Q-BA-MAZE is a marble run construction toy, in the tradition of Boyongolo, the HABA Ball set, the Quercetti Marble Run, the Skyrail Marble Run Roller Coaster, and, of course, Cuboro. In the tradition of, and yet, unique, and uniquely worthy of our collective attention.

Actually, all these toys, and many more like them, are worthy of our collective attention. Building a marble run engages both creative and scientific reasoning. Every design must ultimately “work,” not only aesthetically, but also mechanically. No matter how good it looks, if the ball doesn’t go where you think it should, or if the run isn’t as long as you hope it should be, you’re just going to have to build it differently.

Now, back to Q-BA-MAZE. I promise not to use the word “amazing” more than once – after this. First, allow me to use the word “cube.” As in Cuboro, the basic building block is a, well, block. Unlike Cuboro, there are only three types of blocks, they are made out of a durable polycarbonate, translucently acrylic-like plastic, and they fit together in most satisfyingly interlocking configurations. They can slide into each other along their sides, they can be stacked on to each other, they can be built up and out into cantileverishly cunning constructs. They also work. One of the three, the one that opens on both ends, works in a most curiously delightful manner. It is a switch, of sorts. With no moving parts. But when a ball drops into it, the ball will often hesitate before traveling left or right, sometimes hesitate a most tantalizingly long time, as if deliberating. And this turns out to be a particularly delicious deliberation, adding just that extra touch of surprise, just that extra change in rhythm that makes the whole, multi-colored construct that much more surprising, that much more engaging.

Q-BA-MAZE comes with a bunch of steel balls – not because they’re easy to lose, and definitely not because they’re easy to swallow (hence, the small child advisory), but because the more balls you drop into it, the more complex the pattern of the fall, the more fun it is to watch – a visual equivalent of the difference between melody and symphony.

Watch the video, read the blog, construct your own myriad of delights, or build any of the configurations you find online, like this one, if you happen to have purchased the 50 count set (36 blocks and 14 balls).

You’ll be amazed.

Lonpos 303

Lonpos 303. Lonpos, because that’s the name of the inventor. 303 because that’s how many different puzzles there are. Puzzles of two different varieties: the rectangular, 2-dimensional variety, and the 3-D pyramid puzzles. There are 12 pieces, each made of a cluster of small balls, each a different color and shape. The shapes are pentomino-like in their variety (different configurations of clusters of 3, 4 and 5 units), so their mathematical properties are noteworthy – notably to mathematicians. All the pieces fit snugly in the case, which also most neatly serves to house the instruction booklets.

I was concerned, Defender of the Playful that I am, that perhaps the 3-D puzzles would be too, shall we say, challenging. After all, how do you effectively convey a 3-D puzzle in a 2-D booklet? So I tried those first. In fact, I tried the first one first. The illustration very clearly and painstakingly showed me how to place the first 11 pieces. All I had to do was figure out how to place the 12th. I must say that I was experiencing something akin to sensual delight as I built the puzzle – each piece fitting so satisfyingly snugly onto the board or onto other pieces. And, since there was only one piece left to place, and since it so clearly fit in only one possible position, I was able to experience the almost immediate reward of that final click, when everything falls together, and the full glory of pyramid-building manifests itself in multi-colored, opalescence.

Then I tried the next puzzle. Hmmm. A bit more difficult to figure out how to follow the instructions, to envision the proper piece when all you can see is the particular slice of it that appears on each level. And then the next. And another intriguing hmmm. And as I solved each puzzle, I felt I was being taught, carefully, playfully, invitingly, a bit more about the pentomatically puzzling properties of pyramid-building. And it wasn’t really too difficult. I mean it could get difficult. There were many puzzles in the booklet o’ puzzles. And they got progressively more and more, well, challenging. But I could select whatever challenge I was ready for. And I said unto myself, behold, this is fun. And I’m learning things. More than fun, actually. Major fun, even.

Lonpos 303 is very much like Lonpos 101, except Lonpos 101 only has 101 puzzles. And Lonpos 101 is very much like Kanoodle, which is similarly very much like Level Up. But there is only one Lonpos 303. And once you start playing with it, you’ll be grateful for every one of the 202 additional challenges that await. After which you might want to contemplate the significance of knowing that there are actually 360,984 unique rectangle puzzles, and 2,582 similarly unique pyramids puzzles that you could potentially create with your 12 little Lonpos pieces.

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