Is it really that long ago already? And perhaps a more important question: was the atmosphere different then, more amenable to playful experiments of this sort, or is it simply that I'm less in contact with that sort of thing today?
The spirit, I guess, lives on, though you have to know where to look for it. There is, for instance, an annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, and various other activities I learn of every so often that are designed to encourage creative and playful solutions to problems rather than to inculcate predetermined learning patterns.
For information on the Rube Goldberg competitions try: