A good puzzle from Futility Closet.
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My daughter got a Mini OgoSport Discs set as a gift last March and we finally broke it open last week. It has quickly tied first place with bocce ball as our new favorite outdoor summer game. Like miniature portable trampolines, these 12-inch discs can send the “ball” (a rubber stringy pom) bouncing higher than a hundred feet and are perfect for a game of Ogo-style volleyball (volleying without a net or formal rules). You can also throw a disc like a Frisbee, or play it like paddle ball without the attached elastic string. Lightweight and small enough to toss into a backpack, I look forward to packing it up the next time we head for the beach.
Mini OgoSport Discs
by Ogo Sport
$28 Buy one on Amazon
With vivid colors and charming humanized animals, Edmond: The Moonlit Party looks like a neon version of a Richard Scarry book. And its heartwarming story is just as delightful. The book starts off with Edmond, a sweet but anti-social squirrel who lives in an old chestnut tree. He spends his days making nut jam and colorful pompom hats and seems content enough. But sometimes he gets lonely. One night his neighbors – including Mr. George Owl, Harry the bear, and Ant – throw a festive party. Too timid to venture outside, he goes to bed in tears. Until Mr. George Owl knocks on his door and shows Edmond a night he’ll never forget. Edmond is an unpretentious tale of friendship and individuality that hearkens back to the endearing golden era of Golden Books.
Edmond: The Moonlit Party
by Astrid Desbordes (author) and Marc Boutavant (illustrator)
Enchanted Lion Books
2015, 32 pages, 9 x 11 x 0.5 inches
$9 Buy one on Amazon
My girlfriend squeed when I pulled this book out of my bag. Apparently, this coloring-books-for-adults craze is the real thing! Adult coloring books have been around for some time now, and art has been providing comfort since there has been art. But who suspected there would be a giant, grown-up coloring fad in the year 2015? What’s behind this new trend? Are we simply so overwhelmed with the hustle of our lives that we crave more forms of meditation? Perhaps it’s merely a collective deep-seated need to make something beautiful.
At first I was skeptical and thought that the adult coloring books might be a gateway product for people who have the desire to create but don’t yet have the skills. Then I opened it up, grabbed some colored pencils, and sunk in. The House of Pain lyric, “Stay between the lines and I won’t get pulled over,” repeated in my head for a while, but I soon dropped everything from my mind and focused on which color should go in which tiny space in my psychedelic sea turtle.
There are many such books on the market now and booksellers are having problems keeping them in stock. This one is divided into two sections: Coloring and Doodling. At first I disliked that there was so much color already on many of the pages, but that also gives you a bit of a head start with a nice background. There are many large pages to play with. And the book is hefty with very thick boards holding in the pages. Undoubtedly, there is something refreshing about such an old-school, unplugged activity. It’s nice to know that the kid inside you is still in there scribbling away, and that some of us have never really outgrown the joy of coloring. – Aaron Downey
The Trumark slingshot is perfect for shooting targets, tin cans, or across the backyard. What makes it special is its very comfortable wrist brace, which gives me a lot of control while aiming. Holding the slingshot becomes effortless, and the wrist brace takes all the strain off my arm, making it easier to focus on aim, rather than struggling to hold the slingshot in place while pulling the pocket back at the same time. Whenever I use this slingshot I’m always surprised at how fast an hour flies by. I recommend buying some cool targets to practice on, such as the Zombie Spinning Targets, which is what I have (and have to share with my sister, who has banged it up with her BB gun). As for ammo, I've been using Trumark's 5/8" steel balls, but pebbles work fine and are more environmentally friendly (once I run out of these I'm going on a pebble hunt). Of course an adult should always be present while kids are using the slingshot.
Ages 12 and up
$9 Buy one on Amazon
Zombie Spinning Target
$15 Buy one on Amazon
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.
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).
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 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.
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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.
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
Ages 8 and up, 2-4 players
$30 Buy one on Amazon
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
Ages 14 and up, no solder or glue needed
$9 Buy one on Amazon
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.
Here's a video of a Russian guy unboxing it and trying it out: