Tag Archives: thinkfun

Building and Coding and STEM, Oh, My!

What happens when you combine building and coding and STEM? Easy: Endless amounts of educational, family-friendly fun.

Code Programming Game Series (ThinkFun)

code programming gameThe games in this series are designed to teach core coding concepts through hands-on, screen-free, unplugged play—and they do a wonderful job. Each one consists of a map and 40 levelled challenges (beginner, intermediate, and advanced). In On the Brink, the player takes a challenge card and will use logic and problem-solving skills to move his or her robot along colored pathways from start to finish. Rover Control is similar, but the pathways are colorless, so the player has to figure out not only how to program the robot to get from A to B, but also how to color the pathway, since the robots can’t move without the colors. Robot Repair takes thing up another notch. Instead of moving the robot, the player needs to repair the robot. Each of the challenge cards presents a problem and gives a series of clues for how to fix it. The player uses logic and deductive reasoning to solve the problem and re-activate the robot. $14.99 each at many online and brick-and-mortar retailers. For one player, age 8+. http://www.thinkfun.com
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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. http://www.inspirationplay.com/

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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. http://www.thinkfun.com/

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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. http://www.thinkfun.com/

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Sometimes You Just Want to Be Alone. Or Not.

Although our focus here at Parents@Play is on games, toys, and activities families can do together, we all have days when we just want to be alone. That’s especially true during the Holidays, which are prime time for stress and family tension. This week, we take a look at four excellent games from ThinkFun (http://thinkfun.com). All of them are challenging, relaxing, and can be (or are intended to be) played by one player.

thinkfun amazeAmaze
Amaze is almost Zen-like in its simplicity. No batteries, no parts to lose, just a tablet with an attached stylus. And the goal is simple too: trace your way from Start to Finish without lifting the stylus from the surface. There are 16 different mazes to choose from and we recommend that you go through them in order, from easiest to hardest. What makes Amaze different from ordinary maze games, is that you can rearrange the maze itself as you go. But you’re not just making holes in walls. Creating one opening closes off others, so instead of taking a short cut, you could end up boxing yourself in. For ages 8 and up.

thinkfun knot so fastKnot so Fast
On each of the 40 challenge cards, there’s an illustration of a knot. Some are made from one piece of rope, other require two. Pick a card and all you have to do is use your rope to re-create what’s on the card. And by “all you have to do,” we mean “Good luck with that.” The knots are, thankfully, divided into beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert categories. But even the beginner knots are quite challenging. There’s also a bit of trivia about the origin of each knot and what it’s used for. This is a fantastic way to brush up on your fine motor- and spatial reasoning skills, whether you’ve used them recently or not. For 1-4 very patient players, ages 8 and up.

thinkfun gravity mazeGravity Maze
This is another engaging, meditative/frustrating (in a good way) “all-you-have-to-do-is” game. In this case, you’re building mazes out of color-coded towers of different sizes with the goal of carrying a marble from top to bottom. Cards (again, thankfully, in four levels) tell you where to put a few of the towers on the game grid, and give you hints as to which colors you’ll need to add to complete the marble run. But it’s up to you to figure out how all the pieces fit together. Comes with three marbles and 60 challenges. You simply provide logic, spatial awareness, and serenity. For one player, but you could certainly add a timer and compete head to head with one or more others. For ages 8 and up.

thinkfun visual brainstormsVisual Brainstorms
The 100 brain teasers included in this game will keep you captivated, entertained, amused, relaxed, and challenged for hours and hours. On one side of each card there’s an illustration and an explanation of a particular problem. On the other side—which you’ll need to restrain yourself from looking at—is the solution. There are logic puzzles (five guys run out of mine, A is not in the front, B is two behind C, D is neither here nor there, etc.), spatial puzzles (looking at a bunch of gears and pulleys, if you turn the first one clockwise, what direction will the last one turn?), and many more. For pretty much any number of players ages 10 and up.



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/

Games for Two

Here at Parents@Play, we focus on toys and games that parents and kids can do together. But a number of readers have asked for some recommendations for those times when it’s just mom or dad and only one child. Here are a few of our “you-can-play-with-more-but-plenty-of-fun-for-two” games.

doodle diceDoodle Dice (Jax Ltd.)
This game is part Yahtzee and part art project. Each side of each of the six dice has a dot, a line, a squiggle, or a face. And each card in the deck has a drawing (called a “doodle”) made up of anywhere from 1-6 of those elements. Cards are color coded—all the ones with one-die doodles are orange, all the ones with two-dice doddles are red, etc. Players take turns drawing a card and rolling the dice, trying to match the doodle. If you don’t get it on the first try, keep the ones you like and roll the rest again. The object is to make one doodle from each colored card. But you can change the rules any way you want. For example, if you’re playing with a young child, use only the red and orange cards. The older the child, the more complex the doodles. You get the point. Ages 6 and up. 2-6 players. As low as $10.17. http://jaxgames.com/

hit the habitat trailHit the Habitat Trail! (Jax Ltd.)
A game that truly makes education fun. The goal is to collect two cards from each of the earth’s habitats: arctic, desert, forest, grasslands, jungle, mountains, ocean, and wetlands. You get those cards by answering multiple-choice questions—about either a habitat or an animal that lives there—from cards that you pull as you follow a spiral trail around the world. For example, are an animal’s stripes like rings on a tree—telling how old the animal is? (Nope).  Great for playing at home or, if you’re an educator, in the classroom. Ages 8 and up. 2-6 players. As low as $22. http://jaxgames.com/


linkeeLinkee (Linkee)
If you like trivia and quiz games, you’ll love LInkee. What makes Linkee different from some others you may have played is that each card contains four trivia questions whose answers all have something in common. For example: “Peter Rabbit” author (Potter), nickname for Australia (Oz), bird whose name rhymes with Berlin (Merlin), and Ian Mackellen’s character in “Lord of the Rings” (Gandalff). And the Linkee is…. Wizards. Linkee will make you think, wince, and laugh—sometimes all at the same time. Ages 14 and up. 2-30 players. $43. http://playlinkee.com/

sequence statesSequence: States & Capitals (Jax, Ltd.)
Got a kid who’s trying to memorize state capitals? This game—a variation on the wildly successful Sequence game—can help. The idea is pretty simple. Players are dealt cards, each with a colored representation of a state, the name of its capital, and a star indicating roughly where that city is within the state. Then each player tries to match the cards in their hand to identical images on the game board, putting a chip on each one. When you get five in a row, you’ve got yourself a Sequence. Two Sequences and you win the game. Use Remove cards to mess up your opponent’s Sequences. Other versions include Cats, Dogs, Bible, and Jewish. Ages 7 and up. 2-12 players. $16. http://jaxgames.com/

word aroundWord A Round (Think Fun)
A fast-paced, really fun game. Just flip over a round card and read the words written in circles. Sounds easy, right?—the words are right there in front of you. But without knowing where the word begins or ends, it’s surprisingly hard. Ages 10 and up. 2-6 players. $10 retail. http://thinkfun.com/