Category Archives: Reviews

The Art of Science Meets the Science of Art

Anyone who loves—or even just appreciates—science will tell you that there’s something beautiful about it. At the same time, those who love—or even just appreciate—art, often admire the technique and scientific precision that can go into creating a masterpiece. This week we had a chance to experience several engaging products that blur the lines between art and science.

Virtuali-Tee (Curiscope)

virtuali-tee curiscopeAmong its many applications, augmented reality (AR) has the capacity to revolutionize education, and the Virtuali-Tee is a great example. Just download the free iOS/Android app, have someone put on the included t-shirt (or, if you’re alone, use selfie mode), and get ready to explore the circulatory (bloodstream), respiratory (lungs), and digestive (intestines) systems in a truly eye-popping way. Each one uses 360-degree videos that make you feel like you’re stepping inside your own body. While exploring the bloodstream, for example, you’ll barrel through veins and arteries, dodging giant blood cells. Touch on-screen “hot spots” and an on-board anatomy expert will explain everything you need to know. If you’re looking for a way to spark—or deepen—an interest in human anatomy, you can’t do better than this. For ages 6+. $29.95. https://www.curiscope.com
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Out and About in New York

There is a lot to do in New York with the kids this summer, no matter what your interests are. From waterparks to Broadway shows, indoor or outdoor activities, you’ll never hear the phrase “I’m bored” in the Empire State.

Splish Splash Waterpark (Calverton, NY)

splish splash waterparkWhen it’s hot, but you still want to be outdoors, waterparks should be high on your to-do list, and this is one of the best in the area. There are lots of options for kids of all ages, and the bigger the kid, the more places they can play (but if they’re too big, they can’t play in the small kid areas, so that the little ones don’t have to worry about being trampled). Mutiny Bay puts your family in brightly colored boats, letting riders use water-spray “cannons” to blast other boats, while those outside the ride can blast those inside the boats—and get sprayed themselves. Abyss Tube Slides were a big favorite, as was Bootleggers run, which holds up to four at a time in a tandem raft and uses hydromagnetic technology to take those rafts uphill, like a rollercoaster without rails. When it’s time to relax, there are plenty of wave pools and “lazy rivers.” Visit https://www.splishsplash.com/ soon, as summer will be over before you know it.

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New Twists on Classics

We’re big fans of classic toys and games. But we’re also big fans of new tweaks on those classics. This week we review several clever updates to games you know well.

Cat Crimes (Think Fun)

cat crimesRemember the classic Clue game—you know, the one where you use logic and deductive reasoning to figure out who committed a grisly murder? In this game, you’ll use the same basic skill set, analyzing paw prints, toy placement, and other clues. Cards give important details, such as that Ginger was sitting in front of the birdcage and that Tom Cat was to Ginger’s right. By determining where each cat was sitting at the time of the crime, you’ll eventually be able to finger the feline that committed such dastardly offenses as coughing up a hairball or swallowing your goldfish. For one player, age 8+. Under $13. https://www.thinkfun.com/
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Keeping up with the Kids

If you’ve got an energetic child, you know how exhausted you can feel at the end of the day. One way to get in shape—especially if it’s too hot to work out outside or you don’t have time to go to the gym—is to do your exercising at home. These DVDs can help.

Bottom Line and A Core Defined (Patricia Friberg)

bottom lineThis Pilates and strength-based workout is broken into three segments: Bottom Activation 1 and 2, and A Core Defined. The first two (as you can guess from the name) focus on defining your butt, but also work your core, improve your posture, and help you become more flexible and fit. Aside from the glutes, you’ll also feel this workout in your abs and legs. Do the first activation a few times before you move on to the second, just to get the hang of it and to get your body ready for the higher intensity. A Core Defined covers more of the body, but the primary focus is the abs. Friberg gives good direction throughout. Just work at a pace that’s comfortable and move on when you’re ready. $20 at http://www.patriciafriberg.com
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The Weather Outside is Lovely

The weather outside is lovely, these days, and we’re trying to spend as much time out there as humanly possible. If you’re looking to join us, here are some fun options.

Super Spinner (Super Spinner)

super spinnerA fun twist on the tire tree swing, the Super Spinner is a “UFO shaped” (according to one 10-year old) disk swing that lets one or more kids (and even a parent) take a ride. Its “adjustable double-braided ropes and weather-resistant clips are designed for a safer, more comfortable ride,” according to the manufacturer. Super Spinner can be suspended to swing and spin from trees, play sets, a porch beam or any other secure structural beam that works for your family. There are two sizes of Super Spinner available. The original can accommodate one or two little kids, and can hold up to 200 pounds. It’s available in green, blue, red, purple, pink, or yellow. The larger, Super Duper Spinner lets more kids and adults ride, and can hold up to 650 pounds. It’s available only in hunter green. $49.99 to $89.99, at stores like Amazon or Target.


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More Ways to Avoid the Summer Slide

We all know that over the summer, kids lose, on average, 30% of what they learned in the previous school year. Keeping their minds active and engaged while they’re on vacation will help them start the new school year ready to learn (instead of having to spend the first few months reviewing old material). Here are some great activities, one academic, the rest less so, that will keep your children’s minds sharp.

The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses (book, edited by Gavin Edwards)

beautiful book of exquisite corpsesWith all the emphasis on science, technology, engineering, math these days, people forget about the A (for Art) in STEAM, which we prefer over the more traditional STEM. This book is designed to jump start those creative, artistic juices and it delivers, bit time. Each page is divided into thirds. The top third has a partial drawing or a provocative phrase (for example, “He pushed the truck’s accelerator down as far as it would go, but the angry kittens kept gaining on him.”). You and a partner, then tear a few pages out of the book, fold them (along the dotted lines so you can’t see the drawing or the text, shuffle them so you don’t know which one you’re getting, and then draw whatever you like. When you’re done, fold the page again so neither of you can see what the other has done, swap pages, and draw again. The result will be a wonderful artistic chimera (the mythical beast that had the head of a lion, body of a goat, and tail of a serpent). The book features art from famous illustrators, cartoonists, tattoo artists, and more, as well as text from just-as-famous rock stars, actors, TV writers, and others. Ages 10+. $17 on www.amazon.com


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Baby, It’s Hot Outside — So Let’s Stay Inside

It’s less than a week into summer, but people are already talking about how this could be one of the hottest summers ever. That means that even though most of us would much rather be outside playing, we’ll have to spend a bit more time inside. Here are a few games (and one non-game product) that will help you chill on those days when it’s too hot to go outside.

Build a Bot (Basic Fun)

build a botAnother STEM-type toy for the younger set. Follow the easy instructions to create a basic unicorn by snapping and clicking together the pieces. Then you customize and personalize your one-horned wonder with stickers. Once you’re done, just clap your hands (or make some other loud noise) to bring your unicorn to life, walking across the floor and making unicorn-y sounds. Batteries required but not included. Ages 5+ (although kids under 7 might need some adult help with assembly). Prices vary. http://www.basicfun.com


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All Washed Up

Summer’s here, and it’s time to head outside. And while you’re there, why not get wet? Really, really wet. Here are our current water-themed faves for the whole family.

Splash Out (Far Out Toys)

splash outThis Q&A game features a ball that holds a water balloon. Then, you set a timer on the ball and players take turns holding the ball while answering a question. As soon as you answer, you pass the ball to the next person who answers the same question. Answer quickly and you stay dry. Hesitate and the timer pops the balloon and you’re all washed up. Comes with waterproof question cards and balloons. Great fun for indoors or out, and, of course, who says you have to limit yourself to water? It all depends on how much of a mess you want to clean up. Ages 8+. Under $18. http://www.farouttoysinc.com/


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Unplugged Play

Whether you’re searching for something to do as a family, or something that will keep the kids busy, it’s often hard to find activities or games that don’t have screens, need batteries, or have to be plugged in. Fortunately, there are still plenty of non-screen, non-electronic options out there.

Automoblox (Automoblox)

automobloxHave a little car lover? (Or maybe a big one—after all, Father’s Day is just around the corner…)? Automoblox is an award-winning line of high-quality, collectible, miniature cars. The bodies are made of European beechwood and can be manipulated, mixed, and matched in a variety of ways to create different designs. Oh, and you’ll do all of that without tools. Mini models include the Grizzly truck, X10 Timber Pack SUV with trailer, and the very first Automoblox motorcycle. There are larger options as well, including the BR100 Hercules 16.5″ hauler (which can also be recreated into a dump truck). The Hauler comes with two back ends, a ramp, two mini vehicles, and has room to hold three more. For ages 4+. New minis range from $11.99 to $24.99. The Hauler is $59.99. Get yours on Amazon or http://www.automoblox.com

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Much to Know About History

Besides camps, poison oak, blockbuster movies, vacations, and sunburn, summer is also known as a time when kids forget a little too much of what they spent the just-finished school year learning. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This is the first of several columns that will highlight some of the many ways you can help turn that dreaded summer brain drain into a brain gain. And there’s no better place to start than with history.

Little Guides to Great Lives (Laurence King)

little guides to greata livesOne of the best ways to learn about history is to read about the lives of the people who lived it. And this new series of books for young readers is excellent. Each of these 64-page books is charmingly illustrated and filled with stories, scenes, and fascinating nuggets from the subject’s life. So if you want to know how Nelson Mandela inspired the world, why Amelia Earhart is an aviation hero, what makes Leonardo da Vinci a genius, why Frida Kahlo is an art icon, and what Marie Curie did to become a science superstar, look no further. Although they’re written for children, adults will love these books too—and they’re perfect to read aloud. For ages 7+. $11.99. http://laurenceking.com/

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