After building all the ramps, marble pump and other pieces, I figured it was time to play around with the blocks some more.
Part of the motivation was to figure out how many of what types of block would make a reasonable set for the toy company. I made more than enough of each type, and after building each track, I tallied up how many of each type of block I had actually used.
This track was an experiment in using the "ski jump" element and shooting the marbles up another ski jump element to catch them. I couldn't get that to work reliably - about one in four marbles would ricochet out in random directions.
So I changed the "catch" area to consist of a bowl and several ramp blocks. Making a reliable "catch" for the ski jump is tricky.
Here is another track using a "flip-flop" element at the top. Essentially, two downward paths. Without dividing the flow of marbles into two streams, you can only build so far before you need to go up too high.
These marble run blocks are designed to use less height than the ones on my modular marble machine. The lower height increases the risk of marbles stalling on a ramp if it's not made smoothly, but I figured with a set of blocks, it's best not to go too tall. Otherwise, the ascent tower on top of the pump is at risk of toppling!
I ended up making a spreadsheet tallying how many of each type of block I used for each run, then worked out how big a set would be needed so that any of those runs could be built. There were some odd shaped "riser" blocks I only used once or twice, so I eliminated these from the set, figuring I could just stack two other blocks on top of each other to make up for it.
A set of 108 blocks should be enough!
The toy company initially wanted me to get approval before publishing anything about these tracks, but I didn't want somebody telling me what I can and cannot say. So I left the contract unsigned and, (taking the chance), just went ahead developing the set without one. That way, they can see exactly what I published, and if they don't like it just walk away.
But the final blocks, I would guess, will be relatively expensive. You can get a set of 54 Jenga blocks for as low as $12, so you might expect a set of these marble blocks like these to come in at maybe $100. But that's unlikely.
A better price comparison might be these "unit blocks":
$214 for a set of 125 pieces from
barclaywoods.com. And these blocks are very simple shapes. Conservatively,
I'd say my blocks would be three times as expensive to produce.
A closer price comparison might be the "Cuboro" blocks, at $280 for a set of 54. These blocks look very neat, though they use a lot of height each, so you couldn't make very long runs. Also, the way the marbles roll from one block to the next without any vertical drop is also likely to cause some marbles to get stuck.
Another alternative: a "Quadrilla marble railway" set. Probably a better bargain than the Cuboro blocks, though very limited in terms of variety of runs you can build with it.
So ultimately, the most practical means to get a set of blocks like mine will probably be to make them yourself. You may say "I don't have the time to make them", but it will take others a lot of time to make them as well, which is why blocks like this just aren't cheap. I'm not planning on making any sets of blocks for sale myself.
Update Jan 2014
I have not heard from the toy company since summer 2013. So I think it's safe to say that this is going nowhere. So the only way to get blocks like this is to build them yourself. I now have a set of plans for sale.
And who was this toy company, you might wonder? They preferred I wouldn't say, but given that nothing is happening, I migh as well tell you. It was Mindware (mindware.com).
I realized they didn't have the required expertise to even hire a contractor to make these when they started arguing with me about my guess how much a set might cost in the end. They asked me to jutify why it would cost as much. As if I were the one to make it for them. Why argue with my guessed figure, they should be the one to know how much it should cost. It was then that I realized that they had never been responsible for making anything of remotely this complexity out of wood. I realized this would turn into a lot of time spent handholding them for something that was unlikely to go anywhere. I asked for a non-exclusive license to them (having so far not signed any agreement) and then I never heard from them again. Just as well. Much time saved :)
At least this way, I can sell a nice set of plans to my readers and make a small amount of money from my efforts that way.
I had warned Mindware at the very start "non-starving artists are harder to deal with". And so it is :)
More on the marble track toy