K'NEX (set #43534)
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Construction sets that encourage girls to start building have become incredibly popular, and in the summer of 2015 K'NEX introduced a series of construction sets featuring female characters under the line "Mighty Makers." The sets include a variety of different occupations and hobbies, including the "Fun On The Ferris Wheel" set featuring Emily and her toy bear Cocoa.
The 324-piece set lets you build a Ferris wheel and two midway booths. All of the parts are bagged, with Emily and Cocoa each packed separately in their own bags. Construction is simple, with easy-to-follow instructions and color-coded parts that let you go from sealed box to finished playset in about 30 - 45 minutes. The instructions are printed on a nice, heavy paper and include extra illustrations and callouts, a kit inventory, and suggestions for other sets in the series and two alternate carnival-themed builds: a shooting gallery and a pirate ship. There are also stickers for the alternate "shooting gallery" build (which look appropriate in the midway booths); a printed cardboard sheet with the Ferris wheel hub, ride entrance, and booth canopies; and a large postcard that shows an alternate way to assemble the wheel's gear train (more on this later).
Assembly is complex but satisfying, with several very clever assembly techniques used throughout. Parts snap together firmly and hold their shape with no sign of stress marks or sagging, and bending the soft rods to create the circumference of the big wheel works far better than I expected. The booths are basic frames with carboard roofs and solid back walls. They look much better with the stickers added, though, and since they are not attached to anything they can be repositioned to form a line, path, or backdrop. Emily and Cocoa are far better than Zoe and Roland, though still not perfect. Emily's hips hold together, but her lower legs fall off. Since these are fixed assembly joints rather than points of articulation, a dot of superglue will solve the problem without negatively effecting the figure. Cocoa is shaped like a typical stuffed terry bear, but has a large wind-up key in his back. All four limbs are on ball joints, but have limited articulation and fall out easily. Fortunately, he can hold a nice "sitting" position or be carried by Emily and looks good either way.
The Ferris wheel is, quite frankly, awesome. I went into this assuming it would be a competent build, but didn't expect more than a decent-looking wheel that I could spin. But K'Nex provided a much better product than that. The base is a nice solid assembly, heavy enough to anchor the Ferris wheel without being unnecessarily cumbersome. The wheel itself is also very nicely done, and while its assembly is necessarily repetitive the work never got tedious. The parts that make it up are so well engineered that placing a figure in any seat will unbalance the wheel and it will rotate the occupant to the lowest position. This seems like a small detail, but considering the number of components that are involved any miscast part or extra friction would have ruined the deal.
The highlight of the build is the gear train on the back. The kit provides parts to assemble a two-gear drive, so rather than spin the wheel directly you turn a crank mounted on the rear support to activate the hub gear. Switch the gears around, and the crank makes the wheel turn faster (~2½ turns of the crank will get one turn of the wheel in the standard configuration, but less than half a turn of the crank will get a full wheel rotation in the fast configuration). Not only is it a neat looking feature that works flawlessly, it teaches mechanical advantage and gear reduction—the same things used every day in a car transmission!
This is a great set. The figures are still a bit weak, but the Ferris wheel more than makes up for any shortcomings. It's a very cool toy that has a nice (and applicable) learning feature. This is a must-have for any kids with a mechanical inclination.
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