Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More Fun Than a Barrel of...

Pen Review: Hasbro Barrel of Monkeys BP

A colleague of mine gifted me with this unique and multi-purpose writing instrument for Christmas. She is aware of how fond I am of pens, and thought this would be an excellent adjunct to my pen collection. She confessed to some difficulty locating fountain pens and associated paraphernalia, but came across this and snatched it up for me. I promised her I would do a review of the pen to memorialize this exciting gift.

Appearance & Design (6 out of 10) – Fun!

For people of (ahem) a Certain Age, the Barrel of Monkeys Game is a classic. I am, of course, one of those people. Because of this, the pen makes me smile simply to look at it. The nostalgia is enhanced by the transparent cap, allowing the observer to note the monkeys inside the barrel, waiting to be linked up and out of the body of the pen. Opaque parts of the pen are bright and colorful.

As a pen, it does actually write. (Although that took a fair bit of coaxing in the form of scribbling across scrap paper for almost a whole minute.)

Construction & Quality (4) – About What One Would Expect

The pen’s construction is somewhat lightweight, no doubt as an economic measure. Given the (lack of) solidity in structure, the lid of the barrel stays on well, even given it is a simple press fit, not a screw-on cap.

Weight & Dimensions (4) – A Bit of an Odd Shape

The shape of the pen is a bit unusual – thicker in the middle than at either end, to accommodate the Barrel. The balance is thus a little odd for writing. This is compensated for by the charming Red Squishy Thing at the operant end for ease of gripping.

Nib & Performance (5) – Well, it does make a mark on the paper…

As noted above, this was a slow starter. Perhaps as a consequence, the pen is a very dry writer; the refill is obviously meant to be standard-issue black BP ink, however it tends to write rather dryly, thus the ink actually appears more like graphite grey.

Playing the game is also difficult, due to the monkeys’ small size. Perhaps they are more related to Cottontop Tamarins than Mandrills. For gaming, this is a major design flaw. Or perhaps it’s that advanced level that some of us can never quite beat. After cravenly dumping the monkeys out onto the table, I did not, however, find any kind of Mario-style Big Boss at the bottom of the barrel, so I surmise the issue is really a design flaw and not a Gaming Trap.

None of this difficulty bears any relation to the fact that I am a Bit Older, with the attendant Middle Age Arthritis setting in, particularly in the thumbs, than I was when I previously played the game. No. Not at all.

Filling System & Maintenance (5) - Classic plastic tube BP refill – but REALLY short

Surprisingly enough, access to the refill is a screw-on piece. Given the press fit of the barrel, I was expecting a similar simple teardown process – but it’s not. If I happen to use up the provided refill, I rather despair of finding a replacement due to its astonishingly short size. This is, of course, to accommodate the all-important Barrel o Monkeys – the raison d’ĂȘtre of this item. I suspect its ability to write is a secondary benefit.
BoM Teardown

Conclusion (Overall score: 4.8): Great Concept. Execution? Meh, not so much. But….

The concept is marvelous, and I immediately glommed on to the pen with nostalgic delight. The pen does write – which may actually be a bonus. The monkeys are tiny and a bit fiddly, which could be construed as either a challenge or an annoyance depending on one’s mood.

It provided a good half hour of fun though, in the teardown and rebuild of the pen, the (attempted) playing of the game, and of course in writing a review!

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