Sneaky Cards

Filed Under (Creative) by Bernie DeKoven on 04-11-2015

sneaky cards

“Play it forward!” Oh, how long I’ve longed to find a good excuse to use that wonderful pun “Play it Forward.” Sheer brilliance.

Which is a foretaste of what you fall heir to once you open your box of Sneaky Cards.

The box. Ah, yes. Black and sneaky looking, but in a cute kind of way. With a magnetic lid. Oh, how love magnetic lids. But wait, there’s more, there’s in fact, not even having started.

There are 54 cards, color-coded. At the bottom of each card, there’s a rectangle onto which is printed a unique code for that unique card that you’d be holding in your hand at the time. Beneath that there’s a URL: SNEAKYCARDS.COM. Remember that.

On the cards themselves are instructions that not only you, but also whoever receives the card must follow. Yes, I said “receive.” For in this game, if there were such a thing as winning, you would have given ALL your cards away, playing it, as it were, forward in deed.

Let me further instantiate:

Purple Code.

Mission Objective: Grow

Find a new favorite song

Discover a catchy tune you’ve never hard before and write the artist and title below. Then pass this card along to someone else.

Pink Code.

Mission Objective: Create

Hiaku, once written

Fill the world with endless joy

Create one yourself.

Write a hiaku on a piece of paper, and then give it to someone along with this card.

Code Blue

Mission Objectives: Engage

Start the wave in a food court or cafeteria

When you do: Give this card to a stranger who joined you.

01 AwardYou may want or need to direct the person to go to the SNEAKYCARDS.COM website, click on “track this card” and enter the code on the card. Because that is the gateway to a great deal of fun, including the frequently-updated Sneaky Cards global tracking map.

Warning: just sorting through the cards to determine which ones you’d most likely be willing to use is a bit like riffling through your psyche, if you know what I mean. You learn a lot about yourself when you discover that you are simply not ready to “Lie down in a public place until someone checks on you.”

Yes, yes, this is a brilliant, innovative, fun and often surprisingly instructive little game, that we can’t, for the time being, recommend highly enough.

Sneaky Cards is based on an original concept by Harry Lee. From Gamewright, for one or more players, age 12 and up.

Rory’s Story Cubes – Batman

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 02-11-2015

Rory’s Story Cubes has been a consistent winner here on Major Fun, and its newest incarnation, Rory’s Story Cubes – Batman, proves just as worthy of recognition as all its previous incarnations – not only because of its design, but also because, for the first time, the game goes beyond its own basic assumptions (all images on the dice must be abstract enough to allow for a wide variety of interpretations), to embrace a well-established story line. And what a story line! Batman! All those years, those characters, those crimes to solve, those bizarre semi-miraculous BatThings to put to use in defense of the good.

So here, for example, are all nine dice, in a row, ready for players to create their story. Hmmm. The first three icons are familiar enough: a timer, Penguin, and money. And then there’s a house. No, a mansion. Must be the Waynes’. So, we begin:


“In the shadows of Gotham City, time, once again, seems to be running out. The notorious Penguin has been spotted preparing to hatch one of his nefarious plots to defame our hero and his family. He has just learned that a great deal of money is being held at Wayne Manor. His plan, not only to steal the money, but to replace it with counterfeit money laced with a powerful hallucinogen that makes Batman and his cohort talk like penguins…”

family-cooperative-creativeO, well, you get the picture.

The challenge is to use as many of the dice as you can in a story. You can make the story by yourself, with a partner, with everyone playing. If you don’t know what a particular icon stands for (like the next to the last icon – could be popcorn, you know, or, more probably, an explosion), you can make up your own relatively reasonable interpretation, look at the thoughtfully included guide that shows all 54 sides and their meanings, or, well, roll the die again.

The use of such a well-established theme provides a fantasy framework that helps new players get into the game, and players who are familiar with Rory’s cubes find a whole new way to think of the game, and all the other sets of cubes they may be fortunate enough to already own.

The set comes with 9 cubes, instructions, and a Batman-Belt-worthy carrying box, and is recommended for 1 or more creative players, ages 8 and up. Major, as you already probably concluded, fun.


Filed Under (Creative, Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on 21-07-2015


There’s a new construction toy called “Joinks.” It goes without saying that this is a Major Fun toy, otherwise you wouldn’t see it here.

We are significantly enthused. The keys to our enthusiasm are the amazing flexibility of the silicone connectors and the well-made, smooth, warm to the touch wooden dowels you connect with them.

The connectors (one might call them “Joinks”) are wonderfully forgiving – you can make them do just about anything you imagine they should do. The sleeves are just tight enough so the dowels always fit snugly, yet not so tight that you really have to make any effort to get them to fit.

kids-toys-creativeThere are six different kinds of connectors. One has a suction cup on one end so you can semi-firmly attach your creations to the, for example, wall, or, for another example, your forehead. Then there’s the sleeve (that’s what I decided to call them) for connecting two rods together, the three-sleeve connectors, the four-sleeve connectors, the five sleeve connectors and these strange little balls that you put on the end of the dowels for architectural panache.

Even the box it comes in is carefully thought out. Made of sturdy cardboard, it works like a sorting tray, so that every component has its place.

It’s not about making anything. It’s about playfulness, experimentation, creativity, exploration, fun. The video says it all:

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Recommended for builders three-years old and up (I, Mr. 73-year-old LOVE this toy). Original design by Richard Elaver of Designer Craftsman. Joniks comes to you from the frequently Major Fun-awarded Fat Brain Toys.

Compose Yourself

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 25-06-2015

compose yourself

Compose Yourself is an invitation to the fun of music, to the kind of fun that only an accomplished composer knows, to the way Mozart and Bach played with music. With a little assistance from ThinkFun.

The result is half contained in a lovely box with a lovely bag and a thick pack of transparent cards. The other half is on your computer.


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Compose Yourself invites anyone, kids, adults, even people who can’t read music, who don’t play an instrument, who’ve never composed anything more musical than a tuneless whistle; to experience the fun that is core to the art of composing music. All it takes is a little playfulness and curiosity, the cards and your computer, and a world of beautiful, harmonious, apparently endless fun opens to you.

You select cards from the deck, sure, at random, what the heck. Pick a card, any card will do. In fact, pick four cards. OK, pick twelve. Decide how you want to position each card (they’re transparent so you can not only turn them around, you can also flip them over). And then enter the code on each card into the computer. You can reposition the cards on the computer as well. When you’re ready, you can get the computer to play your composition. And you can choose between the “marimba” sound (which makes it easier to hear the notes) or the orchestra (which will bathe you in symphonic delight), or both. You can change your composition as often as you want. Play around with the cards. Explore some of the very useful tips from the Maestro. For example:

Try repeating a card somewhere. Repetition is fine, in fact, in music it’s great. There are 30 pairs in this pack, see how repeating a card somewhere in your tune makes it sound.

Try a trick that poets use when they make rhymes? Create a composition using alternating cards. e.g., A,D,A,D,B,C,B,C. You may find that it adds a lovely beat or cadence.

You can save your composition as an MP3. You can print it out if you’re of the music-playing sort. And you’ll be learning stuff like how to read music (without even trying) and how musical phrases can be manipulated and how very much fun it all can be.

In all the many delights of discovering games that are worthy of the Major Fun seal, I have never been this delighted, this gratified. Compose Yourself exemplifies everything I’ve been teaching about what an educational toy or game should be – and it never once makes you think that education has anything to do with it.

Philip Sheppard, Maestro, who composed the cards explains

Dear budding musician,

I invented these cards to help me with a challenge I face every day. You see, I’m very lucky because I get to write music for my job, but I have to write hundreds of pieces a year and sometimes I need help to think of a new tune really quickly. So, late one night, I was working on some music for a film and I was stuck.

I thought to myself, what would Bach or Mozart do? Well, they would take a few notes and turn them upside down or backwards until their musical lines danced across the page, through an orchestra right into your heart & soul.

There was a piece of transparent paper on my desk and I had this crazy idea. Soon I had a stack of cards that I could flip and rotate and a world of tunes opened up right there. I wrote three pieces that night; the next day the director of the film was thrilled. You now get the resulting cards, and I hope you have as much fun making music as I do. Remember, we all talk about playing music, but it’s even more fun to play with music — so Compose Yourself!

Well, I add, bless you, Maestro, and you too, ThinkFun, for creating such a playful invitation to such deeply rewarding fun.


Urban Fold

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games, Kids Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 10-05-2015

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urban fold

Until now, we haven’t even considered giving a Major Fun award to a crafts kit. A product called Urban Fold made us reconsider our policy.

It is one of a series of products that come to us from a company called Paper Punk. Go to their site. It is well-worth the visit. For on it, you will see what amounts to a new, and very welcome approach to children’s craft kits.

Urban Fold comes in a reusable storage box that contains 48 punch-and-fold shapes (punch-and-fold, as you probably already surmised, refers to thin, cardboard shapes that you fold along scored lines, and then attempt to put many little tabs into their appropriate little slots – this is not necessarily without its challenges, and hence, though it is recommended for children 6 and up, we would add that children of that age who can actually get all those tabs with out bending the tabs or themselves out of shape are exceptional and should be treated with great respect and much hugging), 697 stickers (of the peel-off persuasion, easily peeled, I might add, and of sizes varying from large to meticulous), and 1 poster and planning mat (a large, two-sided sheet of paper – one side serving as a planning grid, the other as a guide to different kinds of buildings that can be created from the shapes and stickers).

The poster/planning mat shows you how seriously you can take the whole thing – which is always good to know. We, in our frivolously fun way, decided to ignore that side of things pretty much altogether – though, I’m sure, at one time or another, we’ll appreciate the depth of detail and probably regret our devil-may-care enthusiasm. On the other hand, we won’t regret the fun we had, not at all at all.

The die-cutting is sufficiently deep so that even the youngest and most whimsy-driven member of our family test-group (nine-years-old) could tear out any of the shapes without tearing the shapes themselves – which is no small feat. The peel-off stickers also peel off without undue damage to their integrity.

We all sat around the table, folding and slotting. It took the six of us about an hour to complete that part of the kit – a surprisingly pleasant, relaxed, and thoroughly constructive family-togetherness hour (which is in itself remarkable – we’re talking an entire hour here, together!). We had little time left, and spent that investigating stickers. The oldest amongst us was able, with great care and precision of stickage, to create something quite in keeping with the craft-aspect of it all. Doors, windows, all aligned with care and propriety. The youngest didn’t care about any of that. He just stuck things here and there, exercising his art in the fullest, making something closely approximating a graffiti wall, which turned out to be clearly the most fun for him and us.

And then, because we had to eat, we had the opportunity to be feel quite sanguine about how everything fit so neatly in the box, all the shapes maintaining themselves quite enduringly.

It’s this flexibility, this range of potential engagement that made it so clear that we had something unique here – a craft kit for all moods and purposes, something that could respond to the moment, could absorb a wide range of interests, skills, approaches, and constraints. The geometric shapes lend themselves to play – they can be assembled into almost anything we could imagine. The stickers, though detailed enough to be taken literally, could just as easily be collaged and montaged into multi-hued memorials to mayhem. All in all, Urban Fold turned out to be Major Fun.


Sock Puppet Charades

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games, Party Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 26-04-2015

sock puppet charades

Sock Puppet Charades is, basically, when it comes down to it, charades, with sock puppets. How potentially droll, you say to yourself. Good game, that charades. Victorian, so they say. A Parlour game of proven play value. But with sock puppets! Those clever little hand puppets devised, I believe, sometime during the early 20th century and of similarly proven play value. A folk toy, one must say. Oh, my, how foreseeably fun. A folk game that makes the use of a folk toy. How doubly droll!

Well, my friend, until you play it, you can scarcely conjecture how beyond droll this little game of Sock Puppet Charades turns out to be. Scarcely. Because, you see, it’s far more than the sum of its play-tested parts. It’s a unique, entertaining and thoroughly enchanting game. Challenging (like charades). Tension-producing (there’s a sand-timer don’t you know). And yet, fundamentally funny (with sock puppets).

Take another look at the two sock puppets that come with the game.

sock puppet
They absolutely defy you to take anything seriously. Not when someone’s pinky and thumb are sticking out of the puppets pretending to be arms.

Now, imagine trying to use one or both of these sock puppets, without talking, with the aid only of the sock puppets, your vocabulary of vocal sound effects, and a small collection of props, to get someone to say the word “yoga.” Imagine trying to make yoga pose with your hand in a sock, you downward-facing dog, you.

The game itself is designed so that everybody is continually involved. One player dons the socks, selects the props, and then a charade card upon which are written 3 different words: an action, a person, and a thing. She now has exactly one minute to get the rest of the players to say all three words. The puppeteer gets one point for each person who correctly identifies the word. And the player who is first to guess correctly also gets a point. Then the next player dons the socks of puppeteerness. Depending on how many players there are (as few as three, as many as six) the game continues for four, three or two complete rounds before the final scores are calculated.

On the other hand, as it were, by the end of the game you have probably laughed so hard, so often, that the whole idea of keeping score kind of loses its point, so to speak.

Everything about the game is well-made. The box it comes in is sturdy enough to last a generation or two. You don’t have to worry about remembering the rules, or losing them, because they’re written right on the inside of the cover. The sock puppets are made of long-lasting knit polyester with embroidered faces. And the props, though the small collection truly demonstrates the play value of having them as part of the game, can be expanded upon indefinitely.

Brilliantly designed by Jack Degnan, diligently produced by the enticingly-named Marbles the Brain Store; Sock Puppet Charades, should you need to ask, is Major Fun!


Bounden: dance, play, love

Filed Under (Cooperation, Creative, Virtual Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 05-04-2015

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Two people. One SmartThing (you know, iPod, iPhone, Galaxy). Each partner (player/dancer) is holding on to one end of the SmartThing, thumb on the little “place your thumb here” circle. You center the cursor in the midscreen circle. A large ball appears. A cursor-like object in the center. You hear music. You tilt. The ball seems to turn with your tilt, revealing a trail of rings and things. You commencez your personal Pas de Deux.

Through careful and cunning tilting and twisting of the SmartThing and your personal bodies, you do what you can to keep the cursor aligned with the apparently endless parade of circles and almost-circles that appear to float around the ball. Do well enough, and you will both, ensemble, level up.

Watch, for example, this:

It’s a unique game, an “invitation to the dance” if there ever was one. There are subtleties and complexities, o yes. For example, the almost-circles written about above: well, once you get your cursor into one of them you have to then turn your Thing so that it is aligned with the opening of the aforesaid almost-circle – causing you to initiate yet another kind of dance-like movement.

But, for me, given my ever-sharpening focus on the play/love connection, Bounden is a lesson in love.

It’s all about sharing control.

As far as the game goes, it really doesn’t matter what you do with your bodies. It’s all about keeping the stream of circles and near-circles centered on the cross-hair-cursor in the middle of the screen. And to do that, it doesn’t really help if you’re the “better” player, or if you have a more intuitive, shall we say, “grasp” on the game and how to tilt the Thing. All that really matters is how you and your partner play together, understand together, move together, help each other, teach each other, give each other control. Which seems to me what love is, what playing together is, what makes this game so praiseworthy, so valuable, so fun, so profoundly challenging.

It’s an important game, evolution-of-gaming-wise-speaking. It’s a first: cooperative, musical, artistic even. But for couples, even long-married couples, it’s a lesson in love, and the importance – the crucial importance – of playfulness. Holding on, yes, but letting go, too.

01 Award
More about Bounden here.

Rory’s Story Cubes – Mix and Max

Filed Under (Cooperation, Creative, Family Games, Keeper, Word Games) by Bernie DeKoven on 27-03-2015

story cubes enchanted

As you no doubt know, Rory’s Story Cubes® has achieved that most coveted of all Major Fun awards, the Major Fun Keeper! In their ceaseless attempts to make a good thing better, Gamewright has recently introduced what they are calling the Story Cubes Mix: small sets of three cubes each, each with their own theme. Currently, there are: Clues (mystery detective images), Prehistoria (dinosaurs and their ilk), and Enchanted (fairy tale). Each box and set of cubes is a different color – making it easier to sort one set out from the other, when so moved. Though, in truth, mixing them together stimulates even more creativity. It is my great pleasure to inform you that each of these has received a Major Fun award.

They are each very affordable, each wealthy enough with iconic imagery to engage the story-telling heart and direct it towards a different world. And, when used to supplement any of the existing Story Cube sets, each takes the story a different way, each serving to add yet more to the mix of inspiration for aspiring story-makers.

And for those who have not yet purchased the basic Story Cube set, try using a Mix to supplement your next story-reading. Take any book that you and your kids like to read together, and, at mutually agreed upon moments, roll a cube or two or three, interpret the symbols, and add them to the story. It’s a whole new way to read together.

story cubes maxAnd then there’s Rory’s Story Cubes® Max, the original Story Cubes made larger. Mixing a Mix with the Max (excuse me, I couldn’t help myself) makes a mix even that much easier to unmix – should the need arise.

Major Fun Keeper AwardEach of the various instantiations of Rory’s Story Cubes complement and extend the value of the others. The Max set invites those of us who don’t see as clearly as we think. It’s size and heft is even more inviting – especially for adult and group play.

The invitation to creative, story-telling fun just keeps getting majorer and majorer.

SmartMax – the Barrel

Filed Under (Creative, Keeper, Kids Games, Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on 14-10-2014

smartmax barrelWe’ve written about SmartMax before. And we enthused mightily. It’s a brilliantly designed toy, brilliantly executed. Big pieces, perfect for small hands. Pieces that click together with the aid of magnets just powerful enough to keep them together, just strong enough to be easily pulled apart. And the subtle interplay of pieces that either repel or attract each other adding just the right sense of mystery, the right element of wonder, the right invitation to experiment.

The SmartMax Barrel contains 42 pieces. Which is a significant quantity of pieces, in deed. Though you might as well accept the inevitable truth – there are never enough pieces. Even for one child. But there’s a goodly amount, and what’s more important, there’s just enough variety of pieces to engage the child through a significant range of play moods and modes: investigative, creative, constructive (and, of course, destructive) and dramatic.

The key components of this, and all SmartMax sets. is the collection of rods and balls. The SmartMax Barrel contains two different lengths of rods, each in six different colors. The colors are key to which rods will attract and which repel each other. Something to be learned, investigated, explored. There are eight large plastic-covered metallic balls which can connect any rod to any other. And can even serve as hubs for a multiple collection of rods.

Then there are eight pairs of wheels that snap on to the rods. The wheels are also very well made and roll easily and for a surprisingly long time. Snap two sets of wheels onto any rod, and you have a vehicle. In addition to the wheels there are four semi-transparent cockpits and four containers which further define the nature and function of the vehicles.

Major Fun Keeper AwardThe Barrel is very sturdy, and capacious enough to accommodate at least five more SmartMax sets or other small toys: dolls, pieces of metal, toy cars – whatever the child deems worthy of including in her SmartMax set. There are lids on both sides of the barrel that twist on and off, and the barrel itself is sturdy enough to roll on or over. Small hands may find turning the lids open a bit more challenging than desired, but parents of small-handed ones might find that useful in limiting access when access needs to be limited. As with all good toys, it’s better to put them away, out of sight from time to time – for a day or several – just long enough for the child to almost forget such a toy exists. And then, next time boredom surfaces, you can just, shall we say, roll out the barrel.

All in all, the SmartMax Barrel provides the child with what could easily become an heirloom toy. The variety of the pieces, the many ways with which they can be played, the durability of the set and the container all assure that this is a toy that can be safely and lovingly passed down through the generations.

Squigz Benders

Filed Under (Creative) by Bernie DeKoven on 19-09-2014


You are doubtlessly familiar with the majority of the funness of the Major Fun award-winning Squigz, and keen to learn if it is humanly possible to add even an iota more fun to these “fun little suckers.” Well, then, I don’t have to explain further our enthusiasm for Squidz Benders.

Squidz Benders?, you ask querrously. What could be so special about – o, they bend.

01 AwardYes, in deed, my little cherub of charm, they bend. They not only bend, but they stay bent until you unbend them. And hence, as is so vividly illustrated in the accompanying photograph, they add another dimension to an already dimensionful toy – an expressive, almost artistic, downright creative dimension. Your basic Squigz are wonderfully tactile: the soft, sucker-tops, the flexible Squidz themselves. They make wonderful sounds when they are pulled off of things or each other. They are colorful, inviting touch and exploration. Before, they looked like (and are) wonderfully constructive, stick-to-smooth-surfaces-and-each-other fun. With the Benders, they look like (and are most definitely) Major fun.

There are two different Squigz Benders: the blue-sucker-topped Benders are about one-third shorter than the green. The longer the Bender, the more bends you can bend them into. Your basic Squigz set includes, in addition to one of each of the six different basic Squigz, six of each of each kind of Bender. Recommended for adults as young as three and older than you.