Is It Summer or Not?

Running Hot and Cold

In some parts of the country, summer can’t seem to decide whether it’s actually here or not. Hot, cold, hot, cold. Here are some great ways to spend time whether you’re outside or in.

please and carrotsPlease and Carrots
Please and Carrots is a subscription service that quarterly or monthly delivers a box of cool toys and books specially selected for your baby (ages 0-36 months) by child psychologist Dr. Susan Bartell based on their development stage. There’s also an online portal where you can find more info on child development, milestones, and age-appropriate activities to do with your baby. Everything on the portal is approved by an advisory board packed with pediatricians, psychologist, nutritionists, and other experts. If your kids are already out of the baby stage, this makes a great baby-shower gift. Prices vary. https://pleaseandcarrots.com/

cloud b frankie the foxFrankie the Fox (Cloud b)
So, what does the fox say? This one doesn’t say a thing, thankfully. But he’ll help your little one drift off to sleep. Frankie is one of the latest from Cloud B, maker of delightful bedtime buddies. He’s super soft and snuggly, part stuffed animal, part soothing sound machine, but 100% calming, routine keeping, and rest inducing. Frankie loves traveling and with the strap on his back, you can easily secure him to the crib, bed, or carseat/stroller easily. He plays four sleepy-time melodies and has a timer that shuts him off at either 23 (odd choice) or 45 minutes. Requires 2 AA batteries, but they’re included. $31.95. http://cloudb.com/sound/frankie-the-fox

razor delta wingDelta Wing Scooter (Razor)
Let’s face it: some kids who want to ride on scooters don’t always have a great sense of balance. That, in turn, can leave them less-then-completely confident in their ability to ride. Here’s where the Razor Delta Wing comes in. It’s sort of a V-shape and the rider puts one foot on each of the wings and holds on to the handlebars that are on a post that comes out of the apex of the V (it’s easier to see this in the picture to the left). You don’t need to be able to balance, and you move it by wiggling your booty side to side. Yes, you’ll look a bit odd, but it’s a hell of a workout for the legs, thighs, and butt. One of our young testers loved, loved, loved the Delta Wing—more than his bike, his scooter, or his roller skates. The Delta Wing handles well, brakes quickly and easily, and is a smooth ride. Does it get any better than that? Always wear a helmet and other safety gear. $90. Age 6+. http://www.razor.com

razor ground force drifterGround Force Drifter Fury (Razor)
Your kids don’t have a license but they still want the coolest wheels in town? No prob. The Razor Ground Force Drifter Fury is the most awesome go-kart-on-steroids that you’ve ever seen, with speeds up to 12 miles per hour (so don’t forget your helmet). The Fury comes with rechargeable batteries that last up to 40 minutes of continuous use. It also has a flag, spark bar (how cool is that?), and hand operated rear brakes. Once you get the hang of it (which isn’t hard), you’ll be able to do some very cool tricks with the Fury. And by “you,” we actually do mean “you”—but only after you’ve given the kids a turn. There’s supposedly a 140-pound weight limit, but we’ve seen full-grown adults doing just fine. You and your kids will have an incredible amount of fun with this thing. Just make sure your camera or phone is fully charged because the Fury is made to be shared on social media. $350. Ages 8+. http://www.razor.com

The Secret Life of Summer

After a long day of having fun outside, it’s important to have some relaxing down time. Here are four games you and your family will love.

cash out simply funCash Out! (SimplyFun, LLC)
Each player is a fund manager tasked with building a diversified, balanced, high-yield portfolio. The goal, of course, is to cash out with the most points. Along the way, you’re buying, selling, and strategizing. Cash Out! Is a fun way to introduce your child (or yourself) to some basic investment concepts before he or she starts playing around with that college fund. Takes 20-30 minutes to play. For 2-4 players, ages 10+. $24. http://www.simplyfun.com/

compose yourself thinkfunCompose Yourself (ThinkFun)
Every once in a while game comes along that is completely unique. Compose Yourself is one of those games. Open the box and you’ll find 60 transparent, coded music cards, each imprinted with a musical staff and four beats worth of notes. Since they’re transparent, you can arrange each card in four different ways (there’s nothing on the cards to indicate a “right” side). Now comes the fun part. String together any four cards to create a unique composition (there are apparently over a billion possibilities). Then, go to the Compose Yourself website, enter the codes, and you’ll hear your composition played by a full symphony orchestra! If you’re happy, download an mp3 or print out sheet music. If not, re-compose and try again. Besides being tremendously fun, this is a great way to expose children to music and/or to teach music reading. Ages 6+. $19.99. http://thinkfun.com/

hey froggy r&r gamesHey, Froggy! (R&R Games)
Too many frogs and not enough lily pads. Life’s like that sometimes, isn’t it? The good news is that, unlike the rest of life, the frogs can pile on top of each other. Roll the dice to bounce colored (red, blue, yellow, green) frogs around the pond, scoring points when the frogs on the top match the colors of cards in your hand. You’ll need a little luck and a little strategy—extra points if you’re able to eat some flies along the way.  It’s fun and quick (15-20 minutes). For 2-4 players ages 10+. $15.95. http://www.rnrgames.com/

mix up fix up woinder forgeMix Up! Fix Up! (Wonder Forge)
A fun logic and memory game for preschoolers. Players take turns being the patient. Without showing any of the other players (doctors), the patient takes an “x-ray card” that has eight pictures of different medical tools (stethoscope, syringe, thermometer, etc,) on different backgrounds (dots, checkerboard, hearts, flowers, or stripes), with different  colors, and slips it into an x-ray sleeve, which has a window that shows only one tool. The doctors then flick a spinner which tells them to either guess a pattern, color, or tool. For every wrong answer, the patient gets a bandage. Most bandages wins. It’s kind of like Clue. But instead of Colonel Mustard in the parlor with a knife, it’s the stethoscope on the yellow background with stripes. 2-6 players ages 3+. $15.99. http://wonderforge.com/

wink blue orange gamesWink (Blue Orange Games)
The goal of the game is for players to signal your secret partner (with a wink or some other gesture) without any of the other players knowing that you’ve connected. The rules imply that all the players have to agree on one gesture, but who says you have to follow the rules? The game play involves cards, tokens, matches, and accusations. However, the real fun is in trying to forge those secret partnerships. It takes only 20-30 minutes to play and is absolutely impossible to get through without laughing—which makes identifying those secret signals even harder. 4-8 players, 8+. $15.99. http://www.blueorangegames.com/

Last-Minute Father’s Day Gifts

assassin's creed chronicles chinaFor the gamer dad (to be used only after the kids go to bed): Asassin’s Creed Chronicles: China (Ubisoft)

We’re long-time fans of the Assassin’s Creed series, with its intricate plot that weaves through time, the mysterious assassins with their awesome hoodies and incredible skills, and the incredible action adventure game play. In a nutshell, it’s assassins vs. knights. But it’s really much more complex than that, as each game in the series feed into the next. The game style of Chronicles China is markedly different from most games in the line, as this is a 2.5D platformer, where jumping and doing all things assassin is a blast, intricately detailed, and wonderfully illustrated. This is the first in the Chronicles trilogy; India and Russia will follow. China rated T for teen and is a tad violent. Prices vary. http://assassinscreed.ubi.com/

 

nintendo 3ds xlFor the dad who takes his entertainment on the go: Nintendo 3DS XL (Nintendo)

Nintendo’s new-and-improved 3D XL system (called, simply enough, 3DS XL) sports more gaming power, faster hardware, and even a few new buttons for more precise control. These include a new c-stick (a smaller, flatter joystick) and two shoulder buttons, which is awesome. There’s also a new face-tracking feature, which gives you the full 3D experience without you having to be right in front of the console. That makes the 3D more realistic and the picture much sharper. $200. http://www.nintendo.com/

 

dyson v6 absoluteFor the neat-freak dad: Dyson v6 Absolute (Dyson)

You might think your vacuum is fine, but unless you have a Dyson V6 Absolute, it probably isn’t. Most vacuums will either pick up tiny dust or the biggest stuff, but not much in between. This one, well, this one is amazing. It’s only five pounds and cordless, two features that might make you think it’s not very powerful. But you’d be wrong. The Absolute has two heads, including a soft, non-scratching roller so it can handle everything from wood to carpet. It also has a clear canister that’s easy to empty and lets you see all the junk you’re vacuuming up, which makes it easy to retrieve those LEGO pieces. And HEPA filtration cleans a lot of allergens out of the air. Runs for 20 minutes on a charge. $600. http://www.dyson.com

 

heart attackFor the dad you’d like to have around for a long, long time: Preventive Heart Attack Screening

Every year, more than half a million Americans suffer a first heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And more than half of those first heart attack victims die within an hour. Fortunately, about 80% of those deaths could be prevented with early detection and aggressive treatment. If your dad is 55-75, have a heart-to-heart talk and encourage him to learn about the dangers of plaque buildup in the arteries and get screened. Experts recommend one of two non-invasive tests that can detect problems and give dad’s healthcare provider an opportunity to get dad to take steps to reduce his risks: Calcium Scoring CT Heart Scan and Carotid Intima-Media Thickness (CIMT) Ultrasound. Prices vary and may or may not be covered by your insurance, so check with your provider. That call could save dad’s life.

 

spot traceFor the dad who always wants to know where his stuff is: SPOT Trace

SPOT Trace is a small GPS device that dad can use to track objects (like his car) and people (like dad and you when you’re in the wilderness, miles from anywhere). According the SPOT, more than 3,400 rescues have been initiated thanks to SPOT products. $99. SPOT has many other GPS/satellite trackers and phones. http://www.findmespot.com

Hitting the Road

With summer upon us, road (or plane or boat) trips, with all the associated packing and schlepping, aren’t far behind. Here are a few items that will help those family vacays and adventures go as smoothly as possible.

wicked cool vrum ride onVRÜM Ride-On Storage (Wicked Cool Toys)
Kids often have trouble deciding which toys and games to take with them. With the VRUM suitcase, they can take everything—and best of all, you won’t have to carry it. VRUM is a sturdy, hard-sided, rolling suitcase that’s easy for a child to pull. And if your child gets tired on the long walk to gate 264, he or she can sit on it and scoot along. (You can pull it with your child riding on it, but that’s a bit challenging). Straps inside can keep toys and clothes separated (or toys from falling over and hurting themselves), and it locks securely so there’ll be no emergency pickups on the jetway. VRUM comes in a number of licensed characters, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, SpongeBob, and Dora the Explorer. $39.99. https://shop.govrum.com

wildkin rolling packRolling backpacks (Wildkin)
One of the worst parts about trips with kids is that mom and dad often end up hauling around the kids’ stuff in addition to their own. Frankly, we think it’s high time for the kids to help out—especially if they’re old enough to have outgrown the VRUM Ride-On. If you agree, you won’t have to look any further than Wildkin, which has a wide variety of wheeled options. Their rolling backbacks have plenty of room, lots of zippered compartments, mesh dividers, and water bottle pockets. They also have adjustable shoulder straps, just in case you’re going over terrain that’s unfriendly to wheels. Wildkin also has duffels, tote bags, larger rolling luggage for bigger kids, and more. Each option is available in a variety of designs that make them easy to spot on a luggage carousel. There are cute animals, mermaids, and construction equipment for little kids and more sophisticated prints for teens. They’re all built to last. $49.99 and up. http://www.wildkin.com/B_LUGGAGE.html

eagle creek shoe sacPack-It Specter Shoe Sac (Eagle Creek)
Shoes. We need ‘em, but they present a packing dilemma. Besides taking up a lot of space in your luggage, they’re often dirty and/or smelly. A lot of people use plastic grocery bags to segregate shoes and clothes, put the shoes in a separate compartment, or both. Eagle Creek has come up with a better way. Unlike grocery bags, Shoe Sacs are sturdy and water repellant—which means you don’t have to worry about your muddy, wet shoes making everything else in your suitcase filthy. They come in several colors and are washable. As nice as they are for travel, Shoe Sacs are also great for any time you might need to change shoes (such as after a long hike or run). $18. http://shop.eaglecreek.com/

skip hop travel blanketSkip Hop Zoo Travel Blankets (Skip Hop, Inc.)
Part blanket, part pillow, and part stuffed animal, these travel blankets are perfect for snuggling with on any trip—or even at home. If you start your adventure with the animal in portable-pillow mode, your child can easily pull out the blanket for nap time and just as easily stuff it back inside after. And the straps make it easy to lug around. Comes in Ladybug, Monkey, and Owl. $20.00. http://www.skiphop.com/product/zootravelblankets.html

Indoor/Outdoor Play

As summer approaches, we’re seeing a lot more toys and games that are designed to be used outside or that replicate some aspect of the great outdoors. This week we take a look at four fit into one category or the other, all from one of our favorite manufacturers, Playmobil, http://www.playmobil.us/

playmobil ferris wheelSummer Fun Ferris Wheel with Lights
There’s nothing like waiting in a line for an amusement park ride to remind you that it’s summer. With this large set, your kids can have the joy (okay, misery) of standing in lines without having to lather up with sunscreen or put on a hat. The 117-piece set comes with seven two-seater gondolas, a functioning Ferris wheel, a ticket office (complete with a cash register and tickets), flashing lights (batteries not included) and quite a few other accessories. It also comes with two adult figures and two child figures, so your little one can make someone else (even if that someone is inanimate) feel the sting of waiting in line and then, when you finally get to the front, being told you’re too short to ride. Once all the seats are full, turn the crank and you’re off. The wheel can operate automatically but you’ll need to buy the Electric Ride Motor, sold separately. $79.99. Ages 4-10.

playmobil rescue boatCity Action Rescue Boat
The Coast Guard has a bit of an identity crisis. It started off as part of the Department of Treasury, then got transferred over to the Department of Transportation, and is now under the Department of Homeland Security. They’re also considered a branch of the military. But whoever they are, they do a great job of protecting our coasts and waterways. With the City Action Rescue Boat, your child can give the Coast Guard the respect they deserve, honoring them as they rescue drowning swimmers, battle pirates, and take on other rescue operations. They can even put out fires (or squirt the cat) with the included plunger. The set includes the boat itself, three figures, first aid kit, hoses, rescue ring, and more. $52.95. Ages 4-10.

playmobil coast guard stationCity Action Coast Guard Station with Lighthouse
Those Coast Guard heroes need to go somewhere at the end of a long, danger-filled day, right? And nothing could be better than their own station, complete with a functioning lighthouse and an observation room where the duty officers can keep a close eye on the coast and dispatch rescue crews as needed. The set comes with everything you and the kids need to create amazing adventures together: a boat, five Playmobil figures (who love to wait in line for the Ferris wheel on their day off), rescue rings, a full set of scuba gear, loads of medical and safety equipment, a cable winch to haul boats out of the water, and more. $79.95. Ages 4-10.

playmobil gliderSports & Action Speed Glider
At some point, pretending to be outdoors really needs to give way to the real thing. And this sleek glider is the perfect way to encourage kids (you too) to stretch those legs. Just assemble it (which will take about a minute) and you’re ready for a really fun game of catch or a long-distance throwing competition. As long as the pilot is in his seat (he needs to be there to balance the aircraft), the glider is very easy to throw—even for young children. And with working LED lights, there’s no reason for the fun to stop when the sun goes down. $26.99. Ages 6-14

A Little Peace and Quiet

With the start of summer right around the corner and hot days already popping up in various parts of the country, you know there are bound to be a few days where it’s just too hot to go outside. There will also be times when, despite your promise to never use technology as a babysitter, you’ll need the kids to chill out quietly. For those crazy hot days and 5-hour flights, check out these new games for the kids—and yourself.

Rediscovering the Nintendo 3DS
A lot of people own a 3DS, but very few really know it inside and out. Take the StreetPass Mii Plaza. Of course you’ve visited—who hasn’t’?—but if you haven’t been for a while, it’s worth another trip because it recently expanded. Now, when you’re out and about with your 3DS in your pocket or bag and you meet someone else who also has StreetPass on their 3DS, you can play mini games and solve puzzles that earn you accessories for your Mii (which, for the uninitiated, are avatars that users create). There are eight mini games that can be played with other Miis. Two are free: Find Mii, which is a light-hearted RPG (role playing game) with some tough villains, and Puzzle Swap, where players can share pieces with others. With characters from various Nintendo games and videos (like Pikmin, Link from Zelda, and Mario Brothers) appearing on the pieces, everyone will feel right at home. There are also a few premium games in the eShop. Prices vary.

xenoblade chroniclesXenoblade Chronicles (Nintendo)
Unless you’re a big fan of role play games (RPGs) on Nintendo’s systems, you may not know about Xenoblade. But you should. Xenoblade almost didn’t get released in the U.S., but when it finally did, it quickly became a big hit with RPG buffs. The basic story is that Shulk and his buddies are on a quest to find an elusive sword (named Mondao) and to rid their homeland of a nasty bunch of killer robots called Mechon.  Xenoblade Chronicles is the latest spinoff and can be played on the Wii U. There’s also a 3D version that’s playable only on the new 3DS XL. What’s especially cool about the new DS XL is its face-tracking technology, which minimizes all the setting and resetting that had to be done with previous 3D systems.  It also makes the game play feel more intents and it’s a lot easier to get drawn in—and stay there. There’s tons of drama, action, and excitement. The game itself retails for $39.99. The 3DS XL console, if you don’t already have one, is $199.99.

puzzle and dragons zPuzzle & Dragons Super Mario Brothers Edition (Nintendo)
Puzzle & Dragons Z (Nintendo)
Nintendo’s new Puzzle & Dragons has got something for pretty everyone—combining elements of a collectible card game, puzzles, and RPG. In fact, there’s so much here that they made it into two separate games (but packed them into one cartridge).

 

 

puzzles and dragons super marioThe Mario Brothers version is a little easier and is filled with familiar characters and settings, like the Princess, Bowser, and the Mushroom Kingdom. The puzzle part is pretty easy too: just line up same-color orbs and build on to your cluster. The bigger the cluster, the higher your score—and the more damage you do to your enemies. Puzzles & Dragons Z also features puzzle play, but it’s has some nice anime styling, a deeper story, and the option to get further into the RPG aspects of the game. The single cartridge with both games retails for $29.99 pretty much everywhere games are sold.

Summertime Toys: You’re Outa Here!

Looking for some great to get the whole family outside and work up a sweat? If so, you’ll haves a blast with these new, summertime toys.

 

sonic boom batSonic Boom bat and ball (Backyard Sports)

There’s something magical about the crack of a baseball meeting a bat. It’s a sound that every fan wants to hear and that every player, regardless of age, wants to make. The Sonic Boom bat has a large, hollow barrel (called the “sonic boom chamber”) that makes it easy for young players to connect with the ball (one is included). The chamber also produces that major-league home run sound with every hit. Baseball bats are among the lowest-tech playthings available, but Backyard Sports has managed to incorporate a bit of technology. The bat has a small display that generates QR codes that players can scan to unlock parts of a free online game and power up in-game characters. The more you hit, the more codes you get. Ages 5 and up. $27.99. https://www.backyardsports.com

 

trickster discTrickster Flying Disc (Malibu Sports)

The Trickster bills itself as a new twist on flying discs, and they’re right. With more traditional discs (AKA Frisbees), the focus was on the spectacular catches. But with Trickster, the disc itself provides the entertainment. You can still make long, accurate throws, but the “Stunt Tech” design, with its sleek holes, enables some pretty amazing in-air tricks, including a 360-degree corkscrew spin. Made of slightly soft foam-like material, it’s easy to catch, which is a big advantage when playing with young ychildren. Ages 6 and up. http://malibu-sports.com/  (but be aware: the website is under construction).

 

usta youth tennis inintiativeYouth Tennis Initiatives (United States Tennis Association)

Tennis can be a frustrating game for children. Adult racquets are tough to handle, standard tennis balls move too quickly, and all that frustration often has kids quitting before they have a chance to see how fun the sport can be. In an effort to overcome all this, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) has launched a variety of Youth Tennis Initiatives around the country, and even redesigning tennis courts to be more kid-friendly. But the best part of these initiatives is the all-new gear, scaled to children’s age, sizes, and ability. Racquets, for example, now come in four sizes, ranging from 19” (about the size of a racquetball racket) up to 25” (adult racquets typically run 27” to 29”.) Even the tennis balls come in different sizes and bounceability, color coded for easy identification. The USTA’s goal is to get more kids interested—and involved—in tennis and they’ve just served up an ace, not only engaging kids, but making it possible for adults and children to play together. Ages 6 and up. https://www.youthtennis.com/

 

bunch o balloonsBunch O Balloons (Zuru)

Water balloon fights are almost synonymous with summer. But one of the most annoying things about them is that it takes nearly forever to fill and tie them up. Bunch O Balloons makes that a thing of the past, letting you fill and tie 30 balloons at once, in seconds. If you move quickly, you might be able to fill 100 in under a minute. If that doesn’t blow your opponents out of the water, nothing will. Just connect Bunch O Balloons to your water source (a standard hose connection is ideal), then stand back and watch the balloons expand and tie themselves. Yep, tie themselves. It’s a brilliant idea. Ages 7 and up. $12.99. http://bunchoballoons.com/

 

 

 

All Yours, Baby-Toys for Toddlers

When it comes to play, toddlers are a pretty accommodating group, capable of having fun with almost anything, almost anywhere. (As a toddler, Armin’s oldest daughter’s favorite toy was a 29-cent dish scrubber). But finding toddler toys and games that will keep adults engaged too is harder. Here are four toys that you and your little one will definitely be able to enjoy together.

kids picnic  tableKids’ Picnic Table (American Plastic Toys)
The name of the company—American Plastic Toys—says it all: Everything they manufacture is made of plastic and it’s all built in America. The only things they left out are that, while their toys aren’t fancy, they’re sturdy, safety tested, fun to play with, and surprisingly affordable. (The “Unpretentious, Sturdy, Safe, Fun, Affordable American Plastic Toys company” seems a little cumbersome). Their new picnic table is no exception. Adult assembly is required, but it takes only a few minutes and you won’t need screws or tools. Once it’s built, it becomes the perfect table for messy activities. Cover it with sand, spill a glass of grape juice, or knock over a cup of finger paint? Did the kids turn it on its side to use it as a fort? No problem. Just hose is off, let it dry, and you’re good to go. Ages 2 and up. At major retailers or http://americanplastictoys.com/

sand and water playsetKids’ Sand and Water Play Set (American Plastic Toys)
The Sand and Water Play Set has two sections; a canal for water use, and a sand pit. There’s also a working crane for moving cargo from one area to the other. We especially liked the snap-on wave maker that kids can use to create a current to move boats up the canal. The Set also comes with cargo units, trucks, barges, and speedboats. It’s aimed at kids as young as 18 months, but you’ll love playing with it too. $14.99 at Target and other retailers.

fluffy friendsTots Fluffy Friends (Alex Toys)
Let’s face it, crafts can be messy—especially when they’re being done by a toddler. Tots Fluffy Friends changes all that. It’s a great way to give your little ones a chance to show off their creativity without you having to worry about glue, scissors, cleaning up, or finding glitter in your hair two weeks later.  The kit comes with four crack-and-peel collage boards (shaped like a duck, cat, bear, and bunny), four packages of colorful, shredded paper, and 40 stickers. Once you’ve peeled the board, your toddler can make his or her own one-of-a-kind creation using bits (or handfuls) of the shredded paper and the stickers. Ages 18 months and up. $17.99 at major retailers or www.alextoys.com

flip flop blocksFlip Flop ABC Blocks (Mirari/Patch Products)
As kids, most of us had ABC blocks, but you’ve never seen any like these. On one side of these clear plastic cubes is a bold, colorful letter. Turn it around and dancing on a string inside is an adorable animal or object that starts with the same letter (unicorn for U, star for S. grapes for G, and so on). There’s also a magnetic “magic wand” that your toddler can use to control the figures. These blocks are incredibly engaging (for adults and kids) and they’re great for building fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and of course, letter recognition (who knew that learning the alphabet could induce so many giggles?) They also introduce the concept of case and effect. Our only complaint is that not all of the letters have a corresponding figure (the ones that don’t feature a dancing letter instead). For ages 12 months and up. $49.99. At your favorite retailer or http://www.patchproducts.com/

 

Hey, Buddy, You Got a Match?

Matching games, in various forms, have been around forever—and with good reason: they’re easy to play, fun, don’t usually take a lot of time, and they help build memory and pattern skills. This week we take a look at four new games that add new—and colorful—twists to the old classic.

color clashColor Clash (Blue Orange)
In Color Clash, each of the 36 playing tiles has three attributes: the color of the chameleon in the middle, the color word (red, blue, green, etc.) written in a ring around the chameleon and the color of the letters that make up the word (for example, the word “green” might be written in blue). Color Match comes with instructions for eight separate games (including two that are excellent for solo players), but there’s nothing to stop you from making up your own. One of our favorites was to start with all the tiles face down. Players take turns flipping over one tile while the others say out loud the color of the word (not the color it names). It’s not easy.  For 1-8 players, ages 7 and up. http://www.blueorangegames.com/

cup-a-cupCup-a-Cup (R&R Games)
Another deceptively easy game. Cup-a-cup comes with nine plastic cups. On the bottom of each is one of three shapes (square, circle, or triangle) in one of three colors (blue, red, yellow). There’s also a pair of dice that have the same shapes and colors. Players take turns rolling the dice, then all lunge for the cups (which are arranged bottom up so you can see the colors/shapes) in a frenzied attempt to complete the set. Some are pretty easy: For example, if you roll two blue triangles, you have to grab the cup with the blue triangle. And if you roll two shapes with the same color, you need to grab the one cup with the one that’s missing. It starts getting harder when neither the shapes nor the colors on the dice match. Say a blue circle and a yellow square. We’ll leave it to you which one you need. First player to collect three cups wins. For 3-5 players, ages 6 and up (don’t sneer—kids are better at this than adults). http://www.rnrgames.com/

pluckin' pairsPluckin’ Pairs (R&R Games)
It all starts off pretty easy: lay out 11 cards, each one with a photograph, on the table. Then, working individually, start writing down matching pairs using any criteria you want. A red bell pepper might match with a red phone booth because the colors match, but that same red pepper might match a pocket watch. What, wait? They both have stems. Similarly, an ant might go with a bird (both animals) or a roll of tape (they tend to stick together). When the 90-second timer runs out, players take turns explaining their pairs. If two or more have the same pair, both score a point. If no one else has the same pair, it scores zero. We also reversed the scoring so that only pairs that no one else has score. For 3-8 players, ages 12 and up.

slidewaysSlideways (R&R Games)
Slideways is essentially a 4×4 version of tic tac toe, but with the added complexity of being able to slide the rows around. The game consists of four moveable rows, each with four triangle-shaped tiles that can show blue, red, or gold. Players alternate flipping tiles, trying to get four in a row (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally). And just when you’re getting close, someone slides a row and messes everything up. Requires strategy, logic, and a sense of humor. For 2-3 players, ages 8 and up.

Building a Childhood, Part 2

This week we continue our creativity and building theme.

Play Doh Rainbow Dash My Little Pony Style SalonPlay Doh Rainbow Dash My Little Pony Style Salon
If you’re a My Little Pony fan—or you have one under your roof—you’ll love the Rainbow Dash Style Salon. It’s a little reminiscent of the Play Doh Disguise Lab that we reviewed last week, where you put your favorite Minion into the styling chair and made wild and crazy hairstyles. With this style salon you can still grow, cut, and style your pretty Pegasus’ hair. But that’s just the beginning. The body and wings are actually built-in molds that you can fill with Play Doh to decorate your little pony using the six included colors (or, you can mix them up to create completely new colors). Sam had a toy like this when she was little and it was a favorite. It’s not the fanciest toy—and it’s certainly not the techiest. But it’s fun, creative, and a great way to create build memories that you and your child will cherish for years. For ages 3 and up. Retails for about $18 on Amazon.com and other toy sellers.

Stackins Stackable Friends (Funrise)Stackins Stackable Friends (Funrise)
If you like Bun Buns (reviewed last week), you’ll also like Stackins. They’re soft, cute, stackable, collectible, and reasonably priced—what could be better than that? Right now there are four characters: Poppy the Puppy, Checkers the Cheetah, Bonny the Bunny, and Kiki the Fox. But Funrise has several dozen new characters about ready to hatch. They also have plans to introduce larger size Stackins. To keep your child busy ‘til then, there are games and coloring pages on their website, http://www.funrise.com/stackins/.  For ages 3 and up. Stackins retail for $7.90 and they’re available exclusively at Justice.

Eiffel Tower, Mickey & Minnie EditionEiffel Tower, Mickey & Minnie Edition (Ravensburger)
Have you ever built a puzzle? Not done a puzzle, or put one together, but actually built one? If not, Ravensburger’s Eiffel Tower, Mickey & Minnie Edition is the perfect introduction to the wonderful world of 3D puzzles. There are two ways to build this puzzle (and any of the others in Ravensburger’s line). For more experienced puzzle hounds, use your eye (and maybe the image of the completed puzzle on the box). For novice builder/puzzlers, each if the 216 pieces is numbered, so all you have to do is follow the sequence. Either way, the pieces snap together—no glue required. With images of Micky and Minnie decorating the outside, this is the Eiffel tower like you’ve never seen it. You and your kids will feel mighty proud of yourselves when your 17-inch high tower is complete and on display for everyone to admire. For ages 5 and up. This particular kit sells for $27.99. Others include a medieval house, a lighthouse, the Taj Mahal, Empire State Building, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and a variety of other famous landmarks. All are available at https://www.ravensburger.com

spongebobInvincibubble Talking Action Figure
Pop-a-Part Spongebob
League of Heroes Figurine Set
Still haven’t had enough of Spongebob? Not to worry. The Spongebob movie, “Sponge Out of Water,” has spawned a huge array of Spongebob products, including the Pop-a-Part Spongebob ($11.50), Invincibubbles Talking Action Figure ($15.80), and the League of Heroes Figurine Set ($39), all of which provide everything you could possibly need to build an amazing adventure with the one-and-only wisecracking sponge. If you’re a Spongebob fan, we’re guessing that you’re already on the way to Toys R Us or wherever you buy your toys. If you’re not (yet), Spongebob and his buddies are really hard to resist. And you truly haven’t lived until you’ve seen a sponge with a six-pack.