Category Archives: Games and the Brain

How ThinkFun’s Head of Inventor Relations, Tanya Thompson, is Changing the World Through Play

Recently, ThinkFun’s Head of Inventor Relations, Tanya Thompson, had the amazing opportunity to speak at July Catalyst Week in Las Vegas. Her talk is a fantastic overview of how ThinkFun’s mission of “Changing the world through play” inspired her to move out of her comfort zone as a teacher, and into the world of business.

In the video, Tanya also touches on how she found Dan Shapiro’s Kickstarter campaign for Robot Turtles, and she teases the upcoming collaboration with Philip Sheppard, a world-class cellist. This collaboration is especially exciting because the resulting product will allow children to compose and play with music. Intriguing, huh?

Check out the video to hear more about Tanya and  details on what 2015 has in store for ThinkFunners. Oh, and let us know what you think – We’d love to hear from you!

Gravity Maze is Here!

Gravity Maze is the follow-up to our much beloved Laser Maze game, and we’ve been pouring love and attention into it for well over a year. It was very important to us to get all the details just right. It’s here, I’ve been playing it, and it’s just what we intended.

Why We Made Gravity Maze

One theme I am starting to hear again and again is that Gravity Maze reminds people of classic marble races. We’ve even begun posting some homemade marble runs to our social channels to support all the nostalgia. Our version has more of a bite to it though. Gravity maze is not just any marble run or logic puzzle—it’s a complete, hands-on, playful, open-ended STEM engineering experience. We made the game to encourage the usage of visual perception, creativity, and deduction to find single solutions to 60 challenges ranging from beginner to expert. That said, it’s ultimately an immersive and tactile physical experience. Just as we’re targeting the digital natives of Gen Z (and younger) with Gravity Maze, we’re also hearkening back to the old Erector Set, that classic builder-based engineering toy from the 1950’s.

THEN NOW 300x168 Gravity Maze is Here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Helped Us Make Gravity Maze

So how did Gravity Maze get so awesome? Enter Wei-Hwa Huang, world puzzle champion and design master, and a good friend. Working with inventor Oliver Morris and a team of ThinkFun experts, Wei-Hwa breathed his magic into the maze challenges and into the underlying system architecture. So take note: When Andrea and I launched ThinkFun in 1985, we said that our mission was to translate the best ideas of the wackiest geniuses into simple puzzles and games to be played by all the boys and girls of the world. I think we nailed this mission with Gravity Maze!

Join us in Building our own Collection of Marble Runs on ThinkFun.com!

Throughout the Fall and Holiday season we’ll be building a growing collection of YouTube, Vine, and Instagram videos of our customers playing Gravity Maze on our site. The objective: To salute the old school marble runs with a new school logic game twist! We’ll be updating our progress regularly, so please check back in early and often. If you want to create your own Vine video and have us feature it, send us an email. I just did it…it’s easy!

Here is my own first shot at this project. What do you think? Is this the seed of a good idea? Could you do better? Then shoot us a video!

Until next time,
Bill

Reflections on: ThinkFun and Robot Turtles in the Media

wired pic 300x148 Reflections on: ThinkFun and Robot Turtles in the Media

I’m extremely excited to share that we’ve been popping up a lot in the media lately, so things have been kind of hectic—but in the best way possible. So without seeming overly self involved (*ahem*), I would like to share a few of the more interesting news items here, and then add some supplemental info about one of the articles. I can’t help it– I’m proud of our games! And I’m thrilled that they all seem to touch on the theme of igniting the mind through play. Sound familiar? It should—it’s our mission.

Swish in The Atlantic

On July 16, The Atlantic published the article How Family Game Night Makes Kids Into Better Students. The author, Jessica Lahey spotlighted our game Swish, and its benefits for kids with impulse control and working memory deficits.

Within the article, Lahey consulted with Dr. Bill Hudenko, child psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, who elaborated on which executive function skills Swish can most benefit:

Children with executive functioning deficits often struggle with the heavy working memory demands of mentally rotating the cards and sequentially identifying additional card matches. This game also is particularly helpful for developing an appropriate balance between impulse control and increasing processing speed as the child is trying to be the first to identify a “swish.”

Robot Turtles (and the history of ThinkFun) in Wired
Then, last week on Thursday, the Twittersphere really blew up with mentions of ThinkFun when Wired published this article, The 75-Year Saga Behind a Game That Teaches Preschoolers to Code, by Cade Metz. The title does a fantastic job of surfacing the major themes of the article: My family’s tech-centric lineage, and our vision of Robot Turtles as the hero product in the evolution of gameplay as a technique for teaching the fundamentals of code. I touched on what Robot Turtles can teach children in my first post on this blog. If I’ve piqued your interest at all so far, please do take a minute to read the Wired article. It’s very thorough and entertaining.

How we’ve changed the game
As Cade Metz points out in the Wired article, we acquired Robot Turtles from Dan Shapiro. But we didn’t stop evolving the product, and this is where the supplemental info I alluded to in the intro begins…I’d like to unbox this topic a bit further.

Of course, once we acquired Robot Turtles we made changes to enhance game play with new instructions, clearer graphics, more durable cards, bug tiles instead of cards, and a sturdy box for better storage. But that was just the beginning. ThinkFun has made Robot Turtles a flagship product in its support for Kids and Coding. We’ve added several dimensions to the game and our thinking. I want to touch on some of these upgrades:

• Programming as Storytelling: Using our “Adventure Quest” generator, parents and kids can submit board presets and stories that make being a Turtle Master kid more fun than ever. We also include some board presets to spark your imagination.
• Using Programming To Model Parent-Child Interaction: In our instruction manual, we use our teaching experience to help families make the most of time together with Robot Turtles by providing kids instructions about programming and parents instructions on how to execute their kids commands in a fun, engaging way.
• Community Interaction: We evaluate submissions and post the best for use to the Quest Library.
• Kids & Coding Resource: We’ve aggregated an amazing list of people with products, programs, gatherings and more to make sure that Robot Turtles is just the beginning of your child’s introduction to coding.
• Partnership program: Recognizing that the employers of tomorrow want the children of today to have these skills, ThinkFun is actively donating games and activities to partners. Contact us if you’re interested.
So now I’ll put the question to you, our community: Where would you like to see game enhancements and extensions? Please tweet us @Thinkfun or email us at Info@thinkfun.com with your feedback. We’re listening!

ThinkFun’s CEO Champions a BigLeap Challenge for Games to Make Kids Smarter!

From Marketwired – Aug 20, 2013:

sylvia and bill ThinkFuns CEO Champions a BigLeap Challenge for Games to Make Kids Smarter!

BigLeap Launches First Crowd-Funding Challenge Platform for Social Good: First Challenge Aims to Give Children Everywhere Access to Free Games That Can Actually Make Them Smarter

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – BigLeap, the world’s first crowd-funding prize and reward network that allows passionate advocates to drive social change via competition-based challenges, today launched its first challenge: to make education more accessible.

BigLeap’s first challenge is championed by Professor Silvia Bunge, a neuroscience and childhood learning expert at U.C. Berkeley, and Bill Ritchie, the CEO of ThinkFun games. The challenge will give children everywhere access to free games designed to improve their brain power by helping to develop their reasoning and logic skills via simple, interactive game play.

 

ThinkFun’s mission has always focused on bringing mind challenging games to children everywhere, and this challenge is an exciting new way to ensure these brain building games reach even more communities. Read more on Bill’s involvement in this challenge and find out how to get involved here!

Brain Fitness games keep older brains sharp!

I’m thrilled to share our new line of Brain Fitness games: Solitaire Chess, Rush Hour, and Chocolate Fix!

Brain Fitness Line 1024x341 Brain Fitness games keep older brains sharp!

These brain-boosting games are designed to strengthen mental muscles through play – and you can bet my playful grandma has already got a set!

These three games were created in partnership with fantastic volunteer testers from the ThinkFun community and AARP who gave feedback on everything from packaging to piece design to challenge progression. Industrial designers shared ergonomic pieces designed for larger hands, and testers voted for their favorites and shared great ideas about modifications and preferred game storage. Below is an example of insight from an early survey that led to the tagline “Cross Train Your Brain” on the package front!

Capture Brain Fitness games keep older brains sharp!

We spent several months working with these testers, sharing new ideas, testing play patterns, and refining these new offerings to ensure they were both a fun and challenging experience!

Testers shared some fantastic feedback after a month of playing…

“I plan ahead more. I think of the outcome before hastily acting.”

“I play bridge and find it easier to remember which cards were played!”

“Gets your brain thinking! Challenging, stimulating and fun all in one.”

“I plan to play these for a long time!”

Increasingly we are hearing about the importance of keeping our brains nimble and strong as we age.  With so many companies offering digital training games, we are very proud to present quality hands-on thinking games that engage players both on a tactile and mental level. These three classic ThinkFun games, Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix, and Solitaire Chess, have long been celebrated for pushing players to think harder and challenge themselves, and we are thrilled to present them now for an older audience!

Do you play brain games to keep your mind sharp? What are your favorites?

Rush Hour Featured in Scientific American

Scientific American Mind Magazine is dedicated to innovations in brain science. My geeky heart skipped a beat when I opened the new May/June issue… and saw Rush Hour! This iconic ThinkFun logic puzzle was featured in a piece on brain training games that have a proven effect on improving the way children’s brains work.

ScientificAmericanMIND Rush Hour Featured in Scientific American

This article on brain training games for kids describes several products and programs designed to enhance children’s thinking skills – on page 42, it features an image of Rush Hour and describes the work of our friend Sylvia Bunge at UC Berkeley, who used this game and others (including Chocolate Fix) to improve reasoning IQ of students in a low-income community in Oakland, CA

sam0513 75x100 Rush Hour Featured in Scientific American
We are thrilled to continue our work with the Bunge Lab to truly understand ways in which our games shape and improve brains – it is thrilling to be on the forefront of such innovation! This issue is available on newsstands nationwide.

A preview of the article is available here, and the entire issue can be downloaded for a fee.

AsperKids-ThinkFun-image

Introducing… The Asperkids Collection!

I am THRILLED to share the new Asperkids Collection, an exciting partnership between ThinkFun and Asperkids!  Asperkids creator Jennifer O’Toole has curated a collection of games that support universal education skills for learners of all abilities, and below she shares a post on this initiative.  Learn more about Jennifer and her incredible work with AsperKids on her website, FacebookPinterest, and Twitter!

AsperKids ThinkFun image Introducing... The Asperkids Collection!

At Asperkids, we believe that learning is the business of everyone, every day – and that a, b, c’s and 1, 2, 3′s are just the tip of the iceberg. Real success in real life – friendships, romance, careers – requires persistence, patience, patience, and communication. And there’s no better way to practice all of those skills than PLAY. As Mister Roger’s said, “Play is serious work.” That’s why we are SO proud to introduce THE ASPERKIDS COLLECTION BY THINKFUN – our favorite games for sharpening skills OFFERED SO THAT SOME OF THE PROCEEDS BENEFIT OUR WORK on behalf of Asperkids everywhere.

By paying particularly close attention to the the distinct needs of different minds, we’ve assembled a collection of strategies, philosophies and insights which increase curiosity, wonder and engagement – improving the way ALL children (gifted, twice exceptional, sensory, ADD, typical, etc) LEARN HOW TO LEARN.

For example… you can teach a young Asperkid to practice overcoming mind blindness (the idea that our perspectives aren’t the automatically same) with S’match – a game aimed at children as young as four! Practice using the phrase, “Make me see what you’re seeing.” Help the child explain why they’ve made a “s’match” (or why they haven’t) using as many descriptors (colors, shapes, quantity) as possible….even an older Aspie may find that more challenging than you’d expect. Why? To us Aspies, our thoughts seem “transparent,” or obvious to everyone else. We have to LEARN THE SKILL of communicating what we presume, understand and believe in what feels (to us) like overly stated terms.

That may start by learning to clearly articulate, “I have a “s’match” because I uncovered two red cards, and the category I needed to match was color. If the category had been number or shape, I wouldn’t have made a s’match because these cards have different shapes (one has circles and the other has a triangle) and quantities (two versus one).” Take that to the level of a teen and it become explaining their thoughts about what happened at a party – or to an adult who can successfully communicate with his or her spouse.

“Make me see what you see.” That’s your line. Then repeat it back, “So, you see a…..” If what you’ve heard and what your kiddo meant don’t “S’match,” guide your Asperkid as she fills in any holes or miscommunications.

You see? In our collection, there’s logic building and visual spatial skills, collaboration and problem solving…not to mention LOTS OF FUN. So delight your Asperkid – and empower others everywhere by making your purchases through our site. We’ll all be so very glad you have.

(For more great ideas on how to use ThinkFun Games read my past blog, “Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck“.)

Guest Post: Puzzle Games vs. Video Games

I was recently contacted by Bogdan, the co-founder of the soon-to-launch social puzzle site globalpuzzle.net. While the term “puzzle” can range in meaning from the traditional jigsaw association to logic puzzles like Rush Hour, there are some notable differences between puzzles and video games – here he shares his insights…

Ben Spark giant RH 300x225 Guest Post: Puzzle Games vs. Video Games

Puzzle Games vs. Video Games

Puzzles differ from video games for various reasons. A puzzle poses a challenge that the gamer is required to resolve. In an ordinary jigsaw puzzle for example, the gamer is expected to put pieces in a consistent way to come up with the anticipated solution. Puzzles are viewed as forms of amusement, yet they are equally seen to be derived from serious arithmetic problems. Any smart resolution can lead to a pertinent contribution to the body of mathematics.

Puzzles Come in Levels

Puzzles and video games come in levels. When you finish level one, you advance to a new level with even more serious challenges. This makes the game captivating and worth the challenge. Simple puzzles are often traditional and have some foreseeable moves, and playing several times leads to monotony. Newest puzzles and video games have been developed in a way that breaks the monotony. A novice player can teach himself using a test level until he is ready to advance. This permits players to leave certain stages they have difficulties with and get back to them later if they wish. Otherwise, players can also choose to play within a given sequence. This maintains a serious investment in your game, as the gamer is not allowed to jump to the last stage at will.

Limited Hints

Unlike puzzles, video games have many hints that allow the player to temper the challenge. Creating a leeway through which players can avoid the challenge can also be detrimental if over-exploited. The initial stages of a video or puzzle game are often made so easy that players don’t get stuck, however as the game progresses, players will start getting real challenge.  In the long run, they tend to create objectives in terms of which levels they want to arrive at. That’s makes the game interesting. Because any serious play would require spending considerable time trying to master it, players wouldn’t dare relinquish their progress by quitting.

Video Gaming Perception

In the age of rampant video gaming, the judicial system has come up with its own unjustified theory as to why children should be weaned from playing video games. People worry games such as Doom, Mortal Combat among others might easily turn teenagers into serial killers or draw them to drug abuse. These allegations, while extreme, may have something to do with changing trends of parent purchases, making traditional puzzle play more attractive with their added benefit of being good for the brain.

Puzzles can be played in many forms

Many people like puzzles over video games because with puzzles, they have a wide field of play from articles, books, online, desktop, and so forth. For video games, they can play from all multimedia gadgets, but not using print media. One could argue this makes puzzles more diverse.  When people play a puzzle in print media, their interest develops – and they can extend their focus using online puzzle games to further develop their prowess.

Bogdan G. is a co-founder of www.globalpuzzle.net, a challenging online puzzle game where you participate by answering questions posted by people all over the world and solve a message hidden in a unique picture painted by a talented artist.

New Year’s resolutions for body and brain

I recently shared an article with the Savvy Auntie community on ways to involve the kiddos in your life in keeping those get-healthy new year’s resolutions.  You can read the full article here, but one of the tips I shared was to help those resolving to keep their MINDS as healthy as their bodies in 2013.

With all the focus on getting fit and healthy, don’t forget to keep your mental muscles toned! Studies show games can improve memory and prevent dementia—do you really need more incentive to play?!

Game night doesn’t have to mean Monopoly every time… Expand your repertoire with classic strategy games like Mancala, Backgammon, or Go! Live far away? Become puzzle pen pals and exchange Sudoku puzzles or crosswords from your local newspapers. For older kids, launch an ongoing mobile game of Chess, Blokus, or Catan. You’ll stay connected and get a brain boost with each move—a win-win!

Do you make games part of your family bonding?  Prefer to play solo?  Finding new ways to incorporate brain play into your healthy routine has so many benefits, and I encourage you to get creative in involving loved ones for double the fun!

photo 2 225x300 New Years resolutions for body and brain

An aside – my first get-healthy resolution of the new year… switching to a stand-up desk! I’m 2 weeks in and, for lack of a better phrase, still standing!

I’d love to hear any healthy resolutions you’ve made for the new year – whether for body, brain, or both. Please share!

Solitaire Chess: Brainiac Edition

This email absolutely made my day!  Shad, a retiree from Montana who shared in this post how she and her husband play (and fiercely compete in) Solitaire Chess, wrote to let me know the game has now spread to her son and daughter in-law!   The mental image of this brainy family at play made me smile!

Solitaire Chess Shad Bailey 225x300 Solitaire Chess: Brainiac Edition

Shad's husband practices to maintain his competitive edge!

Dear Charlotte,

The funniest thing just happened.  Our son and his wife are here and we showed them the Solitare Chess.  Jessica is an electrical engineer and Todd is a PhD dissertation writer in Political Science.  They were stuck on #41.  Todd finally figured it out the way we do by thinking of how things can move and in what sequence makes things possible.  Jessica got out her little laptop and wrote some code to figure it out.  They came to their answers about the same time.

We really have had fun with that game!   What a funny evening.  We really enjoyed seeing how the two of them would manage.

Thank you

Shad