The Reluctant Technologist on Mattel’s Mindflex

Come on Schwartz. Come on Schwartz.

Come on Schwartz. Come on Schwartz.

The fundamental premise of the Mattel Mindflex makes it one of the coolest games ever. Seriously, ever. (Note, I didn’t say most fun, I said coolest. There’s a difference.) The object is to move stuff with your mind. Here’s the gist: You put this doodad on your head, then you stare at this li’l Nerf ball real hard, then suddenly the ball starts floating. You levitate the thing. It’s pretty trippy.

I tested this out a few months ago and wrote about it for Popular Science. The itch to try it for myself was strong enough that I actually put that ridiculous thing on my head in a public place, and tried to be the ball. The headband has a sensor — a dry contact electrode — that rests on your forehead just above the left eyebrow, over the SP-1 region of your brain’s frontal lobe. That’s the part of your noodle involved in things like problem solving, motor function, memory, language and judgment. (Clips on your ear lobes take a baseline reading as a control.) When activity in the area increases, the game runs an algorithm to translate that into a level of concentration, which then determines the level, or height of the ball. The headband and game base communicate over a wireless bandwidth similar to Bluetooth. Amazingly, you look like even more of an asshole in this contraption than the jerks with their LED-flashing earpieces. Added bonus.

There is a small fan inside the base that sends the ball afloat. The harder you concentrate, the stronger the puff of air, and the higher the ball goes. Everyone has his own way of  “concentrating.” Mattel’s people suggested thinking in another language (if you know one). Some people do math problems. I had a hell of a time finding something specific that worked, and actually found the most success when I tried not to think of anything. Go figure: neurotic cerebral New Yorker thinks hardest when trying to quit thinking.

Once you’ve got the thing airborne, you’re charged with getting it around — and over and through — a series of customizable obstacles. Hoops and bars and such. The fan is on a circular track, and you move it along the course by turning a dial on the front of the base. As it travels it takes the hovering ball with it around the track. When it approaches an obstacle it’s your job to raise or lower the ball as needed. I’ve got to say, when I got the thing to go through the little hoop I was downright psyched. I always knew I was a fucking Jedi. The Force is strong in my family. I also, oddly, expected to somehow feel it heave itself over the lip of the ring, and was surprised when this didn’t happen. I suppose that’s a natural reaction, since typically when I move things there is some level of contact involved. (Except, of course, when I’m moving you, dear reader, with my profound prose….  Doody! Ha. Made you look.)

The Mindflex was set to be released next month, but it’s already available on Amazon and other online retailers. If you have 80 bones to toss around (don’t pay more, it’s suggested retail is $79.99), I’d say it’s a pretty neat toy, and could make for impressive parlor trickery. Otherwise, I’d highly recommend popping by Toys R Us around Christmas time and seeing if they have one on the floor you can try. Sort of frustrating, sort of dumb, totally awesome. I mean, I mentioned the part where you move shit with your freaking mind, right?

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One response to “The Reluctant Technologist on Mattel’s Mindflex

  1. For $80 if I can wear this thing and think really hard about cleaning my apartment and come out of my trance to a tidy place it would be totally worth it! I’d even let people take pictures of me doing it.

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