Apologies for the late post today. I spent the day with my niece and nephews (all under five) playing—and working on this piano:
My family was and is a Nintendo Family. Kids today don’t appreciate the Console Wars, but in the late 80s/early 90s, you pretty much had to pick a side—Nintendo or Sega. You had to make the choice because, outside of some rare exceptions, your family couldn’t afford both. Even if you could, it wasn’t cost-effective: a Nintendo cartridge alone would run maybe $40 or $50 in 1990.
So we fell on the Nintendo side (our cool next door neighbors, from Wisconsin, were Team Nintendo, too). Our nerdier-but-still-cool-to-us neighbors across the street were a Sega family. Crossing Ridgemont Drive was like visiting another country that was sort of like your own, but different enough to be noticeable, and to stir up fond feelings for your own tribe—like visiting Canada.
Nowadays, my younger brother has become the Keeper of the Systems, and we’ve accumulated all sorts of consoles, from Nintendo, Sega, XBox, and Playstation. Like monks sending holy texts to the Vatican, I sent any legacy systems and games in my collection to him years ago. But his family is staunchly in the Nintendo camp.
My niece adores Kirby and the older of my two nephews collects Mario Kart Hot Wheels. My niece apparently expressed confusion to her mom when other four-year olds didn’t respond to her “It’s-a me, Mario!” greeting. Nintendo is in their blood.
So when I arrived this morning, my niece asked if I wanted to make one of the Nintendo Labo constructs. Nintendo Labo is basically high-quality cardboard creations that you can use with your Nintendo Switch, almost as extensions to the controller. My younger brother picked up a Labo set a year or so ago, and recently pulled it from storage to make a motorcycle steering wheel (it even accelerates using the handles like a motorcycle).
My sister-in-law warned me that the various projects can take hours to complete, so we tabled it until the afternoon. But my niece has a way of getting Uncle Tyler to do things for her, so after lunch (and once the littlest nephew was down for his nap), my brother and I set into it.
After he got me started with the basic concept, I spent the next three-and-a-half hours building a piano out of cardboard. It required a surprisingly large amount of concentration, so I plugged the niece and other nephew into their entertainment feeding tube and began patiently folding, connecting, and stickering cardboard components into a functioning one-octave piano.
The keys were, by far, the most tedious part. Each key included a piece of marker tape, which, when the key is depressed, rises into view of the Nintendo Switch joy-con mounted in the rear of the piano. When the joy-con detects that strip of tape, it then plays the key in the Nintendo Switch software.
My brother returned after working for a bit to help me build the four “screws” that go into the gaping hole you’ll note in the upper left of the piano. Those screws use different thicknesses and frequencies of marker tape to tell the controller to cue up different voices for the keyboard. The default—no screw inserted—is a generic digital piano, but the screws allow for a kitty cats, a choir (probably the best sound), grumpy old men, and an odd one that plays an electronic tone and vibration from the Switch’s joy-cons. If you turn the screws while inserted, it adds a reverb effect that intensifies or diminishes depending on the direction you turn it. There’s also the ability to play a recorded song, and to record yourself (although I did not test the record function).
My niece hung in there helping me cycle through the incredibly (thankfully) detailed instructions, which you can scroll through on the Nintendo Switch, fully animated, for about twenty minutes, before she declared herself “bored”—thus the television viewing to mollify (and distract) her and my nephew. Near the end of the project, they were getting loopy, which made it more difficult to tape and fold precisely. Further, my eyes were feeling the strain of sustained concentration, and my brain was tired.
But I powered through and, with the help of my brother, finished up before I had to hit the road. The kids pounced on it like the singing cats, and my youngest nephew—a budding technopile and Nintendo fanboy even at fifteen-months—bawled his eyes out because he wasn’t allowed to remove the Nintendo Switch from its spot embedded in the piano.
So, after maybe ten minutes of yowling digital cats and increasing toddler roughness, my brother declared piano time was over. Maybe next time I can teach them to play something.