SmartMax is a magnetic construction toy. It looks somewhat familiar – a set of magnetic balls that act as connectors for magnetic rods. But everything is enlarged and covered in plastic. Which makes it something new, something genuinely playworthy, something perfect for little hands, and too big for little mouths.

Actually, it’s even more perfect than that.

It’s very easy for kids, little or larger, to build with it. There’s nothing that has to be fit to anything, because the pieces join magnetically. So very little dexterity is required – so little that the manufacturers recommend it for children one year old and up.

Older children will find themselves strangely attracted, if you excuse the expression, to some of the more subtle aspects of the design. It turns out that you can’t get the ends of the same-colored bars to stick together. And then, on further exploration, you discover that you also can’t get the warm-colored bars (yellow, orange and red) to stick to each other, while you can barely keep them from sticking to the ends of the cold-colored bars (green, blue and purple). Were you old enough to need an explanation for such a phenomenal phenomenon, you would probably find yourself talking about magnetic poles and the laws of like and unlike, attraction and repulsion. If you were young enough, however, you would find yourself experiencing something close to true magic, playing with the different color rods and touching the wonder of what you can or can’t make them do.

You might also notice that the grey balls connect to all the rods, and vice-versa. There is genuine delight to be found as you discover how pivotally useful those grey balls prove themselves to be.

And further, should you be very observant, you might even notice that the longer bars seem to hold more strongly to things than the shorter bars.

So much to discover. So much to play with. So easy to build with. So wonderfully surprisingly fun.

One nit that we find ourselves having to pick – the enclosed booklet. It is not an instruction booklet. It is not an idea booklet.  It is a marketing booklet, illustrating the multitudinous marvels of the SmartMax system, including some pieces that, in all likelihood, are not part of the set you purchased, even should you have purchased the top-of-the-line SmartMax Basic 42. We recommend that you keep the booklet filed somewhere else, where children won’t see it, lest you kindle unslakable SmartMax lust. Well, perhaps slakable, depending on how much you’re ready to spend. O, yes, the curved pieces and all their constructively curvy implications that would be yours to explore had you purchased the SmartMax Basic 36. And yet, and yet all the wonderful things you can build with the minor multitude of straight pieces found in the SmartMax Basic 42.

By the way, and beyond, there is also the SmartMax Basic Stunt with tracks and platforms and wheels that snap to the rods to make deliciously smooth-rolling car- and truck-like things. This one is more like a kit, and can get frustrating for smaller children – especially if the child sees the image on the box (as usual, there are no instructions or illustrations pertaining to what else you might do with this set). But the cars (just add wheels, and maybe a cab or truck body) are so intriguingly magnetic, so easily coupled and/or pushed away; and the tracks and platforms lend themselves to hours of rolling around fantasy. And the smaller, also kit-like, but equally attractive SmartMax Drive and Fly looks like it would prove an equally welcome addition to the SmartMax repertoire.

So many SmartMax kits. Such major fun to be had.

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