Title:
Noodle and web construction toy system
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A flotation apparatus has a plurality of axially elongated flotation elements and a flexible web with a plurality of slits that accommodate the elongated flotation elements as a woven array. The slits each have a semicircular, S-like, or wave-like configurations. Respectively associated pairs of slits are oriented in inverted manner with respect to one another to form a supportive region between each pair of slits. At least one flexible web element is configured in some embodiments to have an elongated central portion with first and second slits therethrough for accommodating respective ones of first and second end terminations of the flexible web element after wrapping around respective ones of the first and second noodle elements. One or two flexible web elements wrap snugly around the respective ones of the first and second noodle elements.



Inventors:
Hartings, Louis Raymond (East Grand Rapids, MI, US)
Application Number:
12/284894
Publication Date:
06/18/2009
Filing Date:
09/24/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
441/129
International Classes:
A63H33/06; B63B35/73
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
STANCZAK, MATTHEW BRIAN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Rohm & Monsanto, PLC (St. Clair Shores, MI, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A flotation apparatus comprising: a plurality of axially elongated flotation elements; and a flexible web having a plurality of slits therethrough for accommodating said plurality of elongated flotation elements as a woven array, wherein said plurality of axially elongated flotation elements are retained in a predetermined spatial relationship with respect to each other.

2. The flotation apparatus of claim 1, wherein the predetermined spatial relationship of the array of axially elongated flotation elements is substantially parallel along the contour of said flexible web.

3. The flotation apparatus of claim 1, wherein the slits in said plurality of slits are reinforced to prevent tearing of said flexible web.

4. The flotation apparatus of claim 3, wherein said plurality of slits are arranged in respectively associated pairs of slits and oriented in inverted manner with respect to one another within said associated pairs to form a supportive web region between each of the slits of such respectively associated pairs of slits.

5. The flotation apparatus of claim 1, wherein said plurality of slits each have an S-like configuration.

6. The flotation apparatus of claim 1, wherein said plurality of slits each have a wave-like configuration.

7. The flotation apparatus of claim 1, wherein said axially elongated flotation elements are configured as noodles.

8. The flotation apparatus of claim 7, wherein the noodles are formed of foamed polyethylene.

9. The flotation apparatus of claim 7, wherein the noodles are formed of foamed polypropylene.

10. The flotation apparatus of claim 1, wherein said flexible web is formed of foamed polyethylene.

11. The flotation apparatus of claim 1, wherein said flexible web is formed of foamed polypropylene.

12. A construction toy system comprising: a plurality of axially elongated noodle elements; and first and second flexible webs arranged to overlie one another and being affixed to one another to form elongated pockets that accommodate respective ones of said plurality of axially elongated noodle elements.

13. The construction toy system of claim 12, wherein at least one of said first and second flexible webs has a decorative aperture there through.

14. The construction toy system of claim 12, wherein at least one of said first and second flexible webs has a plurality of slits therethrough for enabling at least one of said axially elongated noodle elements to be woven through said plurality of slits.

15. The construction toy system of claim 12, wherein the slits in said first and second flexible webs are affixed to one another by stitching.

16. A construction toy system comprising: first and second noodle elements; and at least one flexible web element having an elongated central portion with first and second slits therethrough for accommodating respective ones of first and second end terminations of said flexible web element after wrapping around respective ones of said first and second noodle elements.

17. The construction toy system of claim 16, wherein the first and second end terminations of said flexible web element are integrally formed with said flexible web element.

18. The construction toy system of claim 17, wherein the first and second end terminations of said flexible web element have a substantially round configuration.

19. The construction toy system of claim 16, wherein said flexible web element is dimensioned so as to wrap snugly around the respective ones of said first and second noodle elements.

20. The construction toy system of claim 16, wherein there are further provided a third noodle element and a second flexible web element, said second flexible web element wrapping around respective ones of said second and third noodle elements.

Description:

RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER APPLICATION

This application claims the benefit of provisional patent application Ser. No. 60/995,236, filed Sep. 24, 2007, in the name of the inventor herein. The disclosure of the provisional patent application is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

This invention relates generally to pool flotation toys, and more particularly, to accessories for creating a raft, or other construct, from the popular pool flotation toy commonly known as the “noodle.”

2. Description of the Related Art

Flexible lightweight foam flotation devices, commonly known as “noodles,” are hollow cylindrical tubes comprising polyethylene or polypropylene foam. Typically, a child wraps their arms and/or legs around a single noodle, for buoyancy. Ever popular, noodles are sold commercially, inter alia, by Jakks Pacific, Inc. under the trademark FUNNOODLES.

There is known in the art, kits that provide connectors and accessories, for building structures, from these noodles. Examples of these kits, include those described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 7,040,949; 6,554,677; and 6,132,276.

U.S. Pat. No. 7,040,949, for example, describes a structural connection device for use with noodles comprising an elongated connector strip forming a linkage for a plurality of substantially tangent holes sized to receive the noodles in a pressure fit. A pool raft may be formed by inserting the noodles transversely through successive holes in at least three such connectors that would be spaced along the lengthwise axis of the cylindrical tube comprising the noodle.

It is also known in the art to use noodles to create a floating seat or raft by placing one or more noodles, depending on the configuration, into sleeves, formed in a flotation body comprising fabric or netting, for receiving the noodle(s) which provides the requisite buoyancy to cause the assembly to float. U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,520,561; 5,628,658; 5,885,123; and 6,276,979 are examples of a floating seats and rafts constructed in this manner.

As can be seen by the versatility and popularity of the noodle, there is always a need for an easy-to-use, flexible, fun way to construct a raft, or other structure, from commercially available foam tubes, or noodles.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In accordance with a first aspect of the invention, there is provided a flotation apparatus having a plurality of axially elongated flotation elements. A flexible web has a plurality of slits therethrough for accommodating the plurality of elongated flotation elements as a woven array. In this manner, the plurality of axially elongated flotation elements are retained in a predetermined spatial relationship with respect to each other.

In one embodiment, the predetermined spatial relationship of the array of the axially elongated flotation elements is substantially parallel along the contour of the flexible web.

The slits in the plurality of slits in one embodiment each have a semicircular configuration. The plurality of slits are arranged in respectively associated pairs of slits and oriented in inverted manner with respect to one another within the associated pairs to form a substantially circular region between each of the semicircular slits of each such pair of slits.

In a further embodiment, the plurality of slits each have an S-like configuration. In a still further embodiment, the plurality of slits each have a wave-like configuration. In embodiments where slits are provided in the web, the ends of the slits are, in some embodiments, reinforced with stitching or other form of reinforcement, such as welding or adhesive. Additionally, the web is, in some embodiments, formed of a closed cell foam material configured as a flexible sheet.

The axially elongated flotation elements are, in a specific illustrative embodiment of the invention, commercially-available noodles. The noodles are formed of foamed polyethylene, or alternatively of foamed polypropylene. The flexible web may also be formed of foamed polyethylene or of foamed polypropylene.

In accordance with a further apparatus aspect of the invention there is provided a construction toy system having a plurality of axially elongated noodle elements. First and second flexible webs are arranged to overlie one another and are affixed to one another to form elongated pockets that accommodate respective ones of said plurality of axially elongated noodle elements.

In an advantageous embodiment of this aspect of the invention, the first and second flexible webs are affixed to one another by stitching, although other forms of affixation, such as welding, can be employed. The flexible webs are formed in some embodiments of a closed cell foam material configured as flexible sheets.

In a specific illustrative embodiment of the invention, at least one of the first and second flexible webs has a decorative aperture there through. The aperture, in some embodiments, facilitates viewing of the noodle there below. In a further embodiment, at least one of the first and second flexible webs has a plurality of slits therethrough for enabling at least one of said axially elongated noodle elements to be woven through the plurality of slits.

In accordance with a still further aspect of the invention, there is provided a construction toy system, or kit, having a plurality of axially elongated noodle elements. A flexible mat, or web, having a plurality of slits therethrough accommodates the plurality of elongated noodle elements as a woven array, whereby the plurality of axially elongated noodle elements are retained in a predetermined spatial relationship with respect to each other. In use, a child (or adult) constructs an apparatus, such as a raft, as determined by the shape of the mat, by weaving noodles through the plurality of slits in the web.

In one embodiment of this further aspect of the invention, the slits in the plurality of slits each have a semicircular configuration. In other embodiments, the slits in the plurality of slits each have an S-like configuration, and in still further embodiments, the slits each have a wave-like configuration.

In a yet further aspect of the invention, there is provided a construction toy system having first and second noodle elements. In this embodiment, at least one flexible web element, in the nature of a lashing tie, is provided having an elongated central portion with first and second slits therethrough for accommodating respective ones of first and second end terminations, or tabs, of the flexible web element after wrapping around respective ones of the first and second noodle elements.

In one embodiment of this yet further aspect of the invention, the first and second end terminations of the flexible web element are integrally formed with the flexible web element. In a specific illustrative embodiment of the invention, the first and second end terminations of the flexible web element have a substantially round configuration.

Preferably, the flexible web element is dimensioned so as to wrap snugly around the respective ones of the first and second noodle elements. Insertion of the first end termination, or tab, in the first slit secures the first noodle element and insertion of the second end termination into the second slit secures the second noodle element, so that two noodle elements are held together by the flexible web element, or tie.

In a further embodiment, there are further provided a third noodle element and a second flexible web element, the second flexible web element being configured for wrapping around respective ones of the second and third noodle elements.

In a first specific embodiment of the invention, a flexible mat, configured to size, which might be, in some embodiments, a rectangle sized to fit a child (or an adult) in a sitting or prone position, forms the framework for a flotation device. In an embodiment wherein the flotation device is a raft, the mat would, in a specific illustrative embodiment, have dimensions ranging from about 1.5′-2.5′ in width to the approximate length of a commercially-available noodle.

The mat, which comprises a flat sheet, or web, of flexible, and preferably buoyant material, has an array of slits therein. The slits are configured to accommodate at least the cross-sectional diameter of a noodle. The array of slits is formed in a pattern that permits a noodle to be woven over and under adjacent rows of slits in a length-wise direction to form a flotation device, or other construct defined by the shape of the mat.

The thin sheet of flexible material comprising the mat, may be the same material as the commercially-available noodles, which is typically foamed polyethylene or polypropylene. Of course, other elastomeric materials, such as expanded rubber (neoprene), closed-cell plastic foams, sponge rubber, and the like, would be suitable. The slits can be made by any technique known in the art, such as die-cutting or high pressure water-jet. The material comprising the mat, and its thickness, should be sufficient to have durability in use.

An advantageous feature of the flexible mat is that it can be rolled up, along with the noodles, for storage and transport, and assembled at the beach, for example, to create a flotation device. The noodles, which are inexpensive and commercially-available, can be replaced if lost or damaged, and advantageously require no inflation, and hence do not deflate, a common problem with inflatable flotation devices.

In an alternative embodiment of the invention, ties for lashing the noodles into a raft, for example, are provided.

The ties, which are flexible and preferably buoyant, may comprise the same material as the noodles, illustratively about a 3/16″ thick sheet of foamed polyethylene, or an elastomeric neoprene.

In a specific illustrative embodiment, the ties are in the form shown in FIG. 4. In this figure, the ties comprise an elongated body having tabs at opposite ends thereof and two slits, sized to fit the width of the tabs in compression, in a central portion thereof. In use, a tabbed end is wrapped around a noodle, and the tab is inserted into the slit closest to the tabbed end to encompass the noodle. The opposite tabbed end is wrapped around a second noodle, and inserted in the slit closest to the second tabbed end. This results in fastening two noodles contiguous to each other. Thus, the length of the elongated body of the tie is sufficient so that, when both tabs are inserted into their respective slits, two envelopes are formed to encompasses the diameter of two noodles.

A first tie secures two noodles together in a substantially contiguous manner to form a first set of noodles. A second tie secures one of the noodles in the first set of noodles to a third noodle that, in conjunction with a fourth noodle secured by the second tie, forms a second set of noodles. A third tie secures one of the noodles in the second set of noodles to a fifth noodle that, in conjunction with a sixth noodle secured by the third tie, forms a third set of noodles, and so forth.

While the embodiments shown herein are directed to rafts suitable as flotation devices in water, the mats and ties can be used to create a variety of other structures, such as forts, playhouses, and the like, limited only by the imagination.

Of course, a kit can be provided for constructing a raft or other play structure, that may include, in some embodiments, a plurality of noodles sufficient to form the desired construct, and one or more mats and/or plurality of ties. While the description has been written in terms of the use of presently commercially-available noodles, it is also noted that any axially-elongated cylindrical elements, either hollow or solid core, can be provided in the practice of the invention in standard or custom sizes without departing from the invention herein described.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING

Comprehension of the invention is facilitated by reading the following detailed description, in conjunction with the annexed drawing, in which:

FIG. 1 is a plan view of a raft embodiment of the invention comprising a mat having slits configured in a circular pattern;

FIG. 2 is a plan view of a raft embodiment of the invention comprising a mat having slits configured in an S-pattern;

FIG. 3 is a plan view of a raft embodiment of the invention comprising a mat having slits configured in a wave-pattern.

FIG. 4 is a tie in accordance with a second embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 5 is a portion of a raft embodiment of the invention wherein ties of the type shown in FIG. 4 are employed to lash the noodles together to form a flotation device and

FIG. 6 is a simplified schematic representation that is useful to illustrate various embodiments of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

FIG. 1 shows a plan view of a flotation device 100, illustratively, a raft, that is formed of a plurality of noodles (110, 112, and 114). Noodles 110, 112, and 114 are, in this specific illustrative embodiment of the invention, buoyant and are commercially available. The noodles are shown to be woven into a mat 120 having a generally web-like configuration. In this specific illustrative embodiment, mat 120 is formed of a thin sheet of elastomeric or foamed plastic material.

As shown in FIG. 1, mat 120 has a plurality of semi-circular slits 125 arranged to form an array (not specifically designated) of slits. In this embodiment, the array is configured as a rectilinear array so that the noodles, when woven therethrough as shown, will maintain a substantially parallel relationship with respect to each other. Of course, other configurations for the array can be devised in the practice of the invention. Additionally, it is understood that the practice of the invention is not limited to any specific number of noodles in the array.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the semicircular slits 125 are arranged inverted relative to each other to form, as shown in the figure, arcs of a partial circle, such as partial circle 130 which is formed of an upper semicircular slit 132 and a lower semicircular slit 134. Upper semicircular slit 132 and a lower semicircular slit 134 do not communicate with each other, and instead are separated in the region 136. It is to be understood that the manner of weaving of the noodles into the mat is not limited to the array shown in FIG. 1. In the depicted embodiment, the noodles are arranged so that the substantially circular portion (130) between each of the semicircular slits is behind mat 120. Thus, flotation device 100 will have a significantly different appearance on its respective sides. However, other forms of weaving are within the scope of the user of the product, such as by alternating the substantially circular portion in front of and behind the mat, whereby the appearance of the flotation device from either side is substantially similar.

FIG. 2 is a plan view of a raft 200 embodiment of the invention. Elements of structure that have previously been discussed are similarly designated. A mat 220 has of slits therethrough, each in an S-pattern. It is shown in this figure that noodles 110, 112, 114, 116, and 118 are interwoven in mat 220. For example in relation to noodle 116, a portion of this noodle is disposed behind mat 220 in the region between slits 224 and 226. Thus, although not specifically represented in the figures, raft 200 is characterized by the feature that its appearance is substantially similar on both sides thereof (although only one side is shown in the drawing).

FIG. 3 is a plan view of a raft 300 embodiment of the invention. Elements of structure that have previously been discussed are similarly designated. A mat 320 has slits therethrough, each configured in a wave-pattern. In relation to noodle 114, a portion of this noodle is disposed behind mat 320 in the region between slits 324 and 326. Thus, although not specifically represented in the figures, raft 300 is characterized by the feature that its appearance is substantially similar on both sides thereof (although only one side is shown in the drawing).

FIG. 4 is a tie 400 configured in accordance with another embodiment of the invention that will be described below in relation to FIG. 5. In FIG. 4, the specific illustrative embodiment of tie 400 is shown to have an elongated central portion 410 with axial terminal portions 412 and 414 disposed in distal relation to each other. There is additionally provided in this specific illustrative embodiment of the invention a pair of slits 416 and 418 that are dimensioned to accommodate axial terminal portions 412 and 414, respectively, as described further in relation to FIG. 5. Other configurations and shapes for the tie may be provided within the scope of the present invention.

FIG. 5 is a representation of a portion of a raft 500 embodiment of the invention. Elements of structure that have previously been discussed are similarly designated in this figure. As shown in this figure, a plurality of ties 400 of the type shown in FIG. 4 are employed to lash noodles 110, 112, 114, and 116 together to form a flotation device. By way of example, a tie 510, which is of the type 400 shown in FIG. 4, is shown to have axial terminal portions 412 and 414 extending through slits 416 and 418 disposed on elongated central portion 410. Tie 510 couple noodle 116 and 114 to each other. Similarly, a tie 512 couples noodles 114 and 112, to each other, and a further tie 116 couples noodles 112 and 110 to each other. The array is continued to configure a raft, for example, of any desired shape, size, or stability.

FIG. 6 is a simplified schematic representation that is useful to illustrate various embodiments of the invention. More specifically, a dual web arrangement 600 has a web 602 that is overlaid with a further web 604. Webs 602 and 604 are, in some embodiments of the invention, formed of a closed cell material configured as sheets. The webs are secured to one another in this embodiment by stitching lines 606 and 608. In other embodiments, the webs are secured by other known attachments arrangements, such as by heat or friction welding process.

In this specific illustrative embodiment of the invention, stitching lines 606 form elongated pockets 611, 621, and 631 that accommodate respective ones of noodles 610, 620, and 630. Elongated pockets 611 and 621 are decorated with fanciful apertures, such as crescents 613 and ellipses 623. Of course, any other form of aperture can be used to decorate the elongated pockets, such as stars, designs of known objects, an cartoon characters. In this specific illustrative embodiment of the invention, the apertures reveal portions of the noodles contained within the pockets, and will result in a highly decorative effect, particularly when the webs and the noodles are contrastingly colored.

In some embodiments of the invention, the elongated pockets are not provided with apertures at all, as is the case with elongated pocket 631. In still other embodiments, the webs are provided with slits, such as slits 643, that enable the noodle to be threaded through the slits in a manner similar to the described hereinabove in relation to FIGS. 1, 2, and 3. In some embodiments, both webs 602 and 604 are provided with slits, such as slits 643, and in other embodiments only one of the webs, such as web 604, is provided with the slits. The stresses that are incurred during use of the arrangement as a flotation device are accommodated by the stitching 606 and 608 to prevent the webs from tearing. Moreover, in some embodiments only one of the webs is provided with apertures, and the overall strength of the arrangement is enhanced by providing few apertures, or none at all, to the other web (i.e., web 602).

Although the invention has been described in terms of specific embodiments and applications, persons skilled in the art may, in light of this teaching, generate additional embodiments without exceeding the scope or departing from the spirit of the invention claimed herein. Accordingly, it is to be understood that the drawing and description in this disclosure are proffered to facilitate comprehension of the invention, and should not be construed to limit the scope thereof.





 
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