- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

PIPESTEM, W.Va. (AP) - Look out, West Virginia; the Murble man is coming to visit.

Murray Kramer, who invented an outdoor game called Murbles, was so impressed by its growing popularity at Pipestem State Park he offered to host a tournament there.

The tournament will be held May 24. Kim Hawkins, Pipestem’s activities coordinator, said Kramer’s offer surprised and delighted the park’s staff.

“Murray called our superintendent, Dave Caplinger, who directed Murray to me,” Hawkins said. “He said he had been on the Internet and had seen news articles and videos about people playing Murbles in the park. He said he’d been invited to an event in Rainelle and said he’d like to visit the park while he was in the state.

“I asked him if he could come on a Sunday when lots of people were in the park. He said he’d love to. He said he’d like to show his appreciation by hosting a tournament, and he said he would have medals made up to give to the winners.”

Hawkins said the tournament is scheduled for 2:30 p.m., and will be held at the park’s campground.

The game, a cross between marbles and the age-old game of bocce, is played with baseball-sized plastic balls that weigh about half a pound apiece.

One player tosses a white ball, called a “point ball,” up to 30 feet away. The players then alternate tossing or rolling colored balls toward the point ball. The idea is to get the colored balls as close to the point ball as possible. Any balls nearer to the point ball than opponent’s closest ball are awarded a point apiece.

Kramer, contacted at his home in Pensacola, Florida, said he invented the game some 35 years ago, but didn’t begin marketing it until 2009.

“I invented it because I had a neighbor I couldn’t beat at horseshoes,” he said. “For two and a half years I played horseshoes with that guy, and I never beat him even once. Finally I said, ‘Enough of that,’ and I invented a game that would be easy, with simple rules, but still competitive.”

He remembered watching men playing bocce several years earlier during a military assignment in Italy.

“The thing I didn’t like about bocce was that the point ball was so small, about the size of a golf ball, and that the game balls were the size of grapefruits and weighed about 3 pounds. The point ball was so small it would get lost easily in grass, and the game balls were too large and heavy for kids to use easily.”

Kramer figured that by making all the balls baseball-sized, he could have the best of both worlds - a point ball that wouldn’t hide in the grass and game balls small enough and light enough for kids.

He made his prototype balls from aluminum.

“I used Styrofoam balls to form a sand casting mold, and then I poured in molten aluminum to cast the balls,” he recalled. “I wanted to cast the words ‘Murray’s Marbles’ into the balls, and I went to a print shop to get the letters to impress the words into the Styrofoam balls I used to make the molds. The letters were too big, so I shortened the two words into one word, ‘Murbles.’”

Kramer worked for the Department of Defense, and he took the balls with him wherever he traveled, sharing the game with friends as he went.

“When I retired from the DOD in 2009, I didn’t want to be a Walmart greeter,” he said. “My daughter said I should get some molds made and start selling Murbles. I sank about $25,000 into some molds and went into business.”

To make the Murbles affordable, Kramer had them cast from high-density plastic instead of aluminum. To increase their appeal, he had them made in 20 colors - plus pink.

“I tried to have colors that would match most collegiate sports teams’ colors,” he explained. “I showed them to my daughter, who thought they were pretty, but she asked why I didn’t have any pink ones. So I started having pink ones made, too.”

The solid-plastic balls proved to be virtually indestructible, and a slight tweak to the plastic formula ensured that they wouldn’t sink if dropped or tossed into water.

Hawkins said the game has been popular with Pipestem’s campers since park officials introduced the game there last year.

“When the weather’s good, we play outside, of course,” she added. “But when the weather is bad, we sometimes take the game indoors and play in our conference center.”

And when Kramer visits, they’ll play for more than simple bragging rights. Not only will the top four finishers get medals, the champion will get a set of Murbles.

___

Information from: The Charleston Gazette, https://www.wvgazette.com


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