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Fun and inexpensive pocket-size wood puzzles

I found these matchbox size wood puzzles at a general store in Colorado and bought three of them. There are a bunch of different ones in the series and I plan to get them all because they are almost like magic tricks and it’s fun to challenge your friends by showing them the end result (without letting them see the process of solving them).

The Baffle Board is a miniature version of an old classic known as the Red Goose puzzle. The challenge is to move the three beads from the loop of string on one side of the block to the loop on the other side. The printed solution included with the puzzle isn’t very clear, so here is a YouTube video, if you can’t figure it out.

Push N Pull is similar to the Red Goose, but a little easier to solve. The solution included in the puzzle is clear.

Brass Monkey is the hardest puzzle of all, but also the most fun. The challenge is to make a pyramid out of the six wooden pieces. The pieces tend to roll away as you work with them, so it helps to do this puzzle on a non-slippery surface, like a rubber computer mouse pad, or to support it with something like a stack of Post-It Notes. The included solution is not very clear, so here’s a YouTube video with the solution. – Mark Frauenfelder

Pocket-size wood puzzles

Matchbox Puzzlers
By House of Marbles
Baffle Board $3 Buy one on Amazon

Push 'N' Pull $3 Buy one on Amazon

Brass Monkey $3 Buy one on Amazon

See more photos at Wink.

10 fun tricks to do with liquid

Start a fire with a water bottle. Use glycerine to make a bottle disappear. Create weird dancing blobs with cornstarch and water. Marvel at water droplets sizzling in a hot pan. Poke pencils through a water-filled ziplock bag without the water leaking. This video has a total of ten cool things you can try at home. It's also one of the rare YouTube videos that doesn't require skipping ahead 20% to get to the interesting part.

Sushi Go - know which sushi to keep and which to hand off with this cute fast-moving card game

Something about the name Sushi Go had me hesitant to take the game seriously. It landed in my game closet over a year ago and remained untouched. Then last week my family wanted to play something new, so I finally ripped open the Sushi Go’s plastic wrap and broke out the super cute cards. And good thing I did!

Sushi Go is a fun, fast-moving card game that keeps you on your toes as you choose a card from your hand and then pass the rest to the player on your left (receiving a new hand from the player on your right). The goal is to score the most points by strategically collecting groups of sushi (or a piece of sushi and a spot of wasabi to dip it in) while working to block your opponents from collecting what they need. Each type of sushi has a different value, which is listed at the bottom of the card. For instance, egg nigiri is worth one point per card, while sashimi is worth ten points for every three you collect. Make sure to collect as much pudding as you can, since the person with the least amount of dessert at the end of a round will lose six points.

Although two people can play, it’s much better with three to five players. And you can play a game (which consists of three rounds) in around fifteen minutes, making it perfect for anyone on-the-go who needs a quick game fix.

Sushi Go
by Gamewright
Ages 7-100, 2-5 players
$11 Buy a copy on Amazon

See more photos at Wink Fun.

How to make cool copper wire tiaras with LEDs

The Exploratorium's Tinkering Studio has a nice tutorial on how to make tiaras/copper crowns with copper wire, solder, batteries, and LEDs.

circuit [via]

Swingline Thermal Laminator on sale for $15

laminator

My daughter Jane has been asking for a laminator so she can make bookmarks, club ID cards, and other projects. I just learned that Amazon is selling a Swingline thermal laminator for $15 (regularly $60) so I ordered it. It comes with 5 letter-sized lamination pouches. (A pack of 100 lamination pouches costs $10.)

Blokus takes 2 seconds to learn, but many games to master

Apparently Blokus is a popular game that’s been around since 2000, introduced by the French company Sekkoia before being sold to Mattel in 2009. But it’s new to me. I just bought it a few weeks ago after my daughter came home from her friend’s house raving about the game, and we’ve had many a summer Blokus evenings since.

Blokus is a strategy game that takes two seconds to learn, but many games to master. In a nutshell, each player picks a color and starts with a pile of Tetrus-shaped plastic pieces made of 1-5 squares. For instance, one piece is only one square, another is a line of three squares, another a four-square block, another a five-square L-shape, and so on. No piece is alike. Players start off by placing a piece of their choice in a corner of the gridded board. They then take turns connecting pieces to one of their own pieces already on the board. But you can only connect pieces by their corners – not by the edges (although your edges can connect with an opponent’s edge). As the board gets filled, the turns get more difficult, and after a few games you’ll realize how much strategy can make or break a game. The game ends when no one can make another move. The player left with the least amount of squares wins. Addictive and challenging, yet simple enough for a child to learn, Blokus is a great family game.

Note: The version above is 10" x 10", which is smaller than the original 13" x 13". They both have the same amount of pieces, but the one I got (the link above) is simply smaller in size and less expensive. Some commenters on Amazon prefer the larger size for its ease of use. Since I only know this version, it works perfectly fine for me.

Blokus
Mattel
Ages 7 and up
$20 Buy a copy on Amazon

See sample images at Wink.

Interview with 10-year-old cartoonist Sasha Matthews, author of "Sitting Bull" and "Pompeii"

I loved this interview with 6th-grader cartoonist Sasha Matthews, creator of two historical comic books: Sitting Bull (which we ran on Boing Boing) and Pompeii: Lost and Found. You can buy copies of her comics here.

sasha

My kids-and-grownups project book, Maker Dad, on sale for Kindle: $1.99

My book, Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects is just $2 as a Kindle right now.

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Game review: detectives hunt for the infamous Mr. X in Scotland Yard

“Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man…” wrote Hemingway. It is precisely this Holmes-versus-Moriarty style rivalry that makes Scotland Yard worth an hour or more of your time. At the outset, a player is chosen to be the infamous “Mr. X,” pursued throughout the game by the remaining 1-5 players. The board is an intricate map of London, detailing lines of public transit, but also including fun landmarks, such as Buckingham Palace and the London Eye. The transit routes, however, are the key to winning the game.

Detectives are issued tickets for each type of transit—taxi, bus, or underground (train), which cannot be replenished, and therefore must be used wisely. If less than the full number of detectives are playing, the extra pieces become “bobbies,” after the British slang for police. Bobbies act as shared pieces at the detectives’ collective disposal that don’t need tickets to explore London. Likewise, Mr. X does not need tickets for regular transit. Additionally, he is issued special tickets that allow him extra privileges, like using the ferry or making two moves in one turn. Detectives take turns collaborating and moving their pieces from one station to another, according to the tickets at their disposal. When all of the detectives and bobbies have moved, Mr. X takes his turn, recording his invisible moves on a special notepad. Detectives are allowed to know what type of transit he used, assuming he hasn’t used one of his special tickets. Mr. X only appears on five of the twenty-three turns, lending hide-and-seek anticipation and lots of discussion on where he could be next. The game is over either when Mr. X has been cornered (can make no more moves without bumping into a detective) or captured (a detective lands on his station). Alternatively, if Mr. X evades capture for the full twenty-three turns, he is the victor.

Geared toward the analytical thinker and recommended for children 10+, Scotland Yard is an exciting way to pass a rainy afternoon. Including both cooperative and competitive play, the game even comes with a visor (or hat, depending on your edition) for Mr. X to hide behind as he strategizes. Moreover, as in a real man-hunt, there’s just enough luck involved that either side could gain an unexpected advantage at any moment. If you’re hunting for an edge-of-your-seat challenge for you and your friends, investigate Scotland Yard. – Chloe Quimby

Detectives hunt for the infamous Mr. X in Scotland Yard

Scotland Yard
by Ravensburger
Ages 10 and up, 2-6 players
$29 Buy a copy on Amazon

Thank you Unique Toy Shop for lending us this copy to review!

August 18, 2015

See more photos at Wink.

Brief history of the Cootie Catcher

Cooties are real. Apparently, "cootie" comes from the Malay word "kutu," meaning "dog tick." Fortunately, you can easily make a cootie catcher wit the added benefit that the device doubles as a fortune teller, chatterbox, whirlybird, salt cellar, etc.

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Build a top quality kinetic Rhinoceros Mini-Beest from a kit

Dutch engineer and artist Theo Jansen has created the most amazing kinematic sculptures, which he refers to as life forms. The incredibly ingenious mechanical linkages are powered by compressed air, harvested from the wind. They are made of PVC pipe, recycled bottles, and scrounged wood from shipping pallets. From a pile of junk, Jansen creates articulated multi-legged beasts which run free on the beaches of Holland. (Okay, amazing is a word that is thrown around a lot, but here is your proof.)

The astounding and huge creature that you see at 5:00 into the video is the inspiration for this excellent book/kit sold by EDU-TOYS. This combination assembly kit and booklet includes the plastic parts engineered by the Japanese educational product producer Gakken and a new 24-page English language booklet. You’ll get fascinating photos of Jansen and his various creations in their natural environment as well as well-written and illustrated instructions. And you’ll need them! The kit has over 130 parts, which at first seems a little intimidating. However, simply follow the clear line drawings for each step of assembly and the sequence and logic to the parts become clear.

The engineering and molding is top quality with polished molds and flash-free parts. No glue or tools are needed. All the press fittings are snug, the snap junctions crisp, and the gears mesh perfectly with seemingly no friction. You’ll appreciate all the attention to detail when you finish the build: place the Mini Rhino on a flat surface and gently blow on the squirrel cage fan. The beest comes to life and walks across the table! The multi-link legs are driven by a central camshaft as the drive gears spin smoothly. WOW! What’s also nice is because it’s a kit you assemble yourself, you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment and a full understanding of how the clever design works (not something you’d get by simply buying an assembled version).

Rhinoceros Mini-Beest Science Kit
by Elenco
Ages 8 and up, over 130 parts, includes 24-page science booklet
$25 Buy a copy on Amazon

See sample pages at Wink.

Takenoko board game – take care of a bamboo garden to keep a panda alive

Takenoko (which means bamboo shoots in Japanese) is a light, colorful board game in which players take on the role of Japanese court members to take care of a panda and gain points by completing tasks. At the beginning of the game each player is given three cards explaining their tasks. The tasks include cultivating and irrigating plots, growing colorful bamboo, or getting the panda to eat said bamboo. At the end of the game the player with the most points wins. But where Takenoko shines is with the weather element.

The weather die is rolled at the beginning of each turn, and tends to throw all your best laid plans out the door. Experienced or ignorant players can make or break your plans as well, which makes the game a little chaotic. Takenoko is fun and easy to teach, but it can be a little frustrating when you're at the mercy of poor dice rolls. Just go with the flow, do what's in front of you, and you'll have a great time.

The game is beautiful and the components are excellent. The painted miniatures, colorful plots and plastic bamboo shoots make it look like an expensive candy box. It plays about 45-60 minutes and can have up 4 players. The winner of the Golden Geek Award of 2012, it's little wonder why people adore this game so much. – Engela Snyman

Takemoko
by Asmodee
Ages 13 and up, 2-4 players
$33 Buy a copy on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Tummple! A reverse Jenga in which you build rather than take away

tummple

Tummple! has been described as reverse Jenga. That seems pretty accurate. Both games share a similar wooden-block aesthetic, and in both games the object is to keep things from falling. The key difference is that in Tummple! you are building.

The game goes like this: A small wooden base is laid out. All subsequent builds are placed on the base or on other pieces. Players take turns rolling a nice big twelve-sided die that will give the rolling player one of five options. The first three involve placing one of the blocks. The block is to be placed on the wide side, the narrow edge, or the end. The other two options are what add a bit of strategy and meanness to Tummple! Players may be required to place a tump. Tumps are little plastic half marbles. The white ones act as blockers. They cannot be touched by any pieces played subsequently. The yellow tumps are even tougher. They render the entire surface area on which they've been placed untouchable. Blocks must be placed flat. And when the player releases the piece, their turn is over. Anytime someone causes pieces to fall, they keep all those pieces as points against them. When all the blocks in the box have been played, the game is over. Add up the blocks you’ve collected. Player with the fewest, wins.

The box says 2-4 players, but you can play with as many people as you can fit around the table. With more people you're likely to have ties, as some people will cause no collapses during their turns. But it's still fun. While taking photos for this review, I discovered there's also something to be said for solitaire play. We have had a good time with this one. It's good for all ages. And you have a cool little abstract sculpture when you're all done.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Tummple!
by BAXBO
Ages 6 and up, 2-4 players
$25 Buy a copy on Amazon

Olympians Zeus, Athena, Hera, Poseidon, Hades and Aphrodite are each featured in this beautiful 6-volume boxed set

When I was a teen, I really wanted to like Greek mythology, but the complexity of the pantheon and some of the absurdities of the stories lost me rather than sucked me in. I quickly became confused and bored. Over the years, I've gained a greater appreciation and understanding of classical mythology, but I haven't gone back to try and relearn everything I couldn't retain in school. Until now, thanks to George O'Conner's impressive Olympians box set.

The set contains six volumes, Zeus (King of the Gods), Athena (Warrior Goddess), Hera (Goddess of the Air, Sky, and Heavens), Poseidon (God of the Sea), Hades (Lord of the Dead), and Aphrodite (Goddess of Love). Each one runs 85 pages, and besides the origin story (and a few other key tales) for each god, there are also author notes, a summary of the key characters in each book, a recommended reading list, and even a series of discussion questions. The author and publisher definitely designed these books to be taught to young people and I would definitely recommend them to teachers, home schoolers, and students who want to learn of the “august residents of Mount Olympus” (as the back cover puts it) in a fun and resonant way. These books are really beautifully illustrated and produced. Most of the book covers include spot foil stamping. The Zeus cover is seriously cool, with the silver lightning in his hands actually flashing dramatically as you move the cover to catch the light. I dare you to hold this book in your hands and not want to move it around and make thunder sounds like a ten year old (OK, maybe that's just me).

The six volumes come in a handsome slipcase, which also includes a large full-color poster of the pantheon on one side and an extensive Olympian family tree on the other. Although these books are in comic book form, with spare dialog, they still manage to pack in a lot of story and paint a fairly complete portrait of each god. I wish I'd had these books when I was a kid.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Olympians Boxed Set
by George O'Connor
First: Second
2014, 480 pages, 7.6 x 10.2 x 1.6 inches (paperback)
$36 Buy one on Amazon

Mobile game of the week: Zoombinis

Zoombinis is a gentle but engrossing puzzle game. It stars a series of little blue folks with different combinations of features, and you must convey them safely through a series of logic puzzles that rely on those features.

It's a remake of a beloved and, for some, iconic, educational CD-ROM released in 1996 called Logical Journey of the Zoombinis. It's a pleasant memory from an era when computers were novel and rare, yet educational software was usually no thrill to children. The world of the Zoombinis was different—not explicitly "teachy", it let players intuit how variables and interdependencies work, and learn how to discover rules and patterns, just by sorting the little blue Zoombinis by their eyes, noses, hairstyles and feet types.

The imagination and attention to detail still seems magnificent even today: the player interacts with whimsical contraptions, from pizza makers and bubble fields to crystal mines and mud flingers, and each of them puffs, chugs and splats like a plausible machine, flinging Zoombinis about cutely as you solve puzzles.

8-lionslair

There's a great USA Today feature about the history of the Zoombinis and why the old game was important, and here is my favorite quote from one of the original developers, Scot Osterweil:

"We were probably plumbing our own self-consciousness, but over time we realized that the Zoombinis were kids," Osterweil said. "They were persistent. Our joke was that they were knee-high to everything they met. The world was full of bigger creatures. And if you think about it, rules in a kid's world are arbitrary. The kids shouldn't have to sort themselves by feature — they don't believe in that. But the world is full of these big people who tell them to sort."

The feature does a good job of explaining how the old 1996 CD-ROM came to Kickstarter and raised $101,716 for a desktop and tablet remake. Now that Zoombinis is on your tablet device, it's a perfect time to revisit it, or to introduce it to your kids.

Actually, I still very much enjoy Zoombinis as an adult. As you progress through the game, bringing groups of Zoombinis successfully through all the puzzles, the difficulty level increases: You'll have to solve for multiple rules instead of just one, or figure out a stage's rule with far fewer clues. Playing it on harder settings gives you that fun sense of flexing a brain-wing you haven't used since you were younger and a more agile thinker.

7-stonerise

If you are an adult player, you'll have to plod through some levels that are probably much too easy for you a few times before the difficulty becomes engaging. Related: the only real shortcoming of the tablet adaptation of Zoombinis is that it's not really adapted for tablet play. Audiences who are used to having the things they touch explained to them, or to having their options highlighted (for example it's not visually clear that you can choose from two paths at a certain juncture, as you might not notice the muted arrows on the secreen) are unlikely to know what to do, where to touch or how to play at first.

There is an intro film and a generally-unhelpful help button, but I worry that people who've never tried Zoombinis before won't know what they're looking at or doing in the age of no manuals and graduated tutorials. And while the game is scored based on how many Zoombinis you bring successfully to "Zoombiniville" at the puzzles' end, I wish players could select their own difficulty level from the start rather than having to complete areas multiple times to advance.

Zoombinis remains a wonderful game, and if I could figure it out and be transfixed by it as a young person there's no reason today's players of all ages won't be able to be drawn in. There's something to be said for the old days of letting people learn and experience on their own. I note these shortcomings mostly because I think you should be prepared to overlook them. But if the developers do future updates to the mobile version, I hope they'll do just a little bit of modernizing for the mobile audience, so that as many folks of all ages from an entirely new generation of players have a chance to be delighted by this game.

Dad gets tattoo to that looks like his daughter's cochlear implant

Six-year-old Charlotte Campbell of Taupo, New Zealand says she likes her daddy's tattoo. So do I.

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(Image: Alistair Campbell)

This small intelligent orb guesses what object you are thinking of in 20 questions

This tennis ball-size orb knows what you are thinking. Most of the time it will guess what you have in mind after asking you twenty yes/no questions. It is eerily smart, and slightly addictive. The toy is remarkable. Because it is so small, so autonomous, its intelligence is shocking to the unprepared. Most children can’t stump it, and if you stick to objects it will stump smart adults about 80% of the time with 20 questions and most of the time with an additional 5 questions. I love to watch people’s reactions when they think of a “hard” thing, and after a seemingly irrational set of questions you are convinced are dumb, the sly ball tells you what you had in mind. (For instance, it can correctly guess “flying squirrel” without asking “does it fly?”) People who play chess machines won’t be surprised, but just about everyone else will be tickled. It feels like the future. But right now, for fourteen bucks, you can get an amazing little artificial intelligence, about as smart as an insect — but an insect which specializes in guessing what object you are thinking of. And in that part of the brain, it’s smarter than you are.

See more photos at Wink Fun.

20Q Deluxe
by Techno Source
Ages 7 and up
$14 Buy a copy on Amazon This link is for 20Q Deluxe, a newer version from the photos above