Mercury Maze and other novelty items
August 13, 2019 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Mercury Maze, a game "designed by Loncraine Broxton & Partners in England in 1978. [...] The aim of the game is to rotate and tilt the puzzle to get the silver blob of mercury into the centre of the maze." Record of Object: Maze Puzzle at Victoria and Albert Museum, Museum of Childhood collection.

The record Object history note "The puzzle was owned and played with by Roy and Caroline Kitchener who lived in Surrey in the early 1980s. Roy could solve it but Caroline never could."

Across the pond, Massachusetts Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association describes Mercury Legacy Items: Novelty Items. Mazes and puzzles; children's chemistry sets; sneakers with flashing lights; and "certain necklaces".
posted by readinghippo (22 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
There happens to be currently listed from Oxfam Mercury Maze by Loncraine Broxton & Partners. "Looks new, packaging perfect".
posted by readinghippo at 3:24 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I thought it would be cool to add a shot of this in action.
posted by hilberseimer at 3:40 PM on August 13, 2019

I had one of these as a kid! I guess it was in the mid '80s? In defense of the manufacturer, I don't think the mercury was that dangerous for children, it was sealed in the puzzle, so it would have been pretty tough to poison yourself with it.
posted by unreason at 3:42 PM on August 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

I had one of these as a kid!

Ditto, except 90s. Probably a thrift store acquisition or something.
posted by RolandOfEld at 3:55 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

...I had this. With the mercury, even.
posted by egypturnash at 4:00 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I still have one. I never spent much time trying to solve the maze; it was more fun to make the blob of mercury split into smaller beads and join back together.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:00 PM on August 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

There's a 1991 article that says "A plastic maze containing mercury was recently found on the shelves of two Madison-area toy stores." Those mazes apparently didn't have a brand name on.
posted by readinghippo at 4:08 PM on August 13, 2019

I wish people didn't have such a negative impression of mercury. It's a heavy metal and as such should be treated with respect, but it's also a unique and fascinating element.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:18 PM on August 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Mercury is fantastic!!! Well as long as you're not dealing with organic mercury....
posted by phliar at 4:37 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, mercury-containing compounds are no joke and should be avoided at all costs. Metallic mercury is harmless in comparison.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:46 PM on August 13, 2019

I had this toy and I loved it! The mercury's splitting-and-joining behavior was very novel and fascinating for me as a kid.
posted by value of information at 5:08 PM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh my god! I had one of these! It was insanely fun.
posted by xingcat at 5:26 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I never had one, but I saw them in the stores and coveted them terribly. So fascinating! Now I wish I'd gotten one when it was possible.
posted by traveler_ at 5:40 PM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

oh jeeb, i broke a thermometer when I was a kid, maybe 8- or 9-years-old, and the mercury spilled out all over my shag-carpeted bedroom. Those globs of mercury that I could find and capture, I could keep and play with! Who needed a store-bought toy when you had a broken thermometer and a few index cards to roll mercury around on. Now THAT's childhood.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY though i probably sealed a portion of my fate somehow during that fun week.
posted by not_on_display at 5:54 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

My family had one in the 70s, although it was a smaller blue plastic maze on a square grid rather than hexagonal. It went through a lot of children's hands in its time, afaict without breaking. I wonder what happened to it.
posted by ardgedee at 6:07 PM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is what I used to play every time I broke a mercury thermometer in our tiled bathroom. I'd eventually clean it up*, but not after a lot of fun with squishing, chasing and gathering.

*For definitions of "clean up" that included scraping it Into an old pill bottle and tossing it in a waste basket.
posted by tavella at 6:30 PM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh wow, thanks for the memories. We had one at my grandfather's house that I would play with whenever we visited and it would keep me engrossed for hours.
posted by Molesome at 3:10 AM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had a SlikSilver, a cheapo but safer version that used tap water. The plastic inside had been sprayed with waterproofing compound, so it (kinda) behaved like mercury.
posted by scruss at 10:18 AM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

This could easily be recreated with one of those very low melting point mixtures of bismuth and gallium, which also have very low toxicities — but I seem to recall that the lowest melting points (well below 0 °C) needed indium too, and I don't remember how toxic that is.
posted by jamjam at 10:42 AM on August 14, 2019

Totally had one of these too. My dad also had a blob of mercury in a little clear plastic box on his workbench. At least it was taped shut. That stuff is so cool looking, for a deadly toxic substance.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:44 AM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

My family had one in the 70s, although it was a smaller blue plastic maze on a square grid rather than hexagonal.

We had the same one as kids at about the same time; I think my grandparents had one at their house as well. Growing up in the late 60s and 70s mercury was pretty ubiquitous. Thermometers were always the mercury type and mercury filled light switches were common (and I was impressed by their clever design circa 10 years old). Perusing that newmoa website shows there were an awful lot of other products out there that its probably just as well I didn’t know about at the time as I would have hunted them down and extracted the mercury to play with. Unbeknownst to me at the same time, my father (a dentist) also had a number of small (10-20 ml) vials of mercury tucked in with all of his old dental equipment, which were only discovered when we cleaned out the house after my mother died. I still think it is fascinating stuff, but am now much more appreciative of its toxicity (although as others have pointed out, elemental mercury is much less dangerous than organic mercury compounds).
posted by TedW at 1:20 PM on August 14, 2019

Oh hey! I found one of these once, at a shoe shop in the late '80s, in a box of toys to keep children entertained. It's a memory I take out and wonder at every now and again. I'm very pleased to see independent proof that this was a thing that existed and my memory is therefore probably not invented. Given that the only other thing I remember from the box was a copy of Asterix the Gaul in a tiny paperback format that I've never come across elsewhere (at the time there were two standard sizes for Asterix books, and that was neither of them), it's always had a faint tinge of unreality.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:15 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

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