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Isis Adventure: Worst. Puzzle. Ever.

The thing positively oozes mystery and the promise of an exciting intellectual adventure. Alas.Read the rest

Bocce ball – A summer evening lawn game that is simple yet competitively addictive

Bocce ball is my favorite game to play on a long summer evening. A simple lawn game that is at least 7,000 years old, bocce ball has no set up, takes a second to learn, and is a competitively addictive game. What I love most is that it gets my family/friends and me to enjoy fun time outdoors.

Here are the rules in a nutshell: The game traditionally comes with eight balls – four green and four red – as well as a much smaller white ball called the jack, or pallino. Someone tosses the jack across the lawn. Then players take turns bowling their ball towards the jack. Whoever gets closest to the jack scores a point. First person or team to score seven points wins the game. It’s that simple! But if you want a bit more detail on the rules, you’ll find them inside the game’s black bag, or you can check out this nicely illustrated WikiHow page.

Note: This particular brand offers a "standard set" (3.5" diameter poly-resin balls) and a "full size" set (3.93" diameter poly-resin balls), both which come in a black carrying case. I prefer the extra weight of the full size, which gives the balls a much better feel and roll, and they cost just a dollar more.

See more photos and ordering info at Wink Fun.

Excellent Bluetooth headphones for kids with volume limit for ear safety

Do you have kids? Here’s my advice – get these headphones by Puro Sound Labs. You won’t regret it. The number one reason to get them is for their volume-limiting ear protection. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “As many as 16 percent of teens (ages 12 to 19) have reported some hearing loss that could have been caused by loud noise.” And the Hearing Health Foundation says “…the problem is listening to MP3 players through earphones turned all the way up.” These headphones keep the volume below 85 dBA, the safety limit established by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

The headphone cups and cushioning are designed to greatly reduce background noise so that your kids can listen to music and videos without having to turn up the volume to compete with traffic, airplane noise, and other sounds.

The ear safety features are reason enough to buy the headphones, but thier other features are also compelling. They have built-in Bluetooth, so no cord is needed (it comes with a cord in case you want to use the headphones with a non-Bluetooth media player). They will run for 18 hours on a single charge. They are also lightweight and made with attractive materials. They don’t look like a kid product - they are elegant and I like using them, too (though it’s a bit of a stretch to get them around my fat head). The sound quality is excellent, too. They are pre-tuned to sound their best on iOS (you can download an equalizer app to change the sound characteristics). I want the adult sized version of these, but Puro is not offering it (at least not yet).

Studio Grade Kids Wireless Headphones
By Puro Sound Labs
$80 Buy one on Amazon

See more photos at Wink Fun.

Goblies: hand thrown paintballs

Lehigh University graduate student Briana Gardell invented these colorful powder filled paintballs that you can throw by hand, instead of using a compressed air gun. She's raising Kickstarter funds to make kits. $24 will get you a kit to make 100 Goblies. I just pre-ordered!

Michael Dant's photos of colorful Panasonic portable music players


Michael Dant has a collection of well-cared-for Panasonic portable music players from the early 1970s. He's also taken excellent photos of them, which you can see here. I had a red Toot-a-Loop AM radio. Panasonic ought to re-issue this line of Panapal players with Bluetooth streaming and MP3 playing capability.

Interview with Ben Krasnow, the guy who made his own electron microscope

Every week on the Cool Tools Show podcast, Kevin Kelly and I interview an interesting person, and ask them about four of their favorite tools. Our guest this week is Ben Krasnow. Ben works at Google[x], Google’s semi-secret technology development facility, where he creates advanced prototypes. Ben previously developed virtual reality hardware at Valve. After work, he spends time on various projects that usually involve circuit design, machining, and chemistry. Ben makes things that usually require a lot of money and sophisticated equipment: an electron scanning microscope, silica aerogel, and freeze-dried astronaut ice cream (I’ve tasted it, and it’s spectacular). You can follow Ben’s projects on his youtube channel, Applied Science.

Boochie - a zany twist to the classic bocce ball yard game

Let the games begin! The zany games, that is. You'll find it with Boochie. Boochie is similar to bocce, but has many interactive and challenging elements. Instead of just tossing a ball toward the target, players must throw items in a variety of ways, such as under their legs, with their eyes closed, or lying on their side. And, the challenge is determined via a cool “wrist tracker.”

The game includes four sets, a different color for each player. Each set consists of a hoop, ball and wrist tracker. The game also includes a 12-sided Boochie ball. To start, everyone tosses their hoop and ball toward the Boochie ball. The player with the closest object to the Boochie ball earns two points; whoever has the second closest object receives one point. But wait, there’s more! Players read the top of the Boochie ball to see if they’ve earned bonus points, such as for a hoop being farthest away. For every point, players move the dial on their wrist tracker a notch, and on their next turn, must toss accordingly. The challenge might be anything from throwing their items while standing backwards to shouting a sound effect while tossing their hoop. Whoever scores 11 points first wins!

We love teaching this game to guests at our outdoor parties, and it’s always fun to not only play, but to watch everyone twist and turn, jump and, invariably, giggle. – Mia Geiger

by Gamewright
Ages 8 and up, 2-4 players
$30 Buy one on Amazon

See more photos at Wink Fun.

Black Pearl Ship laser cut model kit

While this charming laser cut pirate ship isn’t technically a puzzle, it still provides enough of a challenge for puzzle lovers. Those 3D foam puzzles of famous landmarks have nothing on this Black Pearl model. First of all, I love that it doesn’t require any glue or tools like some other toy models do, although I found it much easier to bend the little tabs that hold everything together with a pair of jewelry pliers. Secondly, the end result is a metal pirate ship that is beautiful. The glistening sails and beautifully etched details make for a phenomenal home-made pirate ship without the builder needing to have painting skills, which I certainly don’t. A little bit of artistry is needed to get the right curve to the body and sails, but even a novice like me can handle it.

At first, I thought the metal pieces were going to be too fragile for my shaky, inexperienced hands, but they held up beautifully and were easy enough to put together that I only broke two pieces (by not reading the instructions and having to back track, bending them the wrong way too many times. Totally my fault). The package even comes with extras of the little tiny pieces in case they get lost during construction, which is rather thoughtful on the part of the manufacturer. My two broken pieces are hardly noticeable, and had I glued them back on, the model would have been perfect. I didn’t glue them, though, because it didn’t seem necessary – I’ll bet you can’t even see my mistakes unless someone points them out to you.

The detail and quality on this model is breathtaking. Just look at all those little windows, and the figurehead at the front of the ship! There’s even a little Black Pearl display stand (which I put together inside-out, then left it that way since I didn’t want to bend it too much) for holding the ship upright. All said and done, I’m incredibly pleased with both the building experience, which was just challenging enough to hold my interest without being frustrating, and the end result, which is now my favorite bookshelf adornment. I look forward to trying more Metal Earth models in the future! – Kitty Lusby

Metal Earth 3D Laser Cut Model: Black Pearl Ship
by Fascinations
Ages 14 and up, no solder or glue needed
$9 Buy one on Amazon

$8 microscope clips to smartphone


I have one of these tiny inexpensive microscopes, and it is surprisingly good. But it didn't come with a clip to attach it to a phone camera, like this. It has a white LED and an ultraviolet LED so you can illuminate your specimen.

KingMas 60X Clip-On Microscope Magnifier with LED/UV Lights for Universal SmartPhones ($8) on Amazon

Here's a video of a Russian guy unboxing it and trying it out:

Teenage magician's mind-blowing coin magic

Teenage sleight-of-hand artist Moritz Mueller performs the One Coin Routine.


Can't You Stack Tama and Friends – a popular stacking and balance game in Japan

Can't You Stack Tama & Friends (or Tama and Friends Stackable Figurines) is a popular stacking and balance game in Japan. It consists of ten cute figures based on the ten main animal characters from the Tama & Friends comic and cartoon series. Although the instructions and packaging are all in Japanese, no knowledge of the language or of the characters' stories or history is needed to enjoy this set.

Tama is a cat. He's got yellow ears, a black spot over his left eye, and a huge crush on Momo. The rest of his friends are (from left to right and top to bottom as in the top photo above) Pochi, Gon, Kuro, Beh, Tama, Tora, Nora, Momo, Koma, and, finally, Buru the Bulldog. They are a bunch of lovable scamps who get into all kinds of mischief. Now that you know their names, you're ready to play.

Truthfully, there isn't much in the way of rules for this game. Basically, set one character down on a flat surface, then try really hard to balance another character atop the first. If you can do that, try another. And so on. The back of the box gives a few pictures as examples or challenges and for that, knowing the characters' names can be helpful, but there is no required order of stacking. However, don't let the simplicity of the set fool you. This is a real challenge.

The figures are made of high quality, durable plastic molded into a variety of sitting positions. The level of detail is quite striking, with eyes, mouths, paw pads, and collars or body markings clearly painted and visible on all sides of the figures. The paintwork itself makes the set exceptional. My set has been handled and used for several years no with no visible fading. Also, branding is kept to an absolute minimum and consists of a single mark on the back of the heads that must be felt more than seen.

But back to the gameplay – although sold as a game (in Japan at least), if this were a digital product it would be listed as a sandbox game. The rules just aren't that important. I've watched kids use the figures as action figures and I've seen them spend hours working out the best combinations to stack as many as possible as high as possible. In other words, use the rules or make up your own, either way, this set of figures is a lot of fun. – Joel Neff

Tama and Friends Stackable Figurines
Ages 6 and up, includes 10 figures
$30 Buy one on Amazon

Deal: Arduino Robotic Vehicle Kit

Meet Cherokey 4WD, a versatile mobile platform compatible with most microcontrollers, and the heart and soul of your robotic vehicle. By assembling the included hardware and tuning the software, you will construct a rapid, rugged, outdoor-friendly truck controlled by an iOS app on your phone. Learn to install sensors on the robot to trigger specific movements and actions, and take your newfound Arduino expertise onto limitless future projects.

  • Enjoy high-quality micro-speed motors
  • Drive your truck on rough terrain w/ its durable & solid aluminum body
  • Expand upon the highly versatile modular design
  • Easily control w/ your iOS device
  • Write your own code to take advantage of its ultrasonic sensor, BLE-ready microcontroller, IR sensor & LEDs
  • Start your project immediately without the need for an additional motor driver or wireless shield
  • Use for educational purposes, robot competitions, home automation protyping or research projects

Can you solve the 3-switches problem?


Alex Bellos' Monday puzzle in The Guardian is the Three Switches Probem:

Downstairs in a house are three identical on-off switches. One of them controls the lamp in the attic. The puzzle is to work out which switch controls the lamp.

The rules are as follows. You are allowed to manipulate the switches all you like, and then you are allowed only one trip to the attic. How do you do it?

Interactive books for kids that let you play alternate reality games at home

Imaginary Friends is a series of interactive books for kids that involves online and real-world puzzles that parents set up. I just got a sample from the creator, and the art and stories looks excellent. I am looking forward to trying it out. Check out the video for the Kickstarter.

Sign up for a free 2-chapter trial.

And here are some Father's Day cards you can print at home.

Fun online color brightness vision test


My daughter, her friend, and I had fun taking this non-scientific color brightness vision test. You have to identify the one square that has a different brightness level within a grid of similarly colored squares. It gets harder as you progress. It took me a few tries, but I finally received the "hawk" badge, with a score of 25.


Daddy daughter beatboxing

La Guardia Cross, a first-time dad, lays down some fat beats with his 7-month-old baby girl.

Read the rest

USB Microscope — a zoom function for the real world


I had the earlier version of the Plugable USB Handheld Digital Microscope and liked it a lot. The second version just came out and I love it. Smaller than a prescription pill bottle, the microscope has a USB cord that can be plugged into any computer. Download the software here and start looking up close at money, leaves, circuit boards, bugs, skin, hair, and anything else.

The scope has a built-in, adjustable-brightness LED for illumination. The brightest setting is not always the best - try different levels of illumination and let the software auto-adjust the contrast. I also learned that in order to see things at the maximum 250X magnification you need to follow the instructions in the FAQ.

The scope comes with a suction-cup gooseneck mount that is very stable, and a plastic board with a grid pattern, which helps you align and locate the thing you are looking at. You can also simply hold the scope against things. The software takes still photos and movies, and hasn't crashed on me yet (the earlier version was buggy).

At this price, the microscope is an amazingly entertaining device and I find myself grabbing it to check out all sorts of things, including splinters, skin cuts, bugs, and playing card designs.

Plugable USB 2.0 Handheld Digital Microscope with Stand
By Plugable
$35 Buy one on Amazon

Top row (left to right): One black whisker and many white whiskers on my chin, strawberry seed, George Washington’s eye on a $1 bill at 250X
Middle row: Snap blade knife at 250X, pixels on an iPhone 6 Plus display, seal from $1
Bottom row: Nickel, George Washington’s eye on a $1 bill at 50X, Snap blade knife at 50X,

See sample pages from this book at Wink.