ThinkFun Inc. celebrates its 25th Anniversary as the leading developer of mind-challenging games and logic puzzles. From its humble beginnings in the basement of husband-and-wife team Bill Ritchie and Andrea Barthello’s Virginia home, ThinkFun has held fast to its commitment to create products that embody the essential link between “Think” and “Fun” and organically strengthen thinking skills through game play.
The company has been a pioneer in the development of innovative products that truly stretch the brain, including the now iconic Rush Hour Traffic Jam puzzle, a robust line of early learning games featuring the award-winning Zingo!, and most recently a new online brain training program, Brain Lab. Brain Lab is a web-based program that builds critical thinking and problem solving skills through focused game play.
With Brain Lab comes an exciting new partnership with the Bunge Cognitive Control and Development Lab at UC Berkeley, and a plan to use brain imaging to measure the program’s effects on reasoning ability. In an initial study, Dr. Silvia Bunge and her team of researchers found that elementary students who played games including ThinkFun’s Rush Hour and Chocolate Fix for a total of 20 hours over an 8 week period demonstrated an average increase of 10 points on a measure of performance IQ. Reflecting on these remarkable results, lead researcher Allyson Mackey said, “From adult training studies, we knew some improvement was possible, but it was enormous!” Energized by these initial findings, ThinkFun and the Bunge Lab are framing out a large-scale study that will use fMRI technology to measure the effects of Brain Lab training on reasoning abilities.
“The goal for the company has always been to create a fun line of products that actually do make kids brighter. “ThinkFun is to educational learning like the Wii is to exercise,” said Bill Ritchie, CEO and co-founder of ThinkFun. “We’re fun, addictive and good for you.”
Key to ThinkFun’s mission to create products that genuinely stretch children’s thinking is its rigorous testing process headed by Education and Curriculum Specialist Charlotte Fixler. Brain Lab is no exception, and Fixler, a former elementary school teacher, has spent the last several months testing the program with 75 parents and teachers and close to 1,000 young players. “The beauty of online testing is that we’re now able to get at the truth behind the game play,” says Fixler. “Children often struggle to articulate their thinking, but with the ability to capture every key stroke, we can actually see where they got stuck, whether they persevered and tried again, and what strategies they used.” Based on tester data, ThinkFun has created a program that builds problem solving and reasoning skills organically by appropriately supporting and challenging players, all through the fun of game play.
Along with the web-based Brain Lab, ThinkFun’s recently released Rush Hour app for both the iPhone and Android are a testament to the company’s forward-thinking vision and commitment to connecting with and challenging players of all ages. While apps and brain imaging were far in the future when ThinkFun was founded in 1985, to Barthello, “After 25 years it feels like we’re right where we are supposed to be.” “Right now, smart is cool,” she continues, “and with new technology we’re better positioned than ever to help kids all over the world become better thinkers.”
Indeed, the company’s roots in technology go way back. The inventor of the Hexadecimal puzzle, family friend William Keister, authored the first software game ever created, a Tic-Tac-Toe game he developed in 1937 while as an assignment for Bell Laboratories. Ritchie’s father, Alistair E. Ritchie, also a Bell Labs researcher, was involved in the Picture Phone in the early1960s. And brother Dennis Ritchie, a ThinkFun investor, is credited with creating the C Programming language and is a co-author of UNIX, an operating system developed in the early 1970s which remains the gold standard of operating systems today.
About ThinkFun, Inc.
For 30 years,ThinkFun Inc. has been dedicated to creating games that spark curiosity, cultivate confidence, and nurture life-long learners. Its games encourage interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM), while generating excitement for a world of learning through play. Innovation, creativity, value, and fun are the four elements that comprise the development of every game. Ignite the mind, and change the world for each player.