Ben Matchstick, Game Maker

Meet the Maker: Ben Matchstick, Game Maker

“I could stand on this and it wouldn’t break,” says Ben Matchstick, placing a hand on his PinBox 3000, a far-stronger-than-it-looks pinball game crafted entirely from die-cut cardboard.

Tall, quick with a smile, and as articulate as the lifelong educator he is (as well as artist, designer, and puppeteer), Ben long ago earned the moniker “the cardboard guy,” teaching art and theatrical design, and cardboard-based technology.

“Cardboard,” Ben says, “is the gateway to prototyping. Its flexibility, rigidity, and availability make it the perfect material for makers and artists, young and old.”

cardboard pinball

To that end, in 2006, Ben and his partner in crime Pete Talbot founded The Cardboard Teck Instatute: “a think tank devoted to the creation and development of products and experiences that emphasize the versatility, durability, and accessibility of cardboard. CTI emerges from the remnants of an overgrown shipping and packaging industry, pulling out interdisciplinary and interactive performances and products.”

Through a residency at Burlington’s Maker Space and two Kickstarters, Ben and Pete created and promulgated a construct-it-yourself “customizable tabletop pinball machine kit” made entirely of cardboard and a few 3D printed plastic parts.

3d printer

Committed to not offshoring their production, Ben and Pete found a capable manufacturer in Pennsylvania and began producing and selling the unit through their website and a few distributors, with strong repeat sales to middle schools.

playing pinball

The educational value is not to be overlooked. The game, as the company’s website explains well, has “an innovative and accessible design [that] allows for multiple levels of participation. To build the PinBox 3000 is to master its functionality, which in turn builds confidence, multiplying the possibilities when it’s time to design your unique, custom play boards.”

pinbox game

Ben elaborates: “The open-ended nature of the PinBox 3000 invites young game designers to experiment with a variety of materials and how they work gravitationally within their own pinball game. As a commercial product, that’s ‘a flaw’ because it’s not all complete, even once assembled. As a teaching aid, it’s a feature that inspires creative thinking.”

pinbox games

It takes about an hour to assemble a PinBox. And when touring the company’s space in downtown Montpelier, the creativity that players and makers have added to the blank canvas that the game offers is readily apparent. Bright, colorful, playful, and artistic designs hang on the walls and sit on tables, begging to be played. The company has also spun out several add-on playboards to supplement and decorate the PinBoxes. And the PinBox 3000 has racked up 13 ribbons for Educational Excellence from the World Maker Faire.

pinbox 3000

“I love that the PinBox 3000 has been introduced to schools as a project that invites creativity, technology, and design,” Ben says. “Seeing students’ work from around the country is incredibly rewarding. You just know they are having a great time in school, cheering with delight, and that makes me very pleased.”

Mission Planet Cardboard

Still, the physical game market is a tough nut to crack.

“The PinBox 3000 is always balanced on a razor’s edge,” Ben says, “and staying hopeful is one of the key ingredients to staying alive in this business. Kids believe in cardboard more than adults, so I have hope that the future will bring more paper ingenuity and less plastic disposability. Luckily, the toy industry is in shambles, as kids gravitate toward screens. But I think the PinBox 3000 can provide a tactile oasis from all the digital chatter.”

PinBox 3000 game

The Vermont Maker Project

Telling stories about makers across the state of Vermont. Photographed and written by StoryWorkz. Learn more at

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