Thursday, November 8, 2007

I'm a grown-up now

A little more than a year ago Randall Munroe, author of XKCD, posted a comic, called Grownups, about a girl filling her apartment with playpen balls. The girl in the comic offers no explanation as to why she's done this, other than the fact that she's a grow-up now and it's her turn to decide what being a grown-up means. The whimsical web comic has often portrayed a state of mind that hits very close to home for me and this strip wasn't an exception.

I'm impulsive so I started looking on line for playpen balls the following weekend and quickly learned the same thing Randall did. Filling one's apartment with playpen balls, for any reasonably sized apartment, or even a tiny dorm room, would cost well over a few thousand dollars. Determined to have a ball pit, I decided I would cordon off the bottom of my lofted bed and make a ball-pit underneath. The lofted bed is a nice big queen-sized bed so the pit would be about 5'x7' with about 5' head clearance.

Using an on-line playpen ball volume calculator (inspired by the XKCD comic itself) I found that making a 5'x7' ball pit 2' deep was a pretty tractable goal. With a little help from my friend Sue I was able to find two ebay auctions for 700 and 800 balls from the same seller. The orders totaled about $160 counting shipping, which by the way made up more than 40% of the cost.

I placed a bid and week or so later I received the largest delivery I'd ever received as well as an endearingly spastic but uninformative voice from my roommate attempting to describe exactly what had happened to our front porch while I was gone. "Hey! Mike! Oh my god there's, like... the porch is totally gone. They're huge. These all have your name... I can't... do want me to... Holy crap." Remembering my order from a week ago I figured that was probably what she was talking about so I went home to bring them in.

On the Saturday after the delivery arrived, Sue and I went to Home Depot, the toy store for grown-ups who think the word grown-up has been ill defined. After some careful consideration we decided to pick up a reel of plastic garden fencing, zip ties, and you guessed it, some PVC pipe.

The lofted bed was already up against two walls so I just needed to gate off the other two. One wall, the short one, I decided to completely cover with the garden fence. The long wall I made the entry way, so it has a short wall made of a PVC frame and garden fence which is easy to step over.

That Saturday night Sarah came over and Sue, Sarah, and I sat in the ball pit for nearly five hours talking and laughing uncontrollably while throwing balls at each others faces. It really is quite amazing how long throwing balls at your friends' faces can last without getting boring. When it did we just lounged around and chatted until someone decided it was again time to throw balls at each other's faces. As the night winded down Sarah took great joy in completely burying herself and Sue made sure that both of us had heard every possibly innuendo involving the word balls.

Later in the week my improv troupe came over to practice and we ended the night with a really loud and rowdy ball pit fight where in most people just threw balls at Tony while Tony scrambled to bury his face and anything else fragile under a thick enough covering of playpen balls. My more obsessive compulsive friends came over the following weekend and we shorted the ball pit in spectrum order. To be fair this project also started with throwing balls at each others faces when I decided that Mike could only throw blue balls and Trevor could only throw red. This created a really nice visual effect so we ran with it and Lisa took some pictures.

I guess what I've learned from all this is simply that if you are going to go through the trouble of making a ball pit in your apartment just realize that all your friends are going to want to do is throw plastic balls at your face. Recently I moved and decided to make a video of the reconstruction of the ball pit.

video

59 comments:

amy said...

Ha! Also the balls came in all these boxes for huge & expensive electronic equipment. I was all "woah, our house is going to be... fancy". I'm glad it ended up being a ball pit instead.

Mike Machenry said...

We could always take the boxes back up from the basement and put them in the living room. That way when people come over it will give the impression that any day now our apartment is going to be super fancy, but they're just a little too early.

aimee is golden said...

michael machenry! this is aimee from hurd school in wakefield, ma. sorry to comment on out the blue on a blog, but it was emailed to me as a fan of XKCD, and then i saw that this mike machenry was YOU and i had to say...hello! your ball pit is pretty awesome. how are you? hope things are great. :)

Colleen said...

I am really impressed and totally inspired. Thank you.

Mike Machenry said...

Woa, Aimee. How have *you* been?

Mike Machenry said...

Thank you, Colleen. It's nice to hear.

Anonymous said...

...its...beautiful...

Luis said...

I love it! I so want to do this! I'm thinking of surrounding the front and sides of the livingroom couch. The calculator's default values show this to be an expensive proposition (+$1k for the balls alone). Thankfully there is E-bay! 1,000 balls for buy-it now of $113... lets see if I get "permission"!

Mike Machenry said...

Luis, you probably only need about 1,500 - 2,000 balls for a reasonably fun, deep ball pit. That should only cost about $150 for regular balls or $300 for crush-proof. A ball pit replacing the typical coffee table would be a really cool idea. Or maybe just behind it.

Anonymous said...

dude you must get so much ass, serious, good work!

Tali said...

oh...my...goodness...after reading that XKCD I realized that was also my dream, and seeing it come true makes me feel like there's some hope for a better future.

Why isn't that my life?

I wish I was you. Or your roommate....

Queelez said...

So... I'm curious. How does one clean this beautiful thing?

I totally, totally must do this.

Mike Machenry said...

Queelez,

I try to be pretty careful about eating and stuff in there so no to make it too mess to begin with. I moved once and it hadn't gotten all that dusty underneath so maybe that's fine. Once a year, empty it. I got a great suggestion to put netting under the whole thing so that it's easy to suspend it up a foot or too and sweep underneath. I may do that. The honest to god truth is just simply that I employ squirrels.

Allycat said...

0____________________0"


I originally saw that comic on xkcd.com, but ohhhhhh mygosh, seeing an ACTUAL ballpit is pretty flipping awesome! I can't breathe, I want one....NOW.

The couch was a nice touch too XD

xenobiologista said...

If you need to clean the actual balls can you run them through a washing machine?

Matt said...

I would think a dishwasher would make more sense. Just make sure they don't melt.

Hanzel said...

hmmm, I'm looking at prices, are you including shipping in yours, because for me shipping for 1000 balls is about a hundred bucks.

Mike Machenry said...

Yeah I've included shipping in my rough estimates. Shipping does go up linearly at tinkertots.com where I most recently ordered balls. I do remember their shipping calculator was broken when Randall and I ordered though. He called them. You might do the same. But $100 for 1,000 balls sounds like way too much.

Hanzel said...

Thanks. also, what about crush-proof balls?

Mike Machenry said...

I just dug up my receipt for tinkertots.com. I bought two orders of 500 balls for $281.00 total counting tax and shipping. I notice their prices vary some what, but not by much. I hope this helps. Posts a link to pictures here if you end up making one of your own. I'd love to see it.

Hanzel said...

I will. Just gotta convince my friends to pitch in. Thanks for the help.

Anonymous said...

I want to do that now.. How do you clean them after more "adult" fun?

Mike Machenry said...

Adult activities? Like a board-room meeting? We try to keep all faxes and memos on the table outside the ball pit. Any agendas go on the white board so as not to produce needless scrape paper to clean up. Basically we're just pretty good about being preemptive with the messiness.

urania277 said...

http://roma.repubblica.it/multimedia/home/1531500

The author said he spent 20000 EUR on this (500 000 plastic balls).

I should ask if he got his inspiration off xkcd (but I think this guy has other things in mind now, like how to deal with the authorities)

Anonymous said...

I recently found xkcd and found so many comix that just ... *got* me ... i loved the ball pit comic and was wistfully imagining such a thing and WOW you did it .... i want one! you have inspired me to search out an australian way of obtaining and creating such coolness.
Kudos
Caitlin

the Kindling said...

Oh man. If our magazine had an office we DIDN'T have to share with the newspaper, we'd definitely do this with it. Whoa.

Elizabeth said...

oi Skippy! You're famous!!

I was like "ball pit? loft bed? Is that Skippy? Naaah... WAIT YES IT IS!"

Rad.

Bella =] said...

oh wow, - interestingly enough i read the xkcd comic and have now decided to go round looking for some to give to the boyfriend for christmas.
wow im not the only one =]

new adoring fan said...

I

LOVE

YOU.

that is so cool.

just makes me sad that my ceiling is too short for a loft bed because i could (and would) tottally do that.

Mike Machenry said...

Thank you. Maybe you could just replace your living room couch? There's always away. :)

-mike

Anonymous said...

I always knew there were people that thought like me: you know, the ones that fully and completely understand Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when all their friends keep telling them that it makes no sense.

You mentioned board-room meetings up there and I was just wondering, with such an atmosphere as to accommodate not only talking, but laughing and ball-throwing, as well, how do you entertain your clients?

May all your risky corporate decisions be just as much fun to make as they are wanton to result in massive layoffs in the current economy.

-N

Anonymous said...

We have a (now empty) hot tub sunken into the floor in our sunroom. I'm hoping to turn it into a ball pit for the kids. Unfortunately, I'll need btw 5000-8000 balls...

Mike Machenry said...

Sounds like a great idea. Do remember, you can always half fill it and fill it more later if you decide you need more. Also you could put in some pillows or other, larger bouncy balls to fill up some of the space for the time being. Be creative. A big cushion at the bottom would make it more comfortable and also easier to fill with fewer balls.

kaichu said...

d.u.d.e., you are.

you're brilliant. can I visit, something like couchsurfing?

and it's also completely amazing that you're still replying to comments almost 2 years after the original post. mike, you rock =) this post brought me much happiness.

Mike Machenry said...

Ha! Thanks so much. It's pretty easy to keep on top of blog comments when you get about one a month. :) You can couch surf here. Ever been to Boston? I'm actually going to be out of town for a while. Maybe some time in the fall.

-mike

kaichu said...

OK, will try. There's always Thanksgiving! And thanks, btw. feels good to have replies to comments.

I was actually in Boston last winter break. It's such lovely, elegant little city, but god was it COLD.

crossanb said...

Two words, Senior prank. I go to a school with about 100 people. Filling this one teachers room would be perfect! Thanks for the idea. Ball pit balls on ebay are running around 1000 balls for $210 including shipping. THANKS

johnb0002002 said...

I watched the video with my kids and I now have a new project to complete in the basement.

Mike Machenry said...

Awesome, johnb0002002! I'm so glad it's inspired you to do something fun. Here's a tip. I've rebuilt mine with wood frame (not PVC) and metal wire shelf squares (not that green garden fence. It's much better now because it doesn't flex.

123 123 said...
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Anonymous said...

XKCD also inspired me to make a ballpit :D I found your blog via my google search "How to build a ballpit" xD

Mike Machenry said...

That's great. Why don't you post some pictures?

-mike

Kelly said...

Hi Mike!

I'm trying to build a ball pit of my own, but did 1300 balls really fill that 5'x7'x2' area? My calculations are telling me that you would've needed about 4000 balls to fill that space. I'm trying to fill a 5' diameter kiddie pool with balls, so if my calculations are correct, I'll need about 2000 balls, but if you're correct, then I'll only need about 800.

Great job by the way! That's an awesome looking ball pit :)

Mike Machenry said...

Kelly,

Your calculations are pretty well on. I do, now, have 4000 balls. I've done a lot of improvements to the ball bit since I made it. 1500 was definitely fun. Just barely enough to bury one's self and plenty enough for a ball fight. But it wasn't very deep. Only about a foot and a half. It's now three feet deep and really great.

Good luck.

-mike

David said...

Wow! That is flipping amazing. I read the XKCD comic as well (recently). Anywho, I was talking about turning one of my rooms into an entire ball pit. That would be fan-fricking tastic. Thank you for having this blog up. The information will be helpful to me when I build my own at home.

David said...

Actually, I was thinking about the actual ball pit. I will just buy a metal frame pool and set it up in the living room. Nothing like playing video games or watching a movie while sitting in a ball pit! :-D

Zortec said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zortec said...

How big were the ball's diameter?

Sam said...

Mike,
You don't know me but I am thirteen and trying to create my own ball pit. I know you're like, the expert so I was wondering if you thought this (http://www.walmart.com/ip/North-States-Superyard-Xt-Gate/8457890) was a good playpen i could use. It's the exact same size as I want and also cheaper and less laborious than building choices I have brainstormed. Please answer with your thoughts.

Mike Machenry said...

Hey Sam,

That doesn't look too bad. I think you might have to take some thin rope and reinforce all of the connections though. When I made my first ball pit (as shown in this blog post) the PVC you see there bowed out and would let balls out the sides. I eventually moved to wood and metal. This gate you have is plastic. It looks like the sides are short enough, relative to the thickness of the plastic to be pretty structurally sound but I bet those joints are not.

Actually, here's a better idea, get 2 or 3 long, nylon straps with those adjustable plastic bit that the loop through. Put one around the top and one around the bottom (maybe one around the middle) of the whole play pen. When you go in a push all the balls out toward the walls (as you will) you won't explode the pen.

Anonymous said...

i am really glad that you decided to do this. my son is 7 and has low vision but is in love with the ball pit at ikea. we recently got him a new bunkbed and for months he hasnt stopped asking for a ball pit in his room. i was searching the internet when i found this. we are going to home depot this weekend. thank you for your awsomeness!

Mike Machenry said...

Thanks. I hope it turns out great. You should post a URL to a picture in the comments. I'd love to see. He'll be the coolest kid on the block.

-mike

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cleaning business said...

Such a cool idea! My kids moved from CA to TX and I rarely see them. They miss me so much and miss having the fun I bring into their lives.. Anyhow, I am planning to move to TX soon and I just know my 5 and 6 year olds will love having a ballpit (and their dad) around for years to come. Thanks for the blog and video!

Danilo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danilo said...

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