For those familiar with my origin story, I was searching out how to make launchers out of office supplies when I happened upon K'nex launchers. I was surprised with just how large the community was at the time. Why are K'nex popular for making projectile launchers (among all other things they're traditionally used for)? Why did I pick them instead of Legos or some other method? I think it comes down to three things: cost, versatility, and ease of use.
Buying official tubs and/or sets can be expensive for the amount of pieces you get, but most kids probably had their parents buy them a set or two, providing them enough pieces to get started. Luckily, there are plenty of people who have bought K'nex but no longer want them, and so it's very easy to buy bulk K'nex for relatively cheap. This allows you to amass many pieces. I think it's important to build other people's creations to expand your knowledge on building techniques. Sadly, I haven't done this much myself because I used to lack the pieces to do so. Since having my own income, I've bought more pieces as I needed them and I've been pleased with just how far my dollar can go. You also usually only need a bulk amount of certain pieces while the rest you can keep a moderate amount of and special order just a few more when necessary.
I think the next big thing is just how versatile K'nex can be. They offer limited intended ways of being connected together, but with those handful of variations + some creative methods and careful usage of the plasticity of the pieces, you can make a lot of complex shapes and mechanisms. The beautiful thing about construction toys is how you're usually only limited by your imagination, there's generally almost always a way to accomplish anything you can imagine. And yet, somewhat ironically, a lot of the fun is in trying to work around the limitations that are there. For example, K'nex simply aren't designed for being launched, they just aren't. Yet we view that as a challenge to get around, not something to discourage us from building launchers. We try to maximize the range of our launchers with building techniques for the launcher and the ammo.
Ease of Use
Finally, I think the main thing that seal the deal in comparison to another method, such as Legos, is the learning curve. K'nex are deceptively simple. There are only so many pieces that exist. They are designed to be a child-friendly toy after all. You can build large, stable structures out of a handful of pieces. I think this is what's the most appealing, it's so easy to get into, and a lot of people started with K'nex to build other things like vehicles and other simple static structures. Then you can gradually expand your building capabilities to things that move and perform actions. That first lesson I did with only a handful of pieces and simple techniques demonstrated how easy it is to make a projectile launcher. When it's easy to get your foot in the door, it's more likely to stick as an interest because you get results faster with less experience compared to something else that requires more trial and error to get functional. I'm not that much of a hands-on kind of guy, I much prefer working with computers and ideas than physical objects, but K'nex are easy enough to use that it's one of my few physical engineering hobbies.
So those are my thoughts on why K'nex is so great for making projectile launchers. I do think it's a fun hobby that teaches people the basics of engineering and problem solving. I believe that all kids should be given the opportunity to experience a construction toy of some sort. And then I also believe that adults should maintain a problem solving hobby to help keep their minds sharp.
What do you think about K'nex and construction toys in general? Am I missing something about what makes them popular?