Of Koosh Balls and Silly Putty

No, I do not sell Koosh balls. No, I do not know where to get them. (Koosh Balls seem to becoming scarce of late. Here‘s one that has a good supply of Mondo’s (maybe not Rainbow). And here, in the UK, is at least one other source for the bigger, if not necessarily Rainbow Mondo Koosh balls.)

Which brings us to Silly Putty and Koosh Balls and facilitating a two-day meeting.

On the first day, you give everyone their individual Silly Putty egg. Yes, this is the same Silly Putty that has been around for 30 years and is now manufactured by the Crayola people. The clay-like stuff that bounces and stretches and picks up ink. Of course, now you can get Silly Putty in glow-in-the-dark colors. But it still feels like putty. And it’s still something that is clearly silly.

You can now get even sillier “Thinking Putty” – the same formula, but presented in a much more executive-worthy portion, with an even larger selection of bizarre colors, served in a tin.

And it’s also something that people can play with for hours.

Roll it. Mold it. Bounce it. Consciously. Semiconsciously. Something that embraces playfulness and creativity. Something with enough flexibility, enough controllability, enough tactile complexity to keep the hands busy and the mind free, all day. Something you could even make a miniature golf course out of.

And on the next day, Koosh Balls. Especially the new kind that are made of rubberband-like loops that you can stretch and twirl and whirl. Like Silly Putty, something to keep the hands busy and the mind free. Also like Silly Putty, something that can be thrown. Unlike Silly Putty, something that can be easily caught.

So as the knowledge base becomes more complex, and the understandings more commonly held, people can start building relationships that are more mutually supportive. Tossing their Kooshes back and forth like so many ideas, making up rules, learning to play ball, as it were, so to speak.

The Urchin Ball, by the way, is conceptual finger food of the highest order, raising contemplative fiddling to what can only be called a new level. (review)

Though we are talking here about toy-like things that function something like finger-food for the mind, like something between worry beads and rosaries, two ineffable readers add instructions for even more basic modes of toyetic bliss:

Nerf stuff.  Soft.  Bouncy.  The big ones are perfect for shooting baskets or taking potshots at closed-minded droners.  Perfect outlets for frustration (in those moments of fatigue or obstacular head-butting) or for glee (in recognition of group ahas, brilliant observations, solutions, discoveries). The small ones are perfect for playing table soccer (although aluminum foil balls work just as well).

And of course, Nerf stuff brings to mind Toobers and Zots, from which flowery crowns, kooky creatures and all sorts of creative constructions seem to sprout.

And speaking of sprouts, I’ve always found that food becomes it’s own source of distraction and amusement at meetings. French fries become girders, lettuce leaves roofs, and there’s no end to the delights of ketchup including use as a decorative device, glue-substitute, or painting medium.  Pretzels become spectacles, pretzel sticks – log cabins.  Popcorn puffs, much like Nerf balls are perfect projectiles.  Crustaceans are born from the edges of sturdy curving pizza slices. Napkin folk emerge like cut-paper dolls.  And dare we forget bread balls?

Sandy Damashek


I BELIEVE in silly putty

I BELIEVE that Silly Putty should be made freely available to all students and teachers of all students, but especially learner drivers; to people confined to: hospital beds, wheelchairs, prison cells and the passengers seats of poor drivers and inept pilots to anyone waiting in: a dentists’ waiting room, the lounge of a maternity hospital, a supermarket queue, in front of a pregnancy test kit and behind the kid with the big piggy bank in the teller’s line; the wives and sweethearts of golfers, fishermen, astronauts and model train enthusiasts the husbands and lovers of anyone who makes patchwork quilts keepers of paper filing systems the person working on the return and refund desk the week after Christmas and on the lingerie counter the week before parents whose children ask “why?”, are teething, have the car for the first time, on their first date, or who are dating anyone with a Harley or a tattoo of Clinton.

Other Meetingworthy Playthings

What about 1ft lengths of small gauge chain — like thick jewelry chain but the sort that feels silky and doesn’t make noise. Feels wonderful when you let it drop from hand to hand.

Hey — do you have the sort of chain for bath plugs over there which is made of little balls with links one into the next? 1 ft lengths of that would be cheap and work well, I think. And if they tie it in knots it can be easily undone.

And of course knotting cord of the synthetic sort that they use on boats…. between a quarter and a half an inch thick. This stuff is woven and smooth. I would try an 18 inch length first — enough to knot and make chain out of but too short to involve a lengthy ‘project’ You can get it in various colours and interesting bi- and tri-colour weaves.

Bubble pipes and bubble mixture for making group bubble sculptures. Dishwash liquid, water and a squirt of glycerine makes durable, cheap bubbles.

  • Origami paper
  • Magnets and paper clips or ball bearings
  • Wooden blocks — just like the kids use
  • Small, coloured cards — about half the size and the same rigidity as regular playing cards — a myriad of uses — pattern making, building, etc
  • Isometric graph paper and coloured pencils
  • Coloured pipe cleaners
  • Those Chinese balls with moving weights inside
  • A sand tray
  • A sand tray with rice, wheat or linseeds in — preferably with a silky feel

Helen Collins

Lord only knows how you’d find them but the guys on the Newton team had a pretty good story to tell involving silly putty. Seems that if you want more than just what comes in the eggs it can get a little complicated.  They ended up having to contact DuPont, open an account, make a minimum purchase (like 50 lbs, yes POUNDS) and then figure out how to divvy it up. Seems that much silly putty’s got a strange amount of tensile strength. Various blades, saws and other implements were involved.

I, being an old hand with styrofoam, would have suggested a heated wire to cut it.  I wasn’t yet there at the time so I couldn’t offer the suggestion.

Nobody seems to recall what happened to the rather abundant leftovers…

Yes, toys providing minor distractions make very effective tools.

(anonymous Newton team member)

For more meeting toys, see my “Toy Stories.”

I was quite intrigued by your article about Koosh Balls and Silly Putty. I admit, I’m a toy freak, I love the most simplistic of toys, they help me relax and enjoy my life in another light. I work as a computer programmer normally, but you’ll almost always see my monitor covered in silly putty creations and piles of koosh balls… it’s such a great stress relief and all around just great fun. I was admittedly searching the internet on places to buy Koosh balls to make my collection even bigger. I moved to Austria just a couple months ago and have been astounded at the lack of Koosh Balls here. I’m thanking God that I was able to stuff a couple holes in my suitcase full of koosh balls before I left otherwise I’d be forced to fly back to America just to get some, ha ha! Yeah, anyways I was searching through the web and happened upon your website, now I have justification for my friends to understand what I’m going through. From a REAL expert on the topic, HA HA HA lets see them laugh now at my silly games!! Although what I find so amusing about this whole situation with toys is that every toy I buy is picked up and played with by almost every single person that comes into my office. They won’t admit it but toys are a link back to the days when life was simple and fun, not this dealing with customers and sittin behind a computer 24/7. They all make fun of me to this day but you know what? Let them. Toys are good. I also get a lot of comments that I’m always smiling.. well, duh. Toys. I finally found a toy store here in Austria that carries koosh balls, although a very limited supply. I buy 2 or 3 everyday now, as well as an occasional Silly Putty, and I give them to someone (after they’ve been addicted of course) or I just “accidentally” leave a koosh ball or silly putty at someone’s house and 9 times out of 10 they call me up and ask me if they can keep them!!!! HA HA HA!! Anyways, I just thought I’d write because I will use your article as a reference to anyone who asks or questions me about this my “toys”. Let us all pray the world comes to the realization that toys are an extremely important key to a successful, happy life. We as humans NEED a link back to our childhood… we can’t always get caught up in the everyday dramas and stresses of life… and if we are forced to deal everyday with such things then we need some sort of outlet and I’m not talking a $150,000 Ferrari. Those are for other kinds of people. Peace out!

On another note… we just had a koosh ball fight at work. We were all complaining about how crappy this project is and how screwed up management is, etc. So one of my coworkers picked up a mini soccer ball and threw it across the room. At that point I couldn’t resist, so I picked up my pile of koosh balls sitting on my desk and proceeded to barrage the entire room with them.

We had a nice 15 minute Koosh war (nothing was destroyed at least) and everyone felt much better afterwards. HAHA the simplest of toys create the most excitement. You don’t need to buy these expensive cars and electronics to have fun– just 49 Austrian Schillings ($3) plus a group of stressed out employees and you’re on your way to endless hours of stress relieving entertainment.


In addition to, or even instead of Koosh Balls, I am currently recommending Oballs – a squishy throwing toy that can accommodate a Koosh ball, is also remarkably easy to catch, and spins well on fingers and pencils. (review)

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