Shoot the Moon

A nostalgic game of gravity-defying skill

This simple game is as much fun today as it was when it first appeared over seventy years ago. It offers hours of entertainment without batteries or screen time. The object is to roll the steel ball-bearing up the steel rods and then drop it in the highest-scoring hole. Building the game is straightforward: drill some holes, rout a groove and a slot, and screw together some boards. You can even get in touch with your inner blacksmith as you cold forge the ends of the metal rods.

To play, start with the bearing at the bottom of the hill and spread the rods to get the bearing moving. Then, ease the rods together to keep the bearing from dropping as it rolls upward. Finally, open the rods wide to drop the bearing in one of the scoring holes. Easier said than done. I numbered the holes in my game starting with 5 at the bottom then 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50. But feel free to use any scoring system you like. To make the game more challenging, assign the lowest hole a negative point value.

Three boards + two rods = twice the fun

I used black walnut for the game shown here, but any strong, stable hardwood will do. The three pieces are screwed together, while a slot in the support board and a groove in the pivot block carry the vinyl-capped rods that balance the ball. When the ball drops, shallow drilled holes in the base catch it and award you points.

Order of Work

  • Rout the groove & slot
  • Drill the holes
  • Assemble and finish
  • Shape and attach the rods
  • Practice & play

Get in the groove

Mill the three workpieces to the sizes specified in the drawing on page 25, but leave the pivot block at least 6" long for safe handling while routing its through groove. Chuck a 1/4" straight bit in your router table, and position the fence to locate the groove 5/16" in from one edge. Rout the groove to full depth in several shallow passes, running the piece from right to left. Lay out the slot in the support board. Install a 3/8" straight bit and adjust its height to slightly more than half the stock thickness. Set the fence 7/8" away from the bit and set up stop blocks as shown. Rout the slot in two passes, one from each side.

Support board slotting setup. To position the right-hand stop block, hold a drafting triangle against the fence and align its other 90° edge with the left side of the bit and leading slot extent line on the support board. Place one end of the stop block against the trailing end of the support board, and clamp the block in place. To set the left-hand stop block, align the triangle with the trailing slot extent line and the right side of the bit. Clamp the block in place against the leading end of the support board.
Pivot to get started. Hold the trailing end of the support board against the right-hand block and the fence, and pivot the leading end onto the spinning bit. Rout the slot from right to left until the leading end hits the stop block. Turn the piece over while keeping the same edge against the fence. Repeat the process to finish the cut.

Drill, assemble, and apply a finish

Lay out the scoring holes where shown in the drawing on page 25, and drill them as shown below. If you plan to build more than one or two games, set up a stop block and spacers for positioning the holes. Locate the first hole under the bit, and clamp the stop block at the base’s far end. Then insert 2-3/8"-wide spacers in between the block and the base to locate the subsequent holes.

Clamp the support board to the base, and drill pilot holes for the assembly screws as shown. Cut the pivot block to length. Drill the necessary holes and screw together the pieces. Finish as desired, I used boiled linseed oil. Add felt (available at most craft stores) discs to the holes with your desired scoring written in the center of each.

Clamp and screw. Position the support board on the upper end of the base, flush with the bottom and centered from side to side. Clamp it in place. Drill 7⁄64" pilot holes into the end of the base, followed by 11⁄64" clearance holes through the support board. Fasten with screws and finish washers.

A little metalwork

Acquire enough 1/4" aluminum (or steel) rod from the hardware store to make two 20"-long pieces. Cut the pieces to length with a hack saw. Flatten one end of each and drill pivot holes as shown. File to remove any burrs. Drill clearance holes through the top “tongue” of the pivot block where shown in the drawing on page 25. Drill pilot holes into the lower part. Slide the rods into the groove and drive in the screws to hold them in place. Note that the center-to-center spacing of the rods is critical to how well the game functions. You can bend the rods slightly so they are closer together to make the game easier to play, but don’t go overboard. If they are too close, you won’t be able to open them far enough for the ball to roll. To finish up, add 1/4" vinyl caps to the ends of the rods.

Beat ‘em. Flatten one end of each rod with a ball-peen hammer on the anvil end of a machinist’s vise to create a flat approximately 3⁄16" wide and 3⁄4" long. Strike a dimple centered 3⁄16" in from the ends with a center punch.
Drill ‘em. Hold the rod securely in a vise or with a clamp to prevent the rod from leaping up when the bit breaks through the underside. Drill through the flattened end of each rod with an 11⁄64" regular twist drill bit. Be careful of the metal chips—they will be hot and sharp. 
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