What's a durable satisfying desk toy?
June 17, 2011 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Durable desk toy for mindless play - I need a desk toy to encourage people to casually drop by, something tactile that is satisfying to twiddle with but doesn't require much thinking.

My preferred style of working involves short, casual chats, with people dropping by my desk to discuss work issues.

To encourage this, I'd like to place something on my desk that encourages people to stop and play while they talk to me. I've had some success in the past with toys (I think it's called a wheel-o), trophies, small parts from machinery and fixings (nuts and bolts), but would like something different.

The item should:
- be relatively inexpensive, or free
- be durable, as it's likely to get handled a lot, dropped, and bumped
- weigh a pleasing amount in the hand, preferably metal
- catch the eye, look interesting
- be easy to pick up
- have moving parts
- naturally encourage exploration of the object (e.g. disassembly)
- require little thinking
- be satisfying!

In other words, it should be subconsciously inviting, rather than a glaringly obvious "I've-put-this-here-to-rope-you-in" object.

What do you suggest?
posted by damian_ to Work & Money (26 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

Buckyballs. My sister has three or four of these on her desk combined into one glorious construction. I cannot put them down. (Unfortunately, they're not "inexpensive," though you might be able to find them cheaper elsewhere on the Web.)
posted by bayani at 10:01 AM on June 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

I recently got Buckyballs as a gift, and they fulfill every requirement except price (they're actually pretty damn expensive). It looks like you can save ten bucks if you get an off brand.
posted by theodolite at 10:02 AM on June 17, 2011

Try this or this.
posted by bearwife at 10:03 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've got an old school metal slinky on my desk. I work from home, so it's mostly the dogs that come visit me. And they only care about the sunbeam coming through the window, not about the slinky. But I could see it being a popular desk toy in an office.
posted by COD at 10:05 AM on June 17, 2011

These http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B002LARAOG/ref=redir_mdp_mobile/180-7706384-3695730

Are the most popular toy in my office. Got it as a baby toy for my son but he was never interested. People can't put them down. Gorgeous bright colors, intriguing to twist and arrange, nice and heavy. Sorry for the ugly link-on my phone.
posted by purenitrous at 10:10 AM on June 17, 2011

Do you have space for a velcro dartboard?
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:14 AM on June 17, 2011

purenitrous - those beads look fantastic!
posted by damian_ at 10:15 AM on June 17, 2011

I have a row of wooden thumb push puppets on the front of my desk. Similar to these. Coworkers and customers alike play with them as we dicuss issues. They are fun and bring a smile to everyone's face.

The big draw at my desk, however, is my jar full of Jelly Belly jelly beans. Everyone I work with stops by at least once a day to chat and grab a handful.
posted by ficmuse at 10:17 AM on June 17, 2011

Variations on this modular marble maze will vary in durability, price, and requisite deskspace, but I suspect you'd be able to find a set in your sweet spot.
posted by foursentences at 10:27 AM on June 17, 2011

No moving parts, but Baoding balls make a soothing (or annoying) sound when rolled around your palm.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:28 AM on June 17, 2011

You know what i absolutely cannot resist playing with? A hoberman sphere. SO SATISFYING.
posted by Kololo at 10:35 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

15-puzzle? You can get ones made out of metal. They do require a bit of thinking, though.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:40 AM on June 17, 2011

I love those magnetic buckeyballs, but they're somewhat easy to lose if you drop them. Once you've lost one you can no longer form them into a perfect cube, which is crazy-making for the OCD types (*cough*).

A coworker has one of these light-up puffer worm toys on his desk, the kind of silly novelty item you find for dirt cheap at a dollar store. It's made of a seemingly-indestructible soft rubbery material, and hence you can whip it around quite nicely. It has a ball in it that lights up when you whack it against something. My hands always go straight for it whenever I'm in his office.
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:42 AM on June 17, 2011

this isn't durable, but it is VERY cheap (as in : you already have the office supplies / free) and interesting to fidget with.
posted by radiosilents at 10:51 AM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

This zen garden is pretty wonderful too.
posted by bearwife at 10:59 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not metal but legos work great for this too.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:21 AM on June 17, 2011

A friend bought some noise magnets to our chemistry class in high school, and I've been coveting them ever since. They make the most satisfying "zzzt!" sound when thrown in the air and caught.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:21 AM on June 17, 2011

another person on a phone, but get a variety of silly putties. You can get magnetic, colour changing, clear, etc, etc.
posted by MattWPBS at 11:45 AM on June 17, 2011

I used to have a jar of sweets in my office to encourage random visitors who would also stay to chat (Dutch licorice "Dropje" to be precise ... but I am in Amsterdam).

Remarkably effective.
posted by jannw at 12:00 PM on June 17, 2011

Something like this?
posted by Splunge at 1:26 PM on June 17, 2011

Perhaps one of these?
posted by Splunge at 1:29 PM on June 17, 2011

My husband received some of these clicky-type things at work, and they're wonderful. Yes, they're colourful plastic, but they are so perfect for fidgeting that they keep everyone from the toddler I babysit, to a seven-year old, to a forty-year old busy. I donated some to our school's autism class, as they're perfect for the fidgeters there, and quiet enough for assemblies.

- be relatively inexpensive, or free
(it was from a company that puts logos on promo swag, so totally cheap)
- be durable, as it's likely to get handled a lot, dropped, and bumped
(we've had our months and they're still perfect)

- weigh a pleasing amount in the hand, preferably metal
(light, but not flimsy)
- catch the eye, look interesting
(yup- and not like something you're not supposed to touch)
- be easy to pick up
- have moving parts
(yes, that you can make patterns with or smooth and then make patterns with and smooth and...)
- naturally encourage exploration of the object (e.g. disassembly)
(yes, and watching what people make with them tells you whether they can handle randomness or like things to be orderly)
- require little thinking
(utterly mindless, so it lets you focus on conversations. Conversely, if they start to focus on it, you've lost them)

- be satisfying!
(Yes, like popping bubble wrap)

posted by peagood at 5:58 PM on June 17, 2011

Legos! Creative, playful, cheap. J think that also, because they put people at ease by being a safe (neither childish nor gendered) toy from their youths, it relaxes and opens their minds.
posted by mimi at 6:42 PM on June 17, 2011

For the longest time, my boss was obsessed with my slinky. The only problem is that it wasn't quiet.
posted by sawdustbear at 6:47 PM on June 17, 2011

I have a pound of silly putty at my desk at lab. It unfortunately picks up butt fuzz since it sits at the edge of my desk (fibers from jeans, mostly, and not noticeable after being worked over), but it's a load of fun and an obsessive I-must-poke-it thinger.

Pounds of the stuff for a pretty good price. You even get an MSDS sheet for it =) 1 pound is about 1&1/2 pop cans in volume. Non-Newtonian fluids rock!
posted by porpoise at 9:27 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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