Next Tuesday I’m heading to Knoxville, Tennessee for the Global Finals of Destination ImagiNation, Inc. (DI). DI is an extraordinary non-profit organization that provides educational programs for students to learn and experience creativity, teamwork and problem solving. Every year, they reach 125,000 students across the U.S. and in more than 30 countries. Their core program is an educational program in which student teams solve open-ended Challenges and present their solutions at Tournaments.
For the first time, ThinkFun is sponsoring this global event. Bill Ritchie (CEO of ThinkFun), Charlotte Fixler (Communications Manager) and myself will be running the ThinkFun booth in their Expo Hall. There will be more than 1,200 of the top-scoring teams worldwide will compete in these DI challenges. That’s over 20 000 students who we understand have creative minds and a love for duct tape and twine! So we’ve prepared some exciting stuff to entertain them and exercise their brains! We’ll be demonstrating our new program called ThinkFun University and lots of ThinkFun games and brainteaser puzzles both table top size and life-size! Here’s some photos of our wonderful team preparing some tarps for the booth! Can you guess what games we’re bringing to life?
Also, Glee star Chris Colfer (who plays Kurt Hummel) got his start doing Destination ImagiNation in Clovis, Calif. Wouldn’t it be cool to see him there?
So I’m excited for this experience! We’ll learn tons and have a ton of fun interacting with the kids! If you’re in Knoxville, come join us!
If you know me well, you know one of the best things (and there are many) that I LOVE about my job is getting to know the Toy and Game Industry people. Heading Inventor Relations, I have the privilege of meeting really cool people all over the world. At Mary Couzin’s ChiTAG event in November, one of my fondest memories is connecting, really connecting, with the Coster family. They invented ThinkFun’s Zingo, but they are probably most known for inventing Guess Who?. The parents of this incredible family (Theo and Ora), now in their 80′s, made their way to Chicago all the way from Israel with their son, Boaz (co-inventor of Elefun), and his wife.
What a pleasure for me to sit at Mary’s kitchen table at a private dinner and get to know them all better. I was fascinated by spunky Ora and I was touched when Theo gave me a DVD of his movie, Classmates of Anne Frank. You see, Theo, was actually a classmate of Anne Frank and he produced a documentary all about it. The movie was later turned into a book called We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her Classmates. I recently watched the movie and was fascinated as it followed Theo to Holland where he met with his old classmates and together they toured places like their old Montessori School they went to with Anne Frank, Anne Frank’s museum and hiding place and a concentration camp. Each classmate had their own story to tell about how they survived World War II. They reminisced about Anne Frank and what kind of girl they remembered her to be. They described her exactly like the precocious girl we learn about when we read The Diary of Anne Frank.
I’m so honored that they gave this movie to me and I’m so thankful to know this family. I will see them all soon in Nuremberg and I’m looking forward to it very much.
Aliza, Ora, Tanya, Boaz and Theo
Okay, I’m embarrassed to say it’s been over a year since I posted to my blog. I could give you so many excuses, I’m too busy doing other job responsibilities, I was confused about what I should actually write about, I didn’t know anymore what the focus should be for my blog, etc… After all, I was told to write a blog for ThinkFun but was never given any guidance about what was expected. So many times in the last year I’ve had people say, “I really love(d) reading your blog”. That always surprised me. I thought, “Really? You read it?” I always thought just my mom read it. But apparently not, there are a few more than her.
So now I’ve decided I have to get back to it. I want to write about what gives me the most joy in my “hunting” position for ThinkFun. What is that you may ask? Is it the puzzle solving I get to do and get paid for? Is it about the process I head in developing all our single game challenges? Is it all the new cool product and puzzles I get to see? Nope. Although all of those things are really cool, the BEST part of my job is the people I get to meet and the relationships I have been honored to build with these really cool people. I have been so lucky in my life to travel the world meeting really incredible people. I’ve already written about some of them here like my dear friend Martin Gardner. So let me tell you more about the people I’ve been blessed to meet. People from the Toy and Game Industry, the mathematics community and the puzzle community and who knows what else. Some you might know, some you may never have heard of but all of them mean something to me. Hope you enjoy!
Remember how you felt waiting for Christmas when you were a kid? The excitement and anticipation? This is how I’ve felt for the past few months waiting for these Chicago Toy and Game Conferences! They’re finally here. Mary Couzin is the organizer. I met Mary at the NY Toy Fair in February. She has been a blessing to me ever since. She has got to be the most connected person in this industry. She knows everyone! And the best part, she wants you to know everyone too! She has been so helpful to me as I navigate my way around. She has a heart of gold and she genuinely wants toys and games to make a difference in the world. I love Mary!
TAGIE is a two day conference for people in the toy and game industry. It’s a tremendous opportunity to network with inventors and people from other companies. I am speaking on a Panel called So You Have a Great Idea? Myself and other Inventor Relations people from Hasbro, Spinmaster, Buffalo Games, Disney, Zobmondo, and P4 Inc. moderated by Mike Hirtle (Hasbro) will answer questions about what to do when you have a great idea for a toy or game. I’m honored to be in the company of these industry greats and am proud for ThinkFun to be among them. It will be a fun discussion and I’m really looking forward to it.
This conference is a great opportunity to meet with inventors. Now that ThinkFun is producing multiplayer family games this will be a great opportunity to get the word out! Also, on Friday night there is a TAGIE Awards Gala. Joyce Johnston invited me to join her table at this Gala event! She is a wonderful inventor I met at the NY Toy Fair last February. She showed me a new game of hers that I absolutely fell in love with. It is a memory game based in art and drawing. I’m so pleased that ThinkFun decided to produce it and we will be launching it at NY Toy Fair this coming February! The illustrator, Christopher Hart, who collaborated with Joyce for this game is brillant. I’m excited to meet with her again!
Then after TAGIE is the ChiTAG conference! This is like the North American Essen Game Fair. Saturday and Sunday is when the public comes to Navy Pier to play games. Over 100 exhibitors will have toys and games on display for people to play. There will be lots to see and lots to do! I have numerous meetings set up with inventors but I hope to have the chance to walk the trade floor and see what’s new!
So I can’t wait! I need to go pack! I’ve been telling so many of my new inventor contacts about this conference and how it will be a great opportunity for learning and networking. And who knows, maybe I’ll find a new idea or two for our 2012 line up! Wish me luck!
Sjaak, Joy, Ben, Me, Hans-Friedrich, Tim, Will, Klaus, Vladimir, Vaidas
It’s amazing what happens when people gather who share a common interest. October 21, 2010 was the inaugural G4G – CoM, the event to celebrate Martin Gardner and what would have been his 96th birthday. It was an overwhelming success. There were over 66 parties on five continents! You can read writings and see photos and videos about many of them here. It’s hard to believe that while I was celebrating in Germany, others were celebrating in Canada, the U.S., Japan, China, Israel, France, England, … and all for Martin. He touched so many people from every part of the world.
My event was a small but mighty one in Essen, Germany. I was in Essen on business meeting with inventors at the giant Essen Game Fair. I hosted a party in a place I’d never been with people I had never met. And it was wonderful! There were ten people in attendance from seven countries. The event was held at the the UnperfektHaus. Tim Skellet found this place and it was a wonderful facility that reminded me of an artist commune. We had our own meeting room complete with data projector. We also enjoyed an incredible German buffet here too!
At the start of our event we all went around and individually introduced ourselves. Hans-Friedrich Bauch and Klaus-Peter Rudolph from Northern Germany, Ben Muldrum (aka Professor Puzzle) from England, Vaidas Rimkus from Lithuania, Will Strijbos and Sjaak Griffioen from the Netherlands, Vladimir Krasnoukov from Russia, Tim Skellet from Germany, and Joy Walker from Switzerland. After introductions we went for our first course and while eating enjoyed part of the David Suzuki’s Nature of Things program on Martin. You can see it here.
After a fantastic dinner we began the presentations. I began with a video I had taken of Martin when I visited him last December. Martin was going to have published in the February 2010 Games Magazine an article about a magic card trick called An Amazing Mathematical Card Trick. Martin performed this trick for me and I captured it on video. I showed everyone this video as well as some personal photos of my visits with Martin and the last Gathering for Gardner.
Next Hans-Friedrich Bauch gave a great presentation on a math paper he had written called “The Smallest Magic Hexagon” that stemmed from a 1963 article that Martin had written in his Scientific American column. Hans mentioned that he read Martin’s column faithfully because it was information from the “outside” world. Many journals were banned in Northern Germany at that time but since Scientific American was based on science, it was approved. His presentation was excellent and he is hoping to connect with others who are interested in Magic Hexagons. Vladimir Krasnoukov also gave a presentation on a number of puzzles he invented. Will Strijbos brought puzzles as well as interesting gadgets to share from his collection. Joy Walker is a teacher and an inventor that I met for the first time at Essen. She gave a lovely speech about the profound affect Martin’s work continues to have on people like herself even after his death. Sjaak Griffioen was another inventor who shared some of his work.
It was a wonderful night where we left feeling thankful to have met other people who appreciated Martin’s life’s work. I couldn’t help but feel so thankful to have known Martin and to have been able to join people from all over the world in this celebration of mind. I look forward to watching this global event grow in the years to come. Thank you Martin.
Martin at Home Dec 2009
As you know Martin Gardner passed away on May 22, 2010. I wrote about my own reaction in an earlier post. That post was a direct result of me calling my friend, Mark Setteducati, and expressing to him my deep sadness with Martin’s passing and not knowing how to deal with it. Mark’s response was extremely wise and one thing he recommended was that I write about Martin and try to express what he meant to me.
My celebration of Martin would not end there. You can imagine how honored I was when I received an email from Tom Rodgers (the main person behind the Gathering 4 Gardner in Atlanta) asking me if I would help organize a global event to occur on Martin’s birthday – October 21st. I was thrilled to be involved.
Those of you who knew Martin would know that he wanted no memorials, but he expressed a humble desire for the Gatherings for Gardner to continue. I remember talking to him about the G4G’s and I expressed how fantastic it would be if he’d attend. People come from all over the world to join in this exclusive event and I knew they would be thrilled to actually meet the man himself. Martin’s response was always the same. He didn’t like to travel and although he was honored that people would hold him in such high regard, he was very humble and very private so the thought of being center of attention at an event like this didn’t appeal to him. In fact, I think it would have terrified him.
Since G4G9 was just held this year, we had to decide what kind of event should happen this year to honor Martin in the year of his passing. We didn’t want people to have the expense of traveling again in 2010 to one central location – whether that was Atlanta, Oklahoma (Martin’s last place of residence), or anywhere else. So it was decided that we should have a global event on his birthday.
Thus, the Gathering For Gardner Foundation invites you to celebrate Martin’s life and work, and continue his pursuit of a playful and fun approach to Mathematics, Science, Art, Magic, Puzzles and all of his other interests and writings. On October 21, 2010, which would have been Martin’s 96th Birthday, the Martin Gardner Global Celebration of Mind Gatherings will take place in different locations around the world. Information about these events can be found at: http://www.G4G-CoM.org
Everybody is welcome to join this celebration party by signing up to attend an event in your area or to take the lead and host a celebration party. We encourage everyone to bring a magic trick, puzzle, recreational mathematics problem or story about Martin to share at your event. We will host an archive of the events to share with all of the participants.
I am thrilled to have watched this global initiative grow right from its beginning. There are some really incredible events happening all over the world. You really should go to the website and check it out! Personally, I am traveling for business to the Essen Game Fair in Germany on October 21st. So I am hosting an event in Martin’s honor in a place I’ve never visited and with people I’ve never met. But that doesn’t matter. I wasn’t going to miss being involved in a global phenomenon that will celebrate a man that meant the world to me. And I know I’m going to meet some really incredible people and we’re going to share incredible stories and things that Martin would have loved.
The Gathering 4 Gardner Organizers
Elwyn Berlekamp - Mark Setteducati – Thomas Rodgers
The G4G Celebration of Mind Committee
Mark Setteducati, Tom Rodgers, Scott Hudson, Tanya Thompson, Stan Isaacs, Thane Plambeck, Jerry Farrell, Gary Foshee, Bill Ritchie, Jim Gardner and Chris Morgan
In 2006, I met Harry and Claire Nelson at my first International Puzzle Party in Boston. I was thrilled to meet Harry as he’s a legend in the puzzle world. His accomplishments are numerous in the areas of puzzles, mathematics, computers and chess. Harry was also the editor of the Journal of Recreational Mathematics for 5 years and continues on their editorial board. There is a very interesting interview with Harry on his accomplishments in the computer field. There is also an interesting video of Harry and his involvement with chess and computers.
Now that I am doing Inventor Relations for ThinkFun, Harry invited me to his home to view other ideas. Since I was in CA for the NCTM Conference (I mentioned NCTM in my last post) I took a flight to San Francisco to see Harry and his wonderful wife Claire. Harry planned a Puzzle Party in my honor while I was there so that I could meet with other local inventors!
Harry's Giant Burr
One of the first things you see when arriving at Harry and Claire’s home is this giant burr outside their front door. I knew I was entering the home of a puzzle lover when I saw that! It is a Bill Cutler design and made by Harry himself. It is fully functional with one warning from Harry, “Careful you don’t drop it on your foot. It hurts. I’ve done this many times.”
Harry and Claire are such genuinely kind and caring people. They welcomed me into their home so graciously and made me feel right at home. I loved talking puzzles with Harry and I loved talking life with Claire. I would sit at the dining room table with Harry and try to solve puzzles he’d give me. He’d tutor me through them and it was wonderful to spend time with him this way. I also really enjoyed sitting at the kitchen table with Claire talking about our lives and our families. Not only is she the heartbeat of this family, she’s also been instrumental in many philanthropic initiatives including the creation of a local woman’s shelter. I have some really special memories from our time spent together.
One of the first things I noticed when first touring their beautiful home is an incredible painting that hangs in their great room. Claire commissioned a local artist to do this painting for Harry. They hung it just days before my visit. It illustrates many of the important things that Harry has been involved in. Starting at the top left corner and going clockwise:
- Stormy Seas – this is a ThinkFun puzzle that was invented by Harry Nelson and Hiroshi Yammamoto. It is no longer for sale but is a wonderful puzzle. I was happy to purchase a booster card deck from Harry for this puzzle at a past IPP.
- Rush Hour – Harry was instrumental in linking the inventor Nob Yoshigahara to ThinkFun. Rush Hour is ThinkFun’s most popular and successful puzzle. Many people recognize the name Rush Hour before they recognize the name ThinkFun!
- Using a Cray supercomputer, Harry and Cray employee David Slowinski discovered the largest prime number known at that time. On April 8, 1979, they found the 27th Mersenne prime: 244497 – 1.
- Harry was also instrumental in bringing the Four Piece Jigsaw to ThinkFun. Harry met the inventor, Ken Walker, in his local neighbourhood and connected him with ThinkFun. I purchased an 8 piece Jigsaw Puzzle of Ken Walker’s from Harry at a past IPP.
- Harry’s son, Scott, invented ThinkFun’s Four Cube Puzzle when Scott was just nine years old. This puzzle is based on the MacMahon squares.
- In 1983, Harry and two other Cray employees, won the World Computer Chess Championship, and successfully defended its title in 1986.
- Another puzzle that Harry’s son Scott invented was On The Level by Magnif. It is also based on the MacMahon squares.
Harry's Puzzle Challenge
On Sunday, April 25th, Harry and Claire hosted the puzzle party. There is a CA group of puzzlers that meet throughout the year to share their puzzles. I was thrilled that I could be a part of this meeting.
Harry had put together a puzzle retrospective of ten puzzles for the party; approximately one from each decade of his life. He challenged me with them the day before and I enjoyed going through them. Mostly I enjoyed spending time with Harry as he helped me with some of them. I marvel at the way that creatives (like Harry) brains work. I liked how Harry had incorporated Treasure Quest in this set of puzzles. Harry is the inventor of ThinkFun’s Treasure Quest which is a game based on the transport puzzle called Sokoban.
Twisty Puzzle Inventor
I had the pleasure of meeting all three of Harry’s sons and their families at the party. Scott, Bron and Craig were all in attendance. They loved playing puzzles just like their dad. I enjoyed meeting them as their parents told me all about them! An extremely smart and loving family!
It was great to see a lot of IPP friends at Harry’s as well as to meet some new puzzle lovers and inventors. There was a large group of people very interested in Twisty Puzzles. A twisty puzzle consists of a set of pieces which can be manipulated into different combinations by a group of operations. The most commonly known twisty puzzle is the Rubik’s Cube. There was one new puzzler who attended that has made incredible twisty puzzles all by hand! His work was incredible.
Nicholas Cravotta, Scott Kim and I
I was thrilled to see again Nicholas Cravotta inventor of Dizios, CrossWise and Zenith by MindWare. I met Nicholas at the New York Toy Fair and also the Gathering 4 Gardner this year. He’s a very smart inventor and I hope we’ll work together one day.
I also was pleased to touch base with Scott Kim. Scott Kim invented ThinkFun’s Sudoku 5X5 and 4X4 games. He also helped develop the challenges for our Railroad Rush Hour. He was involved with the development of video games like Bejeweled and Guitar Hero. Scott is such a talented individual. He’s a world expert in ambigrams. The amazing thing is that you can give him words and he can write out them out as an ambigram on the spot! For example, one of the things I treasure is when my son and I sat with him at an IPP banquet. He did both our names such that you could read them both forwards and backwards. Very cool keepsake!
Me and Bill Darrah
Part of Harry's Puzzle Collection
- Nick and others puzzling!
Harry, Me and Claire
I had a great visit with Harry and Claire and had a fantastic time at the puzzle party. There were over 30 people who came out to enjoy puzzles and fellowship. The wonderful thing is that we all love puzzles. I was so happy to spend time with them. Many were my friends from the IPP community as well as I met many new people.
It was really nice that Harry and Claire hosted this event during my visit. Harry said, “Well of course, you need to meet the inventors and they want to meet you.” I feel really blessed when people as legendary as Harry and Claire Nelson invite me into their home, invite others into their home to meet me, make me feel so welcome and most memorably for me, just sit and spend time with me. Thank you Harry and Claire, I hope to come again!
Now you can purchase the movie Toyland! I blogged about this movie in a past post. I met Tim Walsh at an industry conference called ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailers Association). He’s an inventor and I was thrilled to meet him. He’s a really nice guy and I enjoyed playing games with him.
Me and Tim Walsh
Here’s what Tim posted about Toyland:
Director Ken Sons has released his film Toyland on DVD for online orders only. Some great friends like Peggy Brown (Q-Bitz), Richard Gill (Pictionary), and John Spinello (Operation) are profiled. Legends like Betty James (Slinky), Eddy Goldfarb (Kerplunk, Battling Tops), Reyn Guyer (Nerf, Twister), Milt Levine (Ant Farm) are in there too. I am featured and count myself blessed to be among such company. Want to be inspired? Laugh? Check out Toyland!
Toyland is an incredible look from an inventor’s perspective inside the Toy industry! Find out more about purchasing the DVD at this link! Tim gave me a copy at ASTRA and I highly recommend it for those of you interested in toy/game invention or the toy/game industry! A must see!
Bill, Myself and Charlotte
In April 2010 I was accepted to speak at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference about ThinkFun and our problem solving initiatives. I was pleased to speak to a full house of 150 teachers. ThinkFun has a large teacher fan base and their insight about our puzzles is incredible.
Bill Ritchie, CEO of ThinkFun, Charlotte Fixler, now the Education manager of ThinkFun, Amanda Turner, one of our talented designers, and myself all traveled to CA to be a part of this show.
I came on board with ThinkFun in 2007 as the Director of Education. This was my first role before I became Inventor Relations last year. I have traveled to many education conferences touching base with fellow teachers. ThinkFun is very passionate about using our games to enhance children’s learning. Bill is the visionary at ThinkFun and this is an initiative very close to his heart. ThinkFun has connected with some real giants in the Education world. We are methodically developing a position in Education.
Monica Neagoy, Dale Seymour, Michael Serra and Bill Ritchie
NCTM was a great place to meet with some of the experts in the Mathematics Education field. Right is a great picture of Monica Neagoy, Dale Seymour, Michael Serra and Bill Ritchie. Monica Neagoy is a well respected Mathematics Consultant. I wrote a past post about Dale Seymour when I had met up with him at the Gathering 4 Gardner in Atlanta. I used Michael Serra‘s books when teaching mathematics and it was a pleasure to meet up with him again at NCTM. These are all friends of Bill’s in the Education industry and it’s great to have experts like these to help us develop new programs.
Margo and Dale Seymour and I
Dale Seymour is such a giant in the mathematics education world. It was lovely to see him again at NCTM. I also met his wife Margo. Left is a picture of us in their son, Brett Robinson’s booth. Brett has a publication company called Instructional Images that prints beautiful mathematics posters. I had lunch with Margo one day and she was telling me all about their house. It sounds like an architectural marvel! And with all the mathematical sculptures they have on their property, I’m sure it would be something to see! Margo invited me to visit sometime; I hope I can take her up on that one day!
- Frank Lester and I
I was thrilled to meet Frank Lester in person. He’s been working with us in Education to develop our positioning on Problem Solving. Frank is an expert in this field. “Frank Lester is internationally known for his research on mathematical problem-solving instruction and his work in mathematics learning, teaching, and curriculum.” Many of the books on Problem Solving I’ve read have Frank listed as a resource. He’s a great person to work with.
What a great conference this was! I’d never visited San Diego before and it was a beautiful place to visit. Connecting with experts in the Mathematics Education field including the classroom teachers was very rewarding!
On Saturday, May 22nd, I found out that Martin Gardner had passed away. I was devastated. My heart broke. My friendship with Martin is one of the greatest treasures of my life. I couldn’t believe that I was no longer going to be able to call him up when I wanted to talk or to plan my “pilgrimage” to visit with him as I’ve done each year.
I can’t properly write a tribute to him right now. It hurts too much. However one thing I can share is that it’s amazing how life happens sometimes. I was in NYC on May 22. I was on a trip of a lifetime with some of my closest girlfriends. I found out this devastating news surrounded by comforting friends. And then the next day on Sunday, I visited Central Park. In Central Park there is a famous statue of Alice in Wonderland. Martin had in his home a wonderful photo of himself sitting on this statue. Martin loved the stories of Alice in Wonderland and one of his most well known books is called The Annotated Alice. In this book Martin explains the mathematical concepts, wordplay, and Victorian traditions featured in the two Alice books. It was so nice to spend time at this statue and think of Martin.
And then later on that same day, my friends and I had planned to see the Broadway Musical Wicked. Funny that we planned this way in advance of our trip because this musical is based on the story of Wizard of Oz. This was another of Martin’s favourite stories. Martin had written an unofficial sequel to the Wizard of Oz called Visitors from Oz: The Wild Adventures of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman. In this story the Oz characters meet the Alice characters! At the end of the musical, the two main characters (the two witches) sing to each other a song called For Good. I sat there (thankfully in the dark) and thought of Martin. You can click on the song title to hear the song or here are some of the lyrics that meant a lot to me:
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend…
So I felt so blessed to be in NYC at the time I heard of Martin’s death. A place where I could think of my friend, be sad, be thankful and be present with his memory. I was also thankful that I could pick up a copy of the NY Times on the Monday we left as there was a nice tribute to Martin printed. I’ve since read many tributes to Martin on the internet. I knew that he had touched many lives and had inspired so many with the work he had done. For me, I will miss our conversations and our visits. I will miss my friend - the most giving, kind, and gentle man. I received an email from Martin’s son, Jim, last week and he said that he knew me because his dad had talked to him about me. That meant the world to me. And so, my heart begins to mend. Martin – I miss you and I thank you for being my friend.
Martin and I December 2009