it was very accessible, you could do something fun in one or two capsules and grow from there. No need to build an entire model before something works. Adding e.g. gears took seconds, which gave a very intuitive feel for the mechanics.

Lego, Meccano, Capsela. Great childhood memories :)

For me, it was Lego Technic that played the role that Capsela played for the OP. One of my fondest memory as a child was when I created a mechanically programmable excavator 3-joints arm by mixing ideas from some of the suggested models... I just wished that modern-day Lego didn't have so many specialized, single-use parts.

I wanted one of these so bad when I was a kid. I did have a couple of these awesome science/engineering type of toys, as well as a load of lego.

The one that stands out in my mind still was a little solar steam "engine". Once heated by the sun would draw water through it with a loud "putt putt putt" sound.

I had this when I was a kid. Stuck the wires into a mains socket once, sent sparks flying, blew a fuse and probably closely escaped electrocuting myself. Oh well, lesson learned about 230v AC at an early age.

And yes they were ace. What's the modern equivalent for a 5 year old? Maybe something with a robotics spin?

Oh wow, thanks for some nostalgia! I grew up in Ukraine and played with this :). It wasn't exactly the most reliable thing (like lego bricks are, for example), but definitely fun memories!

Absolutely LOVED Capsela! Eventually, I started applying a lot of the modularity concepts to my Lego Technic projects by recreating the gearing sets and interconnects in Lego. Great stuff!

I also had this toy!

Another lesson applicable to coding that this toy taught me was about the basics of standards, compatibility, and lock in. I believe I only had single set of Capsela, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get them to satisfyingly inter-operate with lego, mechano, or any other building-toys. Getting more was a non-starter (pre-internet). My dad had brought it back from a business trip to SF where he visited FAO Schwarz, and I'm not even sure they sold other sets.

There was definitely more than one set. I remember that I had one and my friend had a different, larger set. According to wikipedia [0], they've been rebranded and are available (in Japan at least) [1].

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsela [1] http://www.iqkey.jp/

I had the big kit. It was one of the most awesome toys. I looked into buying one again but there seem to be a lot of poor reviews of the newer versions. They don't make them like they used to, and the old versions are pricey retro items. I thought about 3D printing something similar, but for the amount of time involved it's worth it to buy the real thing.

Also I wouldn't recommend buying a used set. The joints can't hold two pieces together after some time.

From what I remember as a kid, they'd develop little cracks along the facets of the connectors, which killed the friction that keeps everything stuck together.

Exactly, these cracks are made when disassembling models, sometimes is very hard to remove the connector

That's one thing I can say for Robotix: the pieces that move are virtually indestructible.

The look like they are made out of that hard, splintery plastic.

Geez. I want to say this is 1985. I had a bunch of Capsela kits. I really loved them. Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories.

Oh my god. Those manual scans gave me a serious case of the flashbacks. I must have spent hours reading it when I was in grade school.

I had this too. Great stuff. I'll have to see if I can get one for my kid. She's digging lego's right now.

Back in 1994, this LEGO Technic set [1] impressed me beyond anything else related to toys until and after that time.

[1] http://www.leg-technic.hu/images/sets/6/lego-8880-super-car....

This brings back happy memories. I had a few of these growing up in India. Definitely the best toys I had!

I also had these when I was a kid (and Legos, K'Nex, Erector sets, model car kits, etc).

These didn't have as much of an impact on me as some of the other toys. There isn't really as much flexibility as there is with sets like Legos or K'Nex.

I just found a completely new, unused (things are still in plastic baggies) Capsela 400 box at the thrift store. This is one seriously great toy. I don't know whether to let my daughter play with it or sell it on eBay...

Thanks, I'd completely forgotten I had this as a kid until just now.

My school had this in the late '70s! It was fantastic fun!

For some reason, I used to play with some non-functioning Capsela capsules along with my Lego sets. Thanks for writing this; I didn't know what they were called.

Man I had one of these when I was a kid! It was great!

A trip down memory lane when I was looking for my old Legos and found this (well part of it) in the box as well.

I knew that name sounded familiar.

k'nex changed my life

I used to have this set.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact