Not Much, Just Hanging Out

You don’t have to be a “Game of Thrones” fan to know that winter is coming. And when it does, you’re still going to want to have fun. Here are some great options.


Double Ditto (Inspiration Play)

double dittoThis is a light-hearted game for as many people as you can squeeze together in one room. The object is simple: one player picks a card and reads it out loud. Topics include things like, “commands you teach your dog,” “milestones for teenagers,” “parts of the human body,” “things you put on your head,” and 396 more. The rest of the players have 15 seconds to write down two answers. When time’s up, players take turns reading their answers. If one of your words matches with another player’s, you both score a “ditto.” If both match, “double ditto.” Comes with 400 cards and a 15-second timer. For 4-10 players (or more), ages 10+. Under $20.


Escape the Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat (ThinkFun)

escape the room retreatIf you liked ThinkFun’s Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, you’ll love this next addition to the Escape the Room phenomenon—and don’t worry, more are in the works. Since the basic gameplay, mechanics, and idea (get out of the room before time runs out) of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat are the same as in Stargazer’s Manor, let’s talk about a few of the differences. First, the story is a little more complex and sinister, and the puzzles are a little more challenging to solve. Second, you may want to play this with a smaller group (for or fewer) of slightly older players, since a few of the puzzles are designed to be done by one person at a time, which means that everyone else has to wait. Whether you’re an Escape novice or a family of Houdinis, this game is a delight to play, and will give you the excitement of freeing yourself from a locked room, without the claustrophobia of actually being trapped inside. For 3-8 players, ages 12+. Under $22.


Max Traxx Tracer Racers Remote Control Police Chase (Skullduggery)

max traxx police chaseAlthough you and your racing-fan kids will enjoy this Max Traxx set during the day, it really comes to life (or, more accurately, “to light”) at night. This kit includes 36 feet of glow-in-the-dark track, track risers (so you can adjust the height), lane changers, a jump, and two cars: a Mustang and a Camaro. Once you’ve got the track set up, installed batteries in the controllers, and charged the cars, turn off the lights and get ready to be amazed. The cars themselves zip around the track at a scale speed of up to 500 MPH! But the coolest thing is the Light Trace Technology. As the cars fly by, they leave light streaks behind them. Wow! Ages 6+ About $119.


Trick Shot Sports (Tucker)

trick shot sports dudesThere’s not much to say about the Trick Shot Sports dudes except that they’re fun to play with. There are five sports—baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer—and they all operate essentially the same way: Hold the figure, pull back a spring-loaded arm (or foot, hockey stick, or baseball bat), release it, and smack a sports-themed ping-pong ball. You can set up elaborate ricochet trick shots or compete against other players. There are no instructions, so you can make up your own rules or just let anarchy reign. Although we had a great time with Trick Shot, there are two things we’d like to see: some dudettes and some left-handed figures. Ages 5+.

Arts: The A in Steam

It would be hard to find anyone these days who doesn’t know about STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—which are the skills our children need to learn if they’re going to become the leaders of tomorrow. But many people (including everyone here at Parents@Play) believe that the arts, in all its many variations, are also critical skills. Hence STEAM, which adds an A to the mix. If you’ve been searching for some great art-related activities to do with your family, look no further—we’ve got you covered.

Fab Foil Nail Roller (Alex)

fab foil nail rollerWho would have thought that there’d be so many ways to decorate nails? With this kit, attach a double sided sticker to the nail, roll some foil onto the exposed side of the sticker, and you’re ready to hit the town with nails a-shimmering. No nail polish needed, which his good news for people who have trouble with the smell (although you can add topcoat to protect your manicure). Comes with 30 foil strips, a storage pouch, and instructions. For ages 8+. Under $22.


IDO3D Vertical (Redwood Ventures, Ltd.)

I do 3d verticalThis is one of the coolest things ever. Special photopolymer ink and the blue LED light that cures the ink on the spot allow you to “draw” 3D creations in real time, kind of like a 3D printer. Kits may include multiple pens, ink, a curing light, a plastic tracing sheet, and some special accessories to help your human printer mold especially complex objects. Of course, you can purchase extras of whatever you run out of. There’s also a nice video of tips and tricks, project suggestions, and several free, 3D art courses on the website. For ages 8+. Prices vary, depending on how many pens and other supplies you get.


Blaze Color Scroller (Alex Brands)

color scrollerThis is an art studio in a box. The centerpiece is a paper roll of 40 images of Blaze and the Monster Machines. That means no more single sheets of paper floating all over your car or living room. Finish one picture, just scroll ahead to the next. Or, if your kid wakes up in the middle of the night with a brilliant “I-should-have-done-something-else” idea, he or she can scroll backwards. Comes with stickers and eight crayons, which store neatly in the pull-out drawer. For ages 3+. Under $20.


Shrinky Dinks (Alex Brands)

shrinky dinksShrinky Dinks have been around since the early 1970s, and they owe a great deal of their success to being easy and fun and giving kids and adults a great outlet for expressing their creativity. Today’s Shrinky Dinks have succeed in a way that many other brands have not: They’ve stayed true to their origins but have also adapted to children’s rapidly changing preferences. Shrinky Dinks Pets Playset brings 21 of your favorite characters from the hit movie, “The Secret Life of Pets.” Besides the animals themselves, this set incudes enough paperboard pieces to construct your own playhouse to house them. Shrinky Dinks 3D Butterfly Lights adds in an element of light (though batteries aren’t included) to enhance the dozen or so butterflies. It and Shrinky Dinks 3D Flower Jewelry both include special molds that will help make ordinary, flat Shrinky Dinks into dazzling 3D ones. For ages 8+. Prices vary. Available at your favorite retailer.

Fall Classic Video Games

Looking for some new video games to play with the family as the weather cools down? Or maybe something portable to get you through those inevitable holiday travel delays? Here are some of our current favorites.

Paper Mario Color Splash (Nintendo)

paper mario color splashThis newest entry in the beloved Paper Mario series takes Mario to the formerly colorful Prism Island, where someone is draining the land of all its paint and color. As the hero we all know and love, Paper Mario comes along to save the day with his paint hammer, which splashes color on colorless portions of land, flowers, characters, houses, and even water. This game plays like other games in the series, where combat is turn based, but it also includes cards that describe what moves can be used next. This game is a blast to play for RPG fans or Mario fans in general. And if you’re new to Paper Mario, this is a perfect place to start, giving you an interactive role-playing experience that will help you paint-smash some dull areas of your own life. Only on the Nintendo Wii U. Retails for $59.99.

Metroid Federation Force (Nintendo)

metroid federation forceMetroid is a longtime Nintendo fan favorite. But Nintendo created quite a bit of controversy when they developed Federation Force instead of continuing the Samus saga in the Metroid Prime universe. That said, Federation Force is an interesting spin on a familiar game setting and characters. This title picks up after the events in Metroid Prime 3 Corruption and follows the Federation Force in their pursuit to clean up the galaxy by battling Metroids, Space Pirates, and various other alien creatures, who are causing problems across three familiar planets. This game differs from other Metroid Prime installments in its emphasis on teamwork and group-based shooting instead of exploration. Nintendo also removed the touchscreen-based elements of Metroid Prime Hunters and the scanning ability of Metroid Prime. Players can adopt several specialties, depending on which weapons (including a healer weapon and heavy fire missiles) they choose to load out before each mission. Federation Force also includes an arena-style combat soccer mode called Blast Ball. You can get both in retail stores or the eShop for $39.99.

Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls (Nintendo)

yo-kai watchThe main story revolves around our protagonist Nate, as he solves mysteries involving the spirit world by using his Yo-Kai watch. These two new games delve deeper into the origins of the Yo-Kai watch and engage players in the watch’s humble beginnings. The story in Yo-Kai Watch 2 deals with a war of epic proportions between Yo-Kai, who still have time to help various townspeople and take mini quests along the way. It also includes bug catching. If you’re looking for a fun, easy-to-pick-up-and-play RPG with monster collecting, Yo-Kai Watch 2 is perfect. And if you’re a general RPG fan and looking for something with an odd flavor or you just love the TV show, you won’t want to miss this. Both are available now for the Nintendo 3DS, and retail for $39.99 each.

Galaxy Style 3DS (Nintendo)

galaxy blue 3dsThere’s no shortage of consoles and gaming devices, but one of the newest (and in our opinion, prettiest) is the Galaxy Blue 3DS XL, which Nintendo released in honor of the new planet scientists just discovered. Lovers of science, astronomy, or just really cool artwork will love this space-themed, shimmery design. It’s a limited edition, so you’ll have to act quickly. With tons of family-friendly games, the Nintendo 3DS family is the best-selling video game system in the United States. They retail for around $199.99 and are available in stores or at

Games for One

Our mission here at Parents@Play is to bring you toys and games that parents and kids will enjoy doing together. But all of us need some me-time now and then. So what do you do when you’re home alone and want a fun way to unwind, or when you’re in the car and your child wants to play? Well, here are four engaging, entertaining, and mind-stretching games for solo players. Oh, and none of them are electronic in any way.


Clue Master (ThinkFun)

clue master, thinkfun
Your dog Tippy wants to go home. But the only way there is through a secret door that can be unlocked only by arranging his treasures (three sets of bones, three tennis balls, and three dog bowls) in a unique grid pattern. It’s a little like Sudoku, except that you’re using symbols instead of numbers. There are 40 challenges, each with several clues of patterns that will have to show up somewhere in the completed puzzle (for example, a blue bowl has to be to the left of a green ball, or the red bones have to be diagonally attached to something blue and something green). From there, you’ll use your deductive reasoning skills (if this goes here, then that must go there…) to determine where the rest of the pieces go. Challenges range from beginner level to expert, so there will always be a challenge. Clue Master is especially nice for road trips since the pieces are magnetic. Plus, it has a Minecraft-y look that kids will love. For ages 8 and up. Under $23.


Ghost Hunters (Smart Games)

ghost hunter, smart gamesThe only way to rid your haunted mansion of those pesky ghosts is to shine a light on them. The six ghosts in question are arranged on a 4×4 grid and all you need to do to light them up is arrange the six translucent plastic flashlight pieces in the right configuration. Get ready to use your logic and spatial reasoning skills. You’ll also need a heavy dose of patience. Comes with 60 puzzles (divided into three levels of difficulty, easy to expert), each of which has exactly one solution. You’ll also get a booklet with game rules and solutions to all the puzzles (which you won’t look at unless it’s a true emergency, right?). For ages 6+. Under $15.


IQ XOXO (Smart Games)

IQ xoxoIf you’ve ever had a chance to play with any of the other puzzles in the IQ line (Puzzler Pro, Candy, and more), you’ll love IQ XOXO. In this one, you’re using colorful, double-sided pentomino pieces (meaning that each differently shaped piece is made up of five connected elements—in this case Xs and Os) to completely fill a grid. There are a total of 120 challenges, divided into three experience levels. Each provides starting positions of a few pieces, but then you’re on your own. The game board is its own case. Come with a booklet of challenge and solutions. Ages 6+. Under $10.


Parking Puzzler (Smart Games)

parking puzzler, smart gamesAs with many of the games here, Parking Puzzler gives you a few clues and turns you lose to find the solution. In this case, you’re arranging cars in a parking lot—and you’d better not even think of blocking the exits. The cars are attached to pieces that will fit together to complete a 4×4 grid. Includes 60 easy-to-expert challenges (each with only one possible solution) and a booklet with solutions.  For ages 6+. Under $15.


Food and Chocolate

We all know how crazy things can get when you’re trying to get your kids and yourself out the door in time for school and work. If you’re looking for some food ideas to shake things up a little, we’ve got you covered.

Sweet Heat Yoghurt (Noosa)

noosa yoghurtNoosa yoghurt has been a favorite since we first tried it. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but well worth the splurge now and then. It’s made in small batches on a family farm from all natural whole milk, fresh fruit purees, and honey, and you won’t find this kind of quality in many other brands. If gluten is an issue for anyone in your family, Noosa is gluten-free. It’s also probiotic. Noosa comes in cases of four small containers (that are easy to pack in a lunchbox) as well as larger containers. Their new “sweet heat” line includes flavors like Raspberry Habanero, Pineapple Jalapeno, Mango Sweet Chili, and Blackberry Serrano. If the heat’s not for you, no problem; Noosa has plenty of traditional flavors. Prices vary.

Tofu (House Foods)

house foods tofuA lot of people hear the word “tofu” and run the other way, thinking that it’s only for hippies and people who live in Berkeley, California. Big mistake. Tofu is actually a remarkably versatile food that almost magically takes on the flavor of anything it’s mixed with. It’s also a good source of protein and a number of vitamins and minerals. You can even make smoothies and ice pops with it. Honest. House Foods makes several kinds tofu and tofu noodles (yes, you can make pasta out of tofu), and you’ll find a ton of recipes on their website. House Foods’ tofu is inexpensive, kosher, gluten free, non GMO, and generally pretty good for you. Available at a grocery store near you.

Healthy Shakes (Vega)

vega one shakesThis one’s more for mom and dad than the kids. If you’re looking for something healthy to grab on your way out the door, or for an on-the-go lunch, Vega is definitely worth checking out. Healthy and without the gritty taste so many other shake type drinks have, this plant-based, clean-eating option gives you the protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients you want to build and repair muscle, and support your metabolism. That’s a lot for one drink. Vega Clean Protein and Vega Clean Energy are available in stores like Target, or online, at

Kai Meal Replacement Shakes (Silver Fern)

kai meal replacement shakeKai makes a full line of absolutely delicious shakes that are gluten-free, high in protein and fiber, and packed with essential vitamins and minerals. And for those who are lactose intolerant, there’s a dairy-free, plant-based option as well. They also boast a protein absorption rate that’s four time higher than any other brand.  Two-pound canisters (about 12 servings) retail for around $40 at

Chocolates (Godiva)

godiva gOnce in a while, you (and maybe your kids) deserve a treat, don’t you agree? When that time comes along, you might want to try a chocolate bar from Godiva’s new G line. Let’s face it, sometimes when you want chocolate, you really, really want chocolate. G is a super-premium collection of six chocolate bars that’s truly meant for extra-special occasions. These Mexico single origin chocolate bars come in six varieties. There are three dark chocolate bars: Dark Chocolate, Toasted Coconut, and Orange & Ginger, all of which are 68% cocoa. The two milk chocolate bars include Milk Chocolate and Hazelnut Crisp and are 42% cocoa. And to round things out, there’s also a Blonde Chocolate Salted Caramel bar. They’re all made with premium ingredients and crafted by Godiva’s famous chef chocolatiers. About $7 per bar in stores or online, at

Backpacks and More

Well, school’s well underway and hopefully you’ve loaded up on markers, pencils, protractors, and other school supplies. But what if you underestimated how much stuff your child has to lug to school and just realized that she needs a bigger backpack? And what if your printer is getting low on ink and you just about passed about when you saw how much those new cartridges costs? Not to worry: we’ve got solutions for you right here.

Backpacks and Rucksacks (Sydney Paige)

sydney paige backpackSydney Paige makes backpacks that are so snazzy that you might be tempted to go back to school just so you can show off. They come in a variety of sizes, so there’s definitely something for toddlers, adults, and everyone in between. The quality and materials are good, the patterns are attractive (and blissfully free of licensed images from movies and TV shows), they’re roomy, and have plenty of pockets. There’s also a nice social consciousness factor here:  For every backpack sold, the company donates an exact matching bag to a child in need—they even fill the pack with school supplies. Sydney Paige also makes lunchboxes, pencil cases, and a few other stylish accessories. And there’s even a series of illustrated children’s books that feature the adventures of Sydney Paige herself. $40-$90. Available at many online retailers and

Backpacks and More (Bixbee)

bixbee elephantIf you’ve got a child in Pre-K or Kindergarten, you’ll love these backpacks, which go way, way beyond cute fabric patterns. The elephant backpack actually has a trunk, and the rocket ship and airplane packs have wings. Other styles include monkey, cat, fox, and butterfly. For older kids, there are plenty of patterns (including zombie camo) and solid colors. To minimize the chronic pain and long-term damage that overloaded packs can do to a child’s back, Bixbee follows recommendations from the American Occupational Therapy Association that the backpack rest in the lower back, and be no more than four inches below the waist. The website has a nice size chart to help you pick the right one. Bixbees are sturdy, PVC-, BPA-, phthalate-, and lead-free, and have plenty of pockets for your child’s ever-growing menagerie of belongings. You can also get matching (or complementary) lunchboxes. Like Sydney Paige, Bixbee has a big heart, so when you buy a backpack, they donate one just like it to a child in need somewhere in the world. $20-$60 at retailers everywhere or

Expression ET-2550 EcoTank All-in-One Printer (Epson)

epson et2550Like many of Epson’s other printers, this one allows you to print, copy, and scan. And it features built-in wireless, so you can print from your computer, phone, or tablet, which means that your kids will be able to print their last-minute assignments without having to get out of bed. For pictures, there’s a card slot so you can go straight from your camera to the printer without the extra step of copying to your computer. But what makes the ET-2550 really stand out is the EcoTank, which comes loaded with enough ink to print 4,000 black-and-white pages and 6,500 color pages. For most of us, that’s enough for about two year. This printer may be a bit more expensive than others with comparable features, but you’ll more than make up the difference in ink savings. Replacement ink (about $12.50 for the black and $50 for the full set of four colors) will cover you for another two years. But you current printer would need about 20 cartridges to match the ET-2550’s output, and at $15-$50 each, you can do the math. Under $300. Available online, in stores, or at

Stealth Learning: Hiding Education amid the Fun

Some games are designed to educate, others are just plain fun. Some manage to do both. Here are five that are so entertaining to play with that you won’t even know you’re learning.


Balance Beans (ThinkFun)

balance beansWe love how ThinkFun takes a well-known concept—in this case, a see-saw balancing game—and adds a new twist to make something unique and engaging. You start by turning over one of the 40 challenge cards, each of which shows a different pattern of red beans arranged on one side of the see-saw. Lay out your red beans to match the card and then try to arrange your other beans so the two sides balance. Besides having fun, you’re learning some basic algebra skills (balancing equations) as well as physics (for example, two beans in the first row of one side of the see-saw are balanced by one bean in the second row). The cards range from really easy to really, really hard, and always include the solution. For single players, but it’s an especially fun parent-child activity. Ages 5 and up. Under $18.


Circuit Maze (Think Fun)

circuit mazeLike Balance Beans, Circuit Maze starts with a challenge card. But here, all you get is the start point, the end point, and a list of other pieces you’ll need to use to get from A to B. If you do it right, you’ll literally see the light (but you’ll need to provide your own batteries). The challenges come in four flavors (beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert) and regardless of what level you’re on, be prepared for a thorough workout of your logic and reasoning skills. If you’ve seen ThinkFun’s Laser Maze and Gravity Maze, the concept will be familiar (if you haven’t seen those mazes, you really should). Theoretically, for a single player, but more fun for a parent-child pair. Ages 8 and up. Under $30.


Family Alias (Tactic Games)

family aliasAll you have to do is explain a word to your partner (who’s a different person in every round), using clues, synonyms, opposites, and other hints—as long as you’re not using the actual word. Guess as many as you can within 60 seconds. The explainer and the guesser both move forward one space on the game board for every correct answer. Kid cards and adult cards help level the playing field. The real fun is in watching how hard it is for smart people to explain simple words. For 3-8 players, ages 8 and up. Under $23.


Monkey Beach (Ravensburger)

monkey beachImagine a treasure hunt where you can’t actually see what you’re digging for. Set up the game by pouring 12 treasure shapes into the top of a volcano, located in the middle of the unique, island-shaped cloth game “board.” Now, a player takes a blue card, which tells you the treasure you’re digging for, and a green card, that tells you whether you need to bring your treasure out through the jungle, the waterfall, or the beach. Now, without looking, feel around inside the island and hope for the best. A great way to encourage shape recognition and tactile, sensory learning. For 2-4 players, ages 3 and up. About $11.


Tak Tak (Twizmo Games)

tak takUsing a 6×7 board, players lay out their 12 tokens in the first two rows (safe zones), leaving three rows (the “war zone”) in between. The goal is to get all of your pieces into your opponent’s safe zone. Pieces have a numeric value and a color. Combining pieces with like numbers or colors into stacks lets you move more of them at a time. Plus, you can also absorb your opponent’s pieces. But watch out. Combining the easy rules of checkers with the infinite strategies of chess, you’ll never play the same game twice. For ages 8 and up. Under $15.

No More Boring Lunchboxes and Backpacks

Lunchboxes and backpacks can be pretty boring—but they don’t have to be. Here are a few of our favorite ways to add in some style and fun to these otherwise yawn-inducing school necessities.

Bentology (Bentology)

bentologyBentology has a number of colorful, easy-to-clean ways to pack your child’s lunch. Bento sets include a large plastic container and five smaller containers (three with lids) that fit perfectly inside. Bento Kits include all that, plus a stylin’ insulated bag (available in seven prints) and a set of utensils. You can also buy individual containers and lids, cool packs, rice molds, thermoses and more. If your child isn’t big on sandwiches or likes to keep food items from getting co-mingled, this one is perfect for you. All Bentology products are available for purchase at specialty retailers nationwide or directly from

ECOlunchbox (ECOlunchboxes)

ecolunchbox Seal-Cup-Trio-StackECOlunchbox takes the Bento concept and, as the name implies, adds an element of environmental awareness, meaning absolutely zero plastic on or in any of their products. The lunchboxes and trays are typically made of metal and many come with leak-proof metal or silicone lids. We especially loved the Seal Cup Trio, which features three nestling cups. There are also a number of colorful and wonderfully designed lunch bags and totes made from organic cotton. Everything—including the bags—is washable. Available at many retailers or at

Dabawalla lunch bags (Dabawalla)

dabawalla lunchboxThese adorable, easy-to-clean, attractive lunchbags are specially aimed at preschoolers and young elementary students. The designs are free of commercial influence but still colorful and engaging for children. So instead of cartoon characters, action figures, and endless movie tie-ins, you get bright, wholesome images like puppies, apples, rocket ships, and more. If you’ve got a big eater, Dabawalla’s insulated lunch totes are large and have plenty of space to fit everything you need for a whole day at school (or work). And if you have a messy eater, these bags are also easy to clean and machine washable (but you’ll want to keep them out of the dryer). Find yours for about $30 at

Whiffer Sniffers (Whiffer Sniffers)

whiffer sniffersFor elementary school kids (and even some young-at-heart middle-schoolers) backpack clips are a big deal right now. Whiffer Sniffers remind us of those scented markers we had back in grade school. These scented plush clips are adorable, and really smell like their character. If your child’s room is emitting an odd odor, all you need is a few Whiffer Sniffers; we especially like Freddie Frosted (a donut) and Chip (a chocolate chip). Whiffer Sniffers come in several sizes and styles, including a snuggly supersized version and scratch-n-sniff stickers, and there are more than a dozen characters. Plus there are some special characters that show up only in mystery packs. Grab yours at your favorite retailers or

Emojiez (Fun2Play)

emojiez If there’s not an app for that, there’s definitely an emoji. And now, they’ve made the jump from your smartphone to your child’s backpack and desk. You’ll find a ton of 3D versions of your favorite emojis, including the ever-popular poop one (which, thankfully, is not scented), all of which come in a wide variety of styles, including Stickerz, SlapBandz, Squishiez (pencil toppers), Eraserz, Plushiez, PlushiPalz (backpack clips), and otherz. For ages 3 and up, at retailers everywhere or

The Last Gasp of Summer

Chances are, your kids are back in school. But summer definitely isn’t over yet, which means that if they hunker down and finish their up their homework, there are still plenty of well-lit hours in the day to play outside before bedtime. Here are some of our late-summer outdoor favorites.

Crush-It bat (Tucker)

crush-it batThink baseball bat meets tennis racket (with the high-tension strings running parallel to the bat), and you’ve got a rough idea of what this great new toy looks like. Twist the adjustable power knob and you can smack the ball incredible distances. Dial it back, and you’re ready to play in smaller venues. That clever adjustable feature and the bat’s light weight levels the playing field (so to speak) and allows players of all ages and skill levels to play together. Just be sure to keep your camera ready to record the look of pride and joy on your little one’s face as she smashes the ball over the outfielders’ head. Comes with a special foam ball that’s dense enough for long-distance homers but soft enough to catch without a glove.  For ages 5 and up. Available at your favorite toy retailer for about $10.

E-Z Grip balls (Tucker)

ez-grip footballSince balls have been around for thousands of years, one might reasonably think that we’ve seen every possible style, color, and feature. But you’d be wrong. Tucker Toys has taken the basic, inflatable rubber ball concept and added a stretchy, outer web to create something truly unique. That outer web makes these balls not only easy to grip (as their name suggests), but also easy to throw and kick. And it opens up plenty of opportunities for spectacular, replay-worthy, one-handed catches, even when the ball is dry. These balls also bounce incredibly high on just about any surface, including grass, sand, mud, and even water. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, including standard (about 6.5” diameter), junior, soccer, and football.  For all ages. Prices vary, but they’re available pretty much everywhere for under $12.

Molkky (Tactic)

molkkyIf you’ve never heard of Molkky, you’re missing something really special. The idea is similar to bowling, except that you’re trying to knock over 12 large, numbered, wooden pins with a 13th pin. Set up the pins almost anywhere (lawn, beach, or, if you’re very brave, your family playroom) and you’re ready to go. The first to reach 50 points (by adding up the numbers on the pins you knock down) wins the round. Or you can make up your own rules. You’ll need a combination of skill and luck. Molkky is an obsession in the Scandinavian countries and, according to the manufacturer, is the biggest outdoor game in all of Europe. It’s for two or more players, ages 6 and up. Available at major toy retailers for under $40. There’s also a SpongeBob SquarePants version for around $20.

Paddle Bubble

paddlebubbleBlowing bubbles is always fun, but there’s not much to do after that but watch them pop. Enter Paddle Bubble, which allows you to actually play with your bubbles using two “magic” paddles (which look like large lollipops covered with a sock—but much more attractive than that). If you’re alone, you can bounce your bubbles up and down and do all sorts of amazing tricks. If you’re playing with a friend, you can pass those bubbles back and forth, going for the longest rally or trying to force your opponent to be the one who bursts the bubble. Comes with two paddles, a bubble blower, and a bottle of top-secret, no-pop bubble solution. It’s for ages 5 and up and retails for under $10.

A Capital Place for Adventures

Washington DC doesn’t appear on many lists of top adventure travel destinations, but if you know where to look, there are plenty of options, ranging from the sedate to the scary (besides visiting Congress and seeing our politicians in action). Here are some highlights from a recent trip.

Kings Dominion

kings dominion volcanoKings Dominion is about two hours south of DC, and the rides (quality and quantity) are the best we’ve experienced. Anaconda is loaded with coils, loops, and drops. Drop Tower sent us free-falling 27 stories straight down, Flight of Fear catapulted us into near-total darkness, and Volcano shot us—like lava—150 feet straight up and through a series of spins and corkscrews. Dominator took us through five inversions on what’s billed as the longest floorless coaster in the world, and Intimidator 305 was absolutely amazing, with its 300-foot drop, blistering speeds, and whipping, high-speed turns. For between-ride downtime, we enjoyed Dinosaurs Alive!, a multi-acre forest filled with more than 30 life-sized, roaring, animatronic dinosaurs.

Terrapin Adventures

terrapin - z traverseWhen it comes to outdoors challenges—things like rock wall climbing and zip lines—we’re pretty jaded, so our expectations were pretty low. But Terrapin Adventures turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. We did the Terrapin Challenge (about $75 per person), which includes five separate activities. It started with a 330-foot zip line, which, for experienced zippers won’t be much of a challenge. But beginners will have a blast. Next, we did the 3-level high ropes course, with 19 elements to cross, including a vine walk, hanging logs, cable bridges, rope bridges, cargo nets, floating platforms, and more. The higher up you go, the more challenging the elements.

After that, we did a 40-foot freefall/swing and then hit the climbing tower, which features about 15 different ways to get to a platform about 30 feet up—and far fewer to get back down (including one that felt like being squeezed through a hose). It was exhausting, exhilarating, and nothing short of spectacular. If you’re afraid of heights or claustrophobic, this will push you to your limits. But top-notch safety procedures and the supportive staff make it easy (easier) to push through those fears.

Urban Adventure Quest

urban adventure quest smithsonianDC is home to some less-adrenaline filled adventures, and Urban Adventure Quest—a 3.3-mile long, smartphone-guided scavenger hunt—is one of the best. To move through the Quest, we had to do things like count the keyhole stones in the Enid A. Haupt Garden on the Smithsonian Castle grounds, make a wordsearch from the last names of five sculptors in the Hirshhorn Museum sculpture garden, figure out which hotel room Clara Barton (the Angel of the Battlefield) stayed in, and find Abraham Lincoln’s values through the window of the theater where he was shot. The Quest took us 3 ½ hours, including several stops for snacks and water. We saw—and learned—a lot. But best of all, it’s a great opportunity to work collaboratively with your teen or tween on an activity that he or she will enjoy. Cost is $49, per team (generally 2-5 players).

Bike and Roll

bike and roll monuments The last activity of our trip was an evening tour of many of DCs monuments. Most are plenty impressive during the day, but they really come to life after dark. Our guide, Tujon, was very knowledgeable and regaled us with fascinating stories. Of course, he took us to the major monuments: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam Memorial, and others. But we also discovered some we never knew existed, such as the Albert Einstein Memorial, with its specially designed private echo chamber (you’ll have to visit it to find out what we mean).