Monthly Archives: February 2013

Words—and Letters—to the Wise

Words matter. A lot. Kids whose parents read to them and engage them in conversation have bigger vocabularies and become better readers themselves than those whose parents aren’t as verbally engaged. Being a good reader increases a child’s chances of doing well in school, going on to college, and having a successful career. And since reading never goes out of style—and it’s never too late to start—here are some of our favorite word games.

Bananagrams, Appletters, PAIRSinPEARS, and Zip-It
If you like Scrabble, Anagrams, and Boggle, you’ll love these games. Actually, you’ll love them even if you’ve never heard of those other games. Besides being really fun, they all have a few things in common: boys and girls will both enjoy them, they’re fast–no sitting around waiting for everyone else to take their turn, you don’t need a board or even pencil and paper, they can be enjoyed by adults as well as kids, they come in really cute packages, and they’re a great way to help early gradeshoolers with spelling and those know-it-all teens and tweens build their vocabulary for the SAT. Oh, and they’re insanely addictive.

bananagrams parents@playBananagrams is the one that started it all. Players turn over tiles and race to be the first to use them all, cross-word style.

Appletters offers a fun twist on Bananagrams by allowing words to be built from only the first or last letters. So instead of a crossword you’ll end up with more of a snake. It’s actually three separate games in one–each appropriate for a different age group.

pears parents@playPairsInPears stays true to its word-building roots, but adds a memory and matching component. Very fast paced.




zip it parents@playZip-It might be the fastest of them all–you can play a hand in under 20 seconds–but you’ll want to stick with it for longer than that. Zip-It uses lettered cubes (like dice) instead of tiles and the zippers on the carrying case are used to keep score.



Poppo and Zotto
Both of these soon-to-be-classics use plastic poppers (which contain a specially designed multi-sided die) to form words.

poppo parents@playPoppo is designed for the 4-and-up set and provides the instant gratification and engagement that preschoolers need while offering realistic challenges that help develop skills in letter matching and word recognition, spelling, concentration, grouping and sorting, and more.



zotto parents@playZotto is aimed at a little older crowd, ages 8 and up. It plays kind of like Boggle, but with Zotto, players put the letters wherever they want, meaning that no two people are looking at the same grid at the same time. In both games, rounds are short, which nips boredom in the bud.


Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game
There’s very little that’s completely unique in this crossword anagram game, but the clever soup can design makes it just about as delicious for dads and kids as some of the Bananagrams games. There are some fun twists, though. Players can insert letters into the middle of others’ words. And, unlike at the dinner table, they’re encouraged to “slurp”–pull a letter out of someone else’s crossword and replace it with one of your own. Parents can be gently teaching word skills, making education (and time with ma and pa) fun with just a smidgeon of good-natured competition. Play it with a cuppa real soup and it’s Mmmm Mmm good, old fashioned fun.


Toy Trends to Watch in 2013

Going to Toy Fair is always a bit overwhelming. To start with, hundreds of manufacturers from all over the world are showcasing thousands of products.  Some are amazing, innovative, and creative. Some are copycats or retreads, and some are just plain awful. But what’s especially fun is trying to predict which of the trends we’re seeing will actually become hits—and which will bomb. Here are a few categories we think are worth watching.  Some of these are already hot—and we believe will get even hotter. Some are just appearing but will be all the rage in 2013. Over the next few months your parents@play team will bring you reviews of these and many, many other categories.

nerf bowWith the amazing success of the movies Hunger Games, Brave, and the Avengers—all of which featured archers—it was only a matter of time until bows and arrows took their place alongside swords as the low-tech weapons of choice for today’s young adventurers. Everyone from well-known brands like Nerf ( and Zing ( to tiny brands you’ve never heard of (but will soon), have introduced bows or crossbows that fire a variety of (safe) projectiles.

Zombies and Vampires
mystixx beforemyxixx afterThe Twilight series, Dark Shadows, and animated fare like Frankenweenie and ParaNorman have taken vampires and zombies out of the crypt and enrolled them in high school. The Monster High girls have been out for a while. But some of the most fun—and most creative—are the face-changing Mystixx Vampires ( At first  glance you’ve got a cute-as-a-button doll. Turn the head around, rearrange the hair, and you’ve got one stylin’ vampire.

stacetat mustacheMaybe it started with the Got Milk? mustache campaign. Or maybe it was the Movember campaign when men around the world grow their facial hair during the month of November to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other men’s health concerns. But however it happened, mustaches are hot. And not just for men and boys—plenty of girls are getting in on the act as well. We especially liked the Ha! Ha! Moustache game from Haywire Group ( where player try to identify famous (or infamous) people based on a cardboard mustache and a handful of clues. And Stachetats ( has a line of wild and colorful temporary upper lip decorations for every taste.

Duct tape
melissa and doug duct tapeOnce upon a time duct tape was grey, sticky, boring, and available only in hardware stores. Today, there are entire aisles in arts and crafts stores devoted to far less sticky, and definitely not boring duct tapes in dozens of colors and patterns. Specialty companies like Creativity for Kids ( and Klutz ( have wonderfully colorful kits that are built around duct tape. And so do some of the giants, like Melissa and Doug.

From app to reality
mattel angry birdsAnother interesting trend is to take popular apps like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds and turn them into real-life games. Sometimes there’s a branding double whammy, such as when Star Wars character start flying through the air knocking down structures.

Pink and glitter
Just about anything you can imagine–building systems like Lego and Megabloks, science kits, tattoos, cameras, mustaches, sports equipment, action figures, and even guns and other weapons—are now available in pink and glitter.

Out with the Old, in with the New: a 2012 Toy Fair Recap

Well, it’s that time of year again. Hundreds of toy manufacturers and game publishers from around the world are converging on New York to show off their latest products to retailers, buyer, the media, and, of course, reviewers like us. The 2013 Toy Fair, organized by the Toy Industry Association, will feature roughly 100,000 products, including 7,000 debuts—every type of toy, game, electronic entertainment, and indoor-or outdoor activity imaginable. Here are some of our favorite new products from 2012. We’ll be telling you about 2013’s offerings throughout the year.

Crayola Digital Light Designer
crayola digital light designerThis fun and adaptable new artistic medium lets children draw, imagine, and create using a special stylus and colored LED lights (which means no crayons to smash into your carpets and no tiny pieces to collect). Kids and adults can design their own games, create moving text messages, and even do full-motion animation, all on a spinning, 360-degree domed drawing surface. Save up to fifty creations. Runs on batteries but can also be plugged in to keep the fun going even longer. Ages 4+.

broboBilled as “huggable night-light toys,” these plush robot friends are designed to help young children learn to be brave in the dark. Kids take Brobo (or one of his many pals) to bed and can control the light themselves: Touch Brobo’s hands to his chest and he glows with a soft, comforting light (with a 5-minute auto shutoff feature). As with so many toys these days, parents and kids can extend the Brobo experience with animated webisodes, games, and books that encourage friendship, family, adventure, and learning. Ages 2+.

Rockboard Descender
rockboard descenderWho says you have to shred on a smooth surface? Rockboard’s Descender is a true all-terrain board that uses high-performance tank-like treads to make skateboarding a year-round experience. Yes, you can even use the Descender in the mud and snow. One of the nicest features is that it holds up to 200 pounds, so dad can get out there and make a fool of himself. Don’t forget to wear a helmet. Ages 6+.

Dino Dig
dino dig uncle milton national geographicEducation meet fun….and dinosaurs. National Geographic has partnered with Uncle Milton to create and absolutely wonderful way for parents and kids to spend quality time together. Each kit lets kids (and their parent-assistants) excavate—and assemble—the bones of a very accurate scale model of a dinosaur. Tools, a brush, and safety glasses included (no batteries required!), but you’ll make a real mess. Also comes with great learning materials. Ages 6+.

La Dee Da Dolls
la dee da dollsIf you’re concerned about the body-image messages young girls get (and if you’ve got a tween- or teen daughter, you should be), you’ll love these adorable dolls. To start with they’re dressed in a way you’d be happy to see your daughter emulate—not the typical half-naked, overly sexy, body disproportionate dolls that many feel encourage eating disorders and self-image issues. Yes, their heads are out of scale, but the chest isn’t, which is something else moms and dads will appreciate. Plus, they’re pretty, stylish, fun, glittery, and colorful which the girls will appreciate. These dolls also encourage travel and learning about new cultures. Ages 5+.

Incredible Creatures
safariltd amazing creaturesThese amazingly realistic models are a great way to have fun and learn a ton about animals. There are a few dozen options, ranging from sea otters and pufferfish to bald eagles and honeybees. Some are larger-than-life-size (like the bee), other are smaller (like the otter), and some are exactly the right size. Ages 4+.

Piecing Together Memories

Puzzles are a battle-tested, fun, and often educational way for families to spend time together. This week we review a series of traditional puzzles, one that combines elements of a puzzle and a Rubik’s Cube, and one that tells a story as it’s put together. While they’re all very different, they share a trait that’s an essential part of the Parents@Play mission: They’re a wonderful way for dads and moms to spend time with their kids—boys and girls. Oh, and did we mention that they’re fun?

Pieces of History Puzzles (Find It Games)
Pieces of history puzzle from Find It GamesIf you haven’t seen them, we recommend that you check out some Find-It games, an assortment of transparent canisters containing objects hidden in a sea of plastic pellets (they’re a lot cooler than they sound). Now, the folks at Find It have gone old-school and introduced the “Pieces of History” series of traditional puzzles, which include Pharaoh’s Egypt, Parade of Animals, and Dry Ground. Each has 300 pieces, and within the final image you can search for “hidden” objects that are also found in the border of the puzzle. In Pharaoh’s Egypt, for example, you’ll discover a leopard in a tree, a blue hippo in a market basket, and 38 more hidden objects and animals. Played together, these puzzles can spark wonderful conversations about history, geography, and discovery. Ages 6+.

Codee Scorpion (Techno Source)
codee scorpion from techno sourceOkay, take a look at the scorpion. Pretty hard to believe that it’s made from a single strand of 64 small blocks. But it is. Every Codee kit (in addition to the scorpion, there’s a penguin, pig, flamingo, gator, and others) comes with detailed instructions on how to twist, cajole, rotate, and prod the blocks into submission. Assembling it takes a lot of hand-eye coordination and even more patience, since each block has to be turned in exactly the right way. But it’s a ton of fun. The one drawback is that Codee isn’t really something you can do with a child–except to help with the explanations (although when I was giving it a try on my own, my 9-year old stood over my shoulder correcting my every move). The solution is to get two of them and race or build something unique. You can also connect two or more Codees to create bigger and more complicated works. Ages 8 and up.

The City of New York time puzzle (4D Cityscape)
New York puzzle from 4D CityscapeThis is an absolutely masterful puzzle. You start off by putting together the 500+ piece 2D puzzle of the island of Manhattan. Once that’s done–it’s going to take a while–you add the 3D element by inserting over 100 plastic models of actual New York buildings into the 2D puzzle (which, by the way, features glow-in-the-dark streets). Now the 4D part comes in. The buildings range from ones that would have dominated the skyline as far back as 1812 and move forward through time all the way to 2013, when the Freedom Tower (which will replace the World Trade Centers) will be completed. The box itself includes a poster with a brief history of the city peppered with fascinating trivia. An online education feature adds even more education—and entertainment—to the mix. Thirteen other 4D puzzles include London, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Paris, Chicago, and the entire US. An absolute blast for patient dads and kids 9 and up.