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.

family-kids-creative

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!

party-family-creative

Bounden: dance, play, love

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

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bounden
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.

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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

squigz

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.

Keva Brain Builders

Filed Under (Creative, Dexterity, Puzzles, Thinking Games, Toys) by Will Bain on 18-06-2014

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Keva Brain BuilderIf you missed my earlier post about Keva planks and the fun of destruction, you can check it out here.

Keva planks are precision cut wooden building blocks. They measure about a quarter of an inch thick and the proportion of their dimensions is 1:3:15 (1 unit thick, 3 units wide, and 15 units long). The uniformity and quality of the Keva plank construction makes them ideal for building very complex and very stable structures.

Turns out, they also make for an interesting brain-teaser.

In essence, Keva Brain Builders is an exercise in architectural design and perspective drawing. The game comes with 20 planks and 30 puzzle cards. The cards are double sided. On the puzzle side is shown a diagram of something the player needs to build. The diagram shows the figure in top view, side view, and front view. The planks are color coded to indicate which side you are looking at in each view.

Your challenge is to build the structure so that it matches the picture on the solution side of the card.

The cards come in three difficulty levels. The easy ones are very simple both in the structure’s complexity and in the amount of balance it takes to create the structure. As the puzzles get harder, the diagrams become somewhat more difficult to suss out, but the manual dexterity to build the solutions becomes much more challenging.

01 AwardKeva Brain Builders lends itself to free play. Although many of us at Major Fun liked playing with the challenge cards, just as many liked building our own structures. I imagine that there will be many kids who will be perfectly happy to take the planks and make their own designs. I had fun trying to come up with complicated designs that I would then draw in all three perspectives.

Ultimately, this is a great introduction into Keva planks, it’s a nice small building set, and the puzzle challenges are a clever way to improve spatial awareness. It comes in a compact, zippered pouch; although if your household is anything like mine, that will get stuffed with dolls and the Keva planks will be incorporated into some other Frankenstein structure of train tracks, Lego, and toilet paper rolls.

Solo play. Ages 7+

Keva Brain Builders is © 2014 by MindWare.

The Storymatic

Filed Under (Creative) by Will Bain on 27-09-2013

The StorymaticWe have the tendency to think of creativity as an expression of freedom and as such we tend to believe that it requires unlimited choice—maybe even anarchy—to fully bloom. In movies we often see the artistic protagonist stifled by too many rules. In these stories the authority figures and the rules become the villains to be overcome so that creativity and free expression can thrive.

Although I believe that a society that feels free to share in a wide variety of artistic visions is indeed a stronger, more vibrant society than one that represses all but a few sanctioned styles I do not believe that creativity itself is helped by freedom. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that creativity is not a product of freedom but rather a product of limitation. In other words, we are most creative when we are confronted by rules and boundaries.

The Storymatic is a creative game in the same way that Rory’s Story Cubes, Thinkets, and Dixit are creative games. Although you could make a competitive game out of them, the fun comes from the realization of a creative process. You don’t win these games by earning points and beating your opponents. You win these games by making something that you want to share.

The Storymatic box comes packed with cards: gold cards and copper cards. The gold cards generally refer to people (amputee, a not-so-good Samaritan, a prisoner of war, etc…) while the copper cards generally refer to places and things and events (first day on the job, plastic flowers, what was left behind, etc…). At its simplest form, the game of Storymatic requires that you draw two gold cards and two copper cards. Combine the two gold cards to make your character. The copper cards must be an important part of your character’s story. The deck of cards has now placed some limits on you and it is up to your creativity to make something beautiful.

Major Fun AwardThere are two other rules that you have to observe: your character must change over the course of the story (without change there is no story) and you cannot kill your main character (it might certainly be a change but that leaves few places to go). Now write.

If you’d like some more variety to the challenge then The Storymatic includes several other ideas of how to play. Some of these they suggest for actors who want to work on improv but all the exercises give any creative person new ways to think about characters and conflict. Want to play with a big group of friends? Storymatic suggests a party game variation that based on the classic exquisite corpse.

Thinking outside the box is the heart of creativity. But it does require a box. Fortunately, The Storymatic provides a great one that encourages you to break out in Major Fun ways.

The Extraordinaires Design Studio

Filed Under (Creative) by Bernie DeKoven on 25-09-2013

extraordinaire

The Extraordinaires Design Studio comes to us from Anita Murphy and Rory O’Conner, creators of Rory’s Story Cubes. In both design and execution it reflects the depth of  their understanding of and appreciation for the fun of the creative process. What the Story Cubes did to invite children to channel their imagination and develop their skills at story telling, the Extroardinaires Design Studio does for creative problem solving.

The Design Studio comes in a hard plastic case. It looks and feels like a laptop computer. Open it, and there are compartments for the large, colorful, beautifully illustrated Extraordinaire cards. Each card displays the drawing of a fantasy character. On the back of the card, select scenes from that character’s life. Another compartment contains the object cards describing what particular thing you will be creating for your chosen Extraordinaire. Another compartment houses a collection of “Think Cards,” prompting you to think through the development of your work. There’s a lovely tablet of graph-like design sheets that can be used as guides to draw in perspective, or not, and a fine-pointed pen for the fine points.

The case itself is so well-made, the components fitting so snugly, that it makes you feel designerly, and respected, even. The cards invite fantasy and creativity. There’s even an app so you can share your completed designs with the known universe.

Figure Head Bed

If you click on the image (above) it will take you to the Extraordinaire gallery – where we found this particular Figure Head Bed invention (uploaded to the gallery via the Extraordinaire app). Below the image there’s a sound file allowing you to hear the inventor explain her creation.

Major Fun Award

There’s genius here. Ingenious genius. There’s genius in the design and execution. There’s genius in the recognition of not only the joy of ingenuity, but the delight inherent in the conversations that accompany ingenuity. There’s the invitation to be a genius and use your ingenuity. And, even more important, there’s fun, genuine, creative, major fun. You can play it by yourself. You can play it with together with a bunch of people (though we recommend the smaller bunch version, the designers make it clear that you can, if you so desire, play with more than six players). Playing together gives each of you the opportunity to explain your design, and that turns out to be at least as much fun in the telling and listening as it is in the designing.

There are three different levels of cards, each level presenting more complex characters. There are award cards (five different kinds) so you can give each player a different award, or, if you’re playing competitively, you can each try to get as many different awards possible. There are very useful recommendations for how to present your completed design.

We found it fun enough as a solitaire activity, but even more fun in the company of others. The award cards help players apply different criteria to their inventions, giving them a richer perspective on their designs. But it’s as good to know that you can, if you need to, get competitive about the whole thing as it is to know that there’s no real reason to.

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Recommended for ingenious people 8 and older.

Squigz

Filed Under (Creative, Family Games, Toys) by Bernie DeKoven on 11-07-2013

Squigz

squigz on my head Squigz are, as advertised “fun little suckers.” They are, also as advertised, an invitation to explore the architectural attributes of “suction construction.” Stick them on a window, on a mirror, on any “flat surface with no residue,” as illustrated.

And, of course, you can stick them to each other. Thus, given the Squigz-appropriate flat surface with no residue nature of it all, your Squigz could very well prove to be the ultimate bathtub construction toy.

Squigz squeezable construction toy with suction cupsIf you’re the kind of kid who likes to play with dolls, Squigz look exactly like people and funny animals and things. And you can stick them together and make them look even more (or less) people- or animal-like. You can make them hug each other and hold hands and take each other for walks. You might not even get as far as sticking them on the window or refrigerator.

Squigz DeluxeOn the other hand, if you’re just a little older, and you’re the LEGO-playing-kind, you spend lots of time finding out what they can stick on and how they can stick on each other and how high you can build them before they fall over and maybe you make bridges and arches and Martian landscapes with castles and weird animals and things. And if you stick them together and then pull them apart just right, they make shockingly loud popping sounds.

Major Fun Award

There’s a Starter Set (shown at the beginning of this post) with 24 pieces. And for twice as much, there’s the Deluxe set with 50. They are, of course, both good investments in creative and often funny family play. We, however, recommend going deluxe, having discovered that they’re just too much fun. Squigz. Soft, squeezable, silicone. Colorful. Eight different shapes, each a different color. Suitable for children as young as three, and as old as you. Be sure to let the young ones have a turn.

From FatBrain Toys.