Oogi, Plui, Nello, Mox and Bilibo, too

MOLUK_panorama_2016

Alex Hochstrasser, the inventor/designer of all Moluk toys, is completely devoted to producing toys that are as simple as posslble, as close to indestructible as he can make them, easy to understand, inviting, and deep enough in their invitation to play to keep you on the brink of wonder and delight.

PluiBrush - Sunny - CloudyTwo of his most recent products include Sunny and Cloudy – sensory toys designed to complement his  popular Plui Rain Cloud.

They are both what you might call brushes – the rays from Sunny and the rain from Cloudy follow the fantasy, but introduce a new layer of engagement and tactile experience.

Sunny, as you can see, spins. If you spin it gently. Alex writes:

“The spinning is one of the core functions of the Sunny brush, and kind of works best if you gently set it in motion with your breath. If you accelerate it too aggressively it just wobbles and stops. I keep the Sunny brush on my desk as a fidget toy. It helps me think and concentrate.”

Which brings us to yet another remarkable thing about Alex’s toys: they are as enticing to adults as they are to children – especially to young children and older adults (like me).

I spent a couple hours in the company of these toys. I was enthralled. They took me away to the kind of play I experienced as a young child, but haven’t been invited to for maybe 70 years.

Then there’s Plui. Allow me to illustrate:

01 Awardplui_colors_newThen there’s the Plui Rainball, half of which is now not only removable, but also squeezable. Ah, squeezability. A new portal to physio-conceptual watery delights.

OK. So you can see why all of these toys, that’s right, all. Including the surprisingly simple, yet surprisingly surprising Nello and all the Oogis (especially maybe the glow in the dark one) and the world’s most expressive squeezy ball, the Mox, and, of course, the enthusiastically praised Bilibo; have each and all been granted the coveted honor of displaying the Major Fun award prominently wherever they are found.

And you can understand why we, especially, are so appreciative of toys that have such a wide range of appeal and are yet so elegantly simple.

Defender of the PlayfulAlex comments: “We market the toys for children, but one of the main goals is to create play things that transcend the traditional age and gender categories of the toy industry. Ideally they are beautiful and intriguing objects that trigger your curiosity and your urge to play and explore, regardless of how old you are.”

And that, dear fun-seeker, is the reason why Alex Hochstrasser has, himself, been declared Defender of the Playful.

Foooty

(I think Foooty might be pronounced “fooo-tee” to distinguish it from “footy” the game. Though you could certainly play footy, the game, with your Foooty. But Foooty is so much more.)

It’s made of a thing that looks like this.

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Ten things, actually. Which you can cunningly assemble to look like this:

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by doing this (but probably not as quickly as depicted):

You can also make a minor myriad other things with your Foooty components, such as a football-shaped Foooty, a Frisbee-shaped Foooty, 5 little juggling Foooties, or Foootie lamps:

alsofooo

It’s not exactly available right now. But, if what I see from the burgeoning success of their Kickstarter is any indication (which it most definitely is), it should be available by June.

I have one. If you are feeling impatient and supportive, a $17 donation to their Kickstarter will get you one too, probably by sometime in June.

Joinks

joinks

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:

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.

MOX

MOX

MOX is an elegant invitation to play, and whimsy, and laughter, and exploration, and shared silliness.

This is what MOX looks like when you make it laugh:

This is what it looks like when you turn it inside out:

And this, when it or you are feeling grumpy:

It’s such a simple toy, and it does so much. And anyone who is old enough to laugh can play with it, safely, alone, with other people who like to play.

It comes to us from one of my favorite toy designers, Alex Hochstrasser, whose company is called MOLUK.

I’ll let Alex explain:

Driven by a passion for great design, MOLUK strives to create innovative, sustainable products that don’t just entertain kids on a superficial level, but invite real interaction.

In a time where everything is getting more virtual, MOLUK offers toys that are totally manual, toys that get children to move and explore, toys that stimulate their senses and minds.

There are no ON and OFF switches, batteries or complicated instructions – MOLUK toys are powered simply by a child’s imagination.

MOLUK only collaborates with trusted manufacturing partners who share our values and deliver excellent, safe and long lasting products which are sold through a growing network of reliable and dedicated distribution partners around the world.

Major Fun Award

Ozobot

Ozobot

Ozobot is something like a 1-inch sized R2-D2 that talks in colored light. It follows the path you draw for it and is programmed by codes – sequences of colors that you include in the path.

If you have a tablet, there’s even more to play with. Much more.

ozobot drawingBefore you get into tableting, we recommend that you provide for all the time your Oozboticist might require to fully appreciate the Ozobot’s path-following capabilities. The pre-made paths that you can print out introduce yet further path-making possibilities.  Included in the selection is a complete illustration of all the various programming codes – and these will become very useful after  the joys of path-making grow thin. But we highly recommend that you start with making your own tracks (markers not included) – it gives your junior roboticist the most immediate understanding of how Ozobot works and provides her with hours to create her own, hand-drawn works of Ozobot-enhanced amazement.

After path-making comes code-enhancing. By adOzobot on Tabletding brief sequences of color to the path, you can make your Ozobot speed up and slow down, turn, spin, and, once you’ve reached the necessary mastery, dance. The two included “skins” (plastic shells) allow the player to further personalize their Ozobot. With these, plus the addition of various found-object costume-like elements taped to the top of the Ozobot, it becomes possible to introduce a welcome element of fantasy play.

Though the toy is recommended for older children, our almost-nine-year-old genius grandson was immediately engaged, and spent several hours mastering the rudiments of Ozobotics before we dared expose him to splendiferously computer-enhanced wonders of  Ozobotting on the tablet. And splendiferous these wonders truly are – redefining the experience of tablet-play and introducing the limitless possibilities of creating hybrid (encompassing both tablet and table-top environs) Ozobot playgrounds.

01 AwardOzobots are beautifully packaged in thick, museum-quality transparent cubes. They’re the same price per unit whether you buy them in their single or double pack. One is great fun. Two is twice as much, not only in cost, but also in play potential. With two, you can make them race (when an Ozobot comes to an intersection, it randomly selects one of the possible branches, adding just that element of luck that makes racing so much fun), dance a pas de deux, or just enjoy the visual complexity as they navigate their randomly chosen paths through the path. And, yes, one could most definitely conclude that the more Ozbots, the more the potential fun. But even one is major enough to produce significant glee.

SmartMax – the Barrel

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.

Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty is a Keeper

Production guys with Crazy Aaron

I’ve been playing with, exploring, thinking about, o, all right, playing with Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty since I realized that it was, in deed, a toy worthy of Major Fun recognition. Today, I encountered an inescapable conclusion: this stuff is a Keeper. I mean, I can barely keep my hands off of it.

Go to Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty site. Look around. Look at all the different kinds, the properties (glow in the dark, light sensitive, heat sensitive, magnetic), the colors (Electric, Metallic, Primary) – there’s even a colorless called Liquid Glass (which is so surprisingly, uh, surprisning that you have to see it in action to appreciate it’s crystalline wonders)

And it’s therapeutic, too. Not just emotionally, but physically

Now take a look at Crazy Aaron (in the middle of the photo at the beginning of this post) with some of the more than 500 people in his staff. Not only is he constantly experimenting, continuously providing us with new putty marvels to soothe our senses and tease our intellect, but he is employing people, many of whom, because of one label or another, wouldn’t have a way to make anything close to a living.

So this Keeper award is in recognition of his deeply playworthy accomplishments, but also of Aaron himself, and his genuine devotion to making the world a little more fun for all playkind.

Major Fun Keeper Award

 

Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty

Thinking Putty If it ever occurred to you that there was anything silly about silly putty, Crazy Aaron could very well change your life. He is the creator, designer, manufacturer and general distributor of Thinking Putty, devoting his entire commercial empire to bringing you cans full of the lovely, stretchy, bouncy stuff, each can containing as much as 1/5 of a pound of the stuff (Thinking Putty Creatures contain only 1/8 pound, but that’s still enough, especially when you consider that they come with two very convincing, creature-making eyes).

That’s a whole handful, enough for even a grownup to take seriously, which, if you’re the kind of grownup in the need of something to help you with your hand exercises you, in fact, can take quite seriously. And it’s not just the quantity that makes you think. It’s the color (though the Crystal Clears variety is almost colorless), the glow-in-the-darkness, the color-changingness, the magneticness, the apparently inexhaustible inventivenessness of the moldable, foldable, stretchable denizens of Crazy Aaron’s Puttyworld. There’s even Super Magnetic Thinking Putty (super magnet included) and Heat Sensitive and the light sensitive Phantoms (that come with a miniature black-light-on-a-keychain).

We tested a bunch of the stuff, discovering that each slight variation took you to a slightly different sphere of fun. Magnetic and heat-sensitive makes you want to experiment. That magnetic stuff is so weird – first it gets magnetized, and then it isn’t. How could that happen? Glow-in-the-darks make you want to hang out in closets with your friends. Phantoms make you want to draw and maybe even go outside. Super Illusions made you want to play with light. And it’s so, well, beautiful.

We kept on thinking we had found our favorite, but, in the end, discovered that each offered its own distinct delights.

Clearly, Crazy Aaron’s putty is beyond silly. It’s magic. It’s scientific. It’s therapeutic. Crazy Aaron takes putty to places its never been before. And so, probably, will you. Fun? Majorly!

01 Award

Bullets and Blenders

Thanks to open-source programming, there are some very sophisticated and utterly engrossing ways for you to continue the cycle of Keva creation and destruction in the virtual world.

First, check out this video of Keva structures brought low by toy balls and Newtonian physics.

Then go here to watch more…

These videos were made possible through an open-source physics engine called Bullet Physics and an open source 3d animation application called Blender (which utilizes the physics simulation of Bullet Physics). Both of these programs are free. I can in no way comment on the coding or any other technical aspect of these programs, however, I am thrilled that these tools are out there for kids and adults– for anyone who wants to build and play in a virtual environment that so closely mimics are own.

Keva planks and Lego and Lincoln Logs and all of the other building props that I grew up with as a child were ways that I could turn the virtual world of my imagination into something tangible. These structures led to a richer landscape for my imagination. Physics bound design programs are an extension of this feedback loop. Physical Keva structures can be rendered virtual, which can be made tangible again, which can then be folded back upon itself so many times that no one can predict what will emerge. New shapes and configurations and material properties in the virtual world could result in new toys and building systems that we will be gifting to our grandchildren.

Use the links below to check out Blender and Bullet Physics. You can download from the sites.

http://www.blender.org/

http://bulletphysics.org/wordpress/

 

Keva Brain Builders

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.

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