Elefun to Hella Fun -- Hacking your Elefun for (Ele) fun and profit!

My son got "Elefun" as a gift a while ago, and despite having promise, it underdelivered. Until now.

If you go read the reviews on Amazon you'll see two common threads of discontent. One is that the motor is lame (and eats batteries) and the other is that it doesn't have enough butterflies included. Being the kind of guy who can't stand something that doesn't work right when I have the power to make it right, I jumped right in.

The game involves a blue elephant with a long plastic hose snout that sneezes colorful boog.. er, butterflies out into the air, which must then be caught by the players in little mesh nets. It's snot a hard game. He with the most wins.

Problem one: Not enough power. The blower motor in the base runs on four C cells, which aren't cheap to begin with. And even with 4 cells in there, unless you buy the good strong ones, it'll be inadequate and the motor will just wheeze and groan and not launch any butterflies. It eats batteries alive too, since they're useless once they're even slightly discharged. A set of good rechargable C cells would be a must, except that they cost nearly as much as the toy itself does. No DC adapter plug is provided. Baaaaad design.

Fix one: I dug around in my junk box looking for a suitable wall-wart adapter from some discarded piece of gear. Four C cells produce about 6V of power nominally. I thought about installing a jack that would allow me to plug in my adjustable universal DC adapter, but then I realized I didn't want to tie up my universal adapter just to play Elefun. I came across a wall-wart from a Cisco 678 DSL modem/router. Perfect. I've owned (and killed) several of these over time, and just gave away my last working ones on Freecycle, so I knew this spare power supply wouldn't be needed. It's 7.5VDC at 1 amp. Yeaaaaaaaah. Plenty of power. We're gonna give the elephant some Red Bull with its peanuts. I warmed up the soldering iron and opened up the Elefun battery compartment to scope out the task. The battery holder has only two contacts that are actually wired in, the others are just metal plates that series-bridge the cells into a "battery". It was then that I realized no soldering would even be necessary. I chopped off the modular jack that was on the 678 power supply, stripped the insulation and twisted the stranded wire into something mostly solid. With a spiffy new digital multitester (Chinese-made Fluke-like clone) that my buddy Dave H scored for $5 at Goodwill, I confirmed that the conductor with the white stripe was positive. I doubled this wire over and jammed it (using a flathead screwdriver for prying/jamming) behind the contact plate on the positive end. The negative wire I simply twisted into the spring-coil contact at the other end of the battery box. A quick and crude chop with the tip of the wire cutter took a small notch out of the battery compartment door for the wire.

Addendum: Hackaday commenter strider_mt2k suggests "knot the cable with some slack inside the battery compartment" as a strain relief. Good idea, and I'd forgotten to do so in my excitement to play.

And we're done. Close up the patient and power up that pachyderm.

The operation is a huge success. Instead of the sleepy and anemic PT Barnum circus retiree, we now have the equivalent of a raging mammoth with a testosterone overdose. Which is just fine by me, and my andrenaline-junkie 3-year-old son. Before: one or two butterflies coming out at a time over the course of 30 seconds, with the second half of them getting stuck in the bottom and not coming out. After: ten seconds of sheer madness as they all blast out simultaneously into a hailstorm of mucu... butterflies. There is no problem with the snout hose inflating. No butterfly is left behind anymore. No batteries needed, EVAR. And, I think it's probably even Cisco CCNA certified!

Ok, now we move onto Problem Two: There aren't enough butterflies. True, even with the game's old slow pace, especially true in the new frenetic pace.

Fix two: Funny enough, this solution came from my cousin, who has several kids around the same age as my son, and also has Elefun. She pointed out that all you have to do is take some gift-wrapping tissue paper, cut it into 3/4" x 2" strips and twist/crimp them in the middle. Use whatever colors you like. Make a gazzillion of them. Let the heavens unleash a torrential downpour of boog... butterflies.

If you don't believe me, I have pictorial evidence of myself and my son (he's the short one in his skivvies) playing during the "testing" phase of the project.

You can tell he's not having ANY fun at all is he?

Debriefing: This toy is defective by design. There is no way Hasbro can be unaware of how poorly it performs most of the time. It should have had a DC power adapter from the factory on day one and it's inexcusable that it still doesn't Go look at the Amazon comments, and see how far back the 'underpowered' complaints go. Years. For the price of this toy, it ought to work right. Oh, and would it kill you to double the number of butterflies guys? Used up your nylon budget? You should be ashamed of yourselves. I hope this article will save a few geek-enabled families from the disappointment of buying this toy based on the promise of the advertising, only to be sadly let down by the reality. You're in the business of JOY, people. And you're like the GRINCH here. It takes a heartless person to knowingly sell a toy that will crush a kid's hope of fun.

If you plan on doing this project, I would consider using an adjustable DC power source like a universal adapter. Radio Shack and every big-box store will have them. This should let you switch between 6V and 7.5V depending on how much cotton candy with espresso chasers your kids had had on a given day. We like the insanity speed of 7.5V, but since many people complained that the original game play-length of a minute was too short, they probably wouldn't like playing by our house rules. (Rule 1: Catching and Scoring are irrelevant. Rule 2: Giggling and shrieking laughter are mandatory. Rule 3: There are no other rules.) You could also slip in a scavenged potentiometer or other variable resistor. This would let you fine-tune the power level. There's plenty of room in the battery compartment, since I'm never going to be putting batteries in there again.

P.S: Hasbro, if you want to talk about licensing my brilliant and ground-breaking design, have your lawyers contact me and bring a big suitcase of cash. Or maybe just deed me Wizards of the Coast.

If you really want to buy this toy, here's its Amazon page. Read the customer reviews first.

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