Category Archives: ThinkFun Games

The Return of the Man Behind the Laser!

I had the chance to speak to award winning game designer Luke Hooper this week. Luke designed our smash hit Laser Maze, the logic game with a frickin’ laser!

Don’t know much about Laser Maze? Well, here’s the deal: Laser Maze is a beam-bending logic game that challenges players to strategically arrange the tokens to reflect and split the laser beam according to a set of challenge card instructions. Laser Maze has been recommended by American Mensa and earned a flurry of other distinctions, including Oppenheim Toy Portfolio’s Platinum Award (2013), Good Housekeeping’s Best Toys Award (2013), the Parents’ Choice Gold Award (2013), and ASTRA’s Best Toys for Kids (2013).

Now back to Luke…

Laser Maze Inventor2 300x225 The Return of the Man Behind the Laser!The brains behind the game, Luke is a BioMedcal Engineer by training and a seasoned entrepreneur who has co-founded Innovention Toys, Blu Wine Bar, and Reyn Studios: Power Yoga.

Prior to designing Laser Maze, he was winning awards and challenging players with a different laser game, Laser Khet 2.0. Currently, he’s the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Factor 10, a full-service design and consulting studio.

 

Here’s how our conversation went…

 

Q: How do you feel you’re game design approach has changed since your early years designing Khet to your more recent work with Laser Maze?

A: We self produced Khet, so it was a lot of work on the manufacturing end as well as concept design. I mean, we were literally shipping product out of a garage. For Laser Maze, the focus was more on finding the right partner to produce a product that would appeal to everyone, and getting that product into the right hands. ThinkFun was ultimately a perfect choice to for us because your products are in line with the audience we were seeking.

 

Q: Can you tell me what you think sets you apart from other game designers?

A: I tend to integrate innovative technologies into games. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that my design company designs more than just board games, including things like medical devices, custom testing equipment and even golf clubs for Nike. So our philosophy is more about using technology in ways that people haven’t really seen before to inspire children of all ages. We want to wow them with concepts that make them see the world & technology in new ways.

 

Q: Can you give me an overview of what a typical engagement at Factor10 entails?

A: There really is no typical engagement. We consult with companies ranging in size from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies on everything from branding & marketing, turn key product development, digital systems and strategic licensing like we did with ThinkFun.

Basically, we believe that when you set out to build a product, you really have to consider the full experience. We help people to build a compelling user experience, from the moment they hear about the product all the way through to the impression you get the first time you unbox that new toy or device. At the end of the day, our engagements are about building new businesses or growing existing businesses in a sustainable way.

 

Q. I hear you’ve added a new member to your family recently. Congratulations on that, Luke! Do you have any advice to give to parents on how they can keep their kids curious and excited about learning?

A. I speak at schools and do programs with them on this type of topic. The big thing I try to remember with my own son is that kids are naturally interested in new things. You can’t force kids into doing new things, but with games like the ones ThinkFun puts out, you can get them interested authentically, to discover and get excited on their own. I suggest walking through the toy aisle with them regularly. Kids love innovation, and they love creating. Best of all, they can help us adults remember that we are all curious and creative and love these things too.

 

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!

Greetings and Salutations From SmartPlay’s New Author

throwback 300x201 Greetings and Salutations From SmartPlay’s New Author

Andrea and I back in the day wishing BinaryArts (ThinkFun’s original name) good luck at its launch.

Hello World! This is my debut post on the SmartPlay.com blog, so I figured I’d take a moment to introduce myself, share a little bit about what inspires me, and set some intentions about what you can expect from my posts moving forward.

A Little About Me

Some of you may know me as the CEO and Co-Founder of Thinkfun, the world’s leader in addictively fun games that build 21st century thinking skills through play. But I’m guessing that most of you may not know WHY I got into the game industry.
My lovely and inspiring wife, Andrea Barthello, and I founded ThinkFun on a dream. We wanted to change the world by translating the brilliant ideas of the craziest mathematicians, engineers and inventors into simple toys that could be appreciated by children of all ages. This was way back in 1985, and our name back then was BinaryArts (see our throwback photo that accompanies this post for visual aid).

In 2003, we changed our name from Binary Arts to ThinkFun and updated our mission to focus on the learning-through-play perspective. But not that much has changed since then. We still want to change the world, we just want to do it through play.

Lately, what I’m really enjoying is just how organically our newest games support some of the forward-thinking philosophies and curricula of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and STEAM (Science & Technology interpreted through Engineering & the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements) communities. If you don’t know much about these organizations yet, take a look at this video from Georgette Yakman, Founder/Teacher of STEAM.

A Little About Robot Turtles

So how does ThinkFun pay off our claim to ignite minds through play? Let’s take Robot Turtles as an example. The game sneakily teaches programming fundamentals to kids ages 3 and up and is the perfect expression of ThinkFun’s mission.

Robot Turtles players learn how to break one big problem into small steps, to think ahead, to work backwards, to look for patterns and to keep trying to fix their “bugs.”
 Playing is a lot like coding because:
• When a child lays down her cards, she is writing code.
• When a child rearranges his cards to fix what didn’t work, he is debugging.
• When a child discusses her strategy, she is commenting her code.
• When a child asks a parent to move the Turtle, he is running a program.
• When a child plays a Function Frog, she is executing a subroutine or a function.

I want to dive deeper into the mechanics here, but I’ll just share this 20 second video on how to play Robot Turtles instead, and wait until next week’s post to unpack the topic further.


A Little About What to Expect as the Blog Evolves

I plan on writing about once a week from now on, focusing on my take on the whacky world of creativity, problem solving and any general out-of-the-box thinking. I REALLY want to hear from you all as time goes on. What do you want to hear more about? What should I shut up about?

I’ll also reach out to some friends and colleagues to guest blog for me on these subjects from time to time, and I’ll do some “Greatest Hits” posts that bundle up a few of the fantastic posts from my SmartPlay blog predecessor, Charlotte Fixler.

Onward!

Robot Turtles in action

The Gift of Coding

Since ThinkFun announced the launch of Robot Turtles – the board game that teaches coding to preschoolers – some fantastic conversations have emerged about the importance of coding literacy for the very youngest learners. The theme that’s tied these discussions together has, interestingly, been less about the hard skills of coding, and more about the thinking processes that develop organically as young minds are taught to think like a programmer.

Robot Turtles in action The Gift of Coding

I love this quote by game’s inventor Dan Shapiro, who explains that learning to code is like a gift we can give our children:

“There are two types of people in the world. People who think of computers as their masters and people who think of computers as their helpers. The future is going to be written by programmers and read by everyone else. I want to give my kids the gift of being able to express themselves through programming and the power that comes from being able to write software.

It’s not that I want them to be programmers. Being able to program will make them better at whatever they do. Having that skill is like being a great writer, having a love for learning, or having a deep foundation in mathematics. No matter what you do, programming unlocks doors for you, helps you express yourself, and helps you become more successful in anything you decide to do. It’s a gift you can give to your kid.”

rt box 262x300 The Gift of Coding

As we’ve worked through what coding means in the context of game play, it’s become clear that Robot Turtles supports critical thinking skills that go way beyond programming. Through play, children learn how to break a big problem into small steps, make a plan, work backwards, find patterns, and identify and fix “bugs” – these life skills will serve them far beyond game play!

To help clarify the links between playing with Turtles and learning to program, this document breaks down the ways in which this game teaches code – and a heck of a lot more!

 

Robot Turtles are on the way!

I am SO excited to share that the much-anticipated Robot Turtles games are on their way… we’re counting down the weeks until they arrive!  The best-selling board game in Kickstarter history, Robot Turtles is designed to teach coding skills to preschoolers.  Check it out!

Haven’t ordered your copy yet?  Get on it!  All pre-orders receive a *free expansion pack* that features:

  • 12 Pre-set Frog Favorite Cards
  • 32 Bonus Collectible Jewel Tokens
  • 10 Adventure Quests

Order now, and here’s a sneak peek at the package that will be headed your way in June… opening up a box of awesome is a pretty sweet way to kick off the summer!

DSC 0359 300x221 Robot Turtles are on the way!

 

 

 

Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

ThinkFun braved the elements and headed to New York for Toy Fair! Once again, the team was undeterred by an ill-timed snowstorm (the weather gods must not like toys!?), we had a blast sharing our new 2014 games with retailers and media for 4 fun-filled days!

IMG 8951 300x300 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

Toy Fair started with the Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards ceremony! While we didn’t have any big wins, we were thrilled to celebrate our THREE nominees!

TOTY2014 InnovativeCategory 300x225 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

Laser Maze looks good with the other Innovative Toy of the Year nominees!

TOTY2014 GameOfTheYearCategory 300x225 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

WordARound poses with other “Game of the Year” nominees

ThinkFun’s amazing product development team and founders Bill Ritchie & Andrea Barthello got dolled up and enjoyed the night’s festivities too!

TOTY2014 TanyaJoshAndrea 300x225 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

TOTY2014 KatieJoshBill 300x225 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

After the TOTY Awards, the show began! While the event is closed to the public, I thought you might enjoy a sneak peek inside the ThinkFun booth… here are a few shots taken during our set-up… 

SundayMorningWalkthrough2 300x198 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

MarkChuck Setup 300x198 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

MarkMattJodi Setup 300x198 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

We were so excited to see the booth come together – our 2014 games looked fabulous in their displays!

IMG 8964 300x300 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

IMG 8960 300x300 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

IMG 8957 225x300 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

IMG 8983 300x300 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

Once we had everything ready to roll…. we celebrated!

IMG 8974 300x225 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

IMG 8970 300x300 Scenes from Toy Fair 2014

 

Costers2

Meet the Zingo inventors!

The newest additions to the Zingo! family have arrived: Zingo Word Builder and Zingo! Time-Telling… and the inventors of the original Zingo! game give them a thumbs-up from their home in Israel!

Costers2 300x225 Meet the Zingo inventors!

Theo and Ora Coster created the original Zingo! Zinger… did you know they’re also the inventors of the classic game Guess Who?

Costers 300x225 Meet the Zingo inventors!

Turtle Power!

The turtles are coming… Robot Turtles to be exact! I’m beyond thrilled to share ThinkFun’s latest game designed to teach coding literacy and early programming skills to preschoolers.

Robot 1900 HiResSpill 300x300 Turtle Power!

The daughter of a programmer, I grew up sitting on dad’s lap playing Logo, so it’s no surprise this game hits particularly close to my heart (See Exhibit A below!)

Coding age 2 300x233 Turtle Power!

Me, age 2, coding like a boss!

For those unfamiliar with this board game sensation, here’s a quick history. Released last year on Kickstarter, Robot Turtles is a board game created by Dan Shapiro, a programmer dad who wanted to share his love of coding with his 4 year old twins.

Playing on the Logo programming language, this clever game captured the enthusiasm of thousands… the inventor’s goal of $25,000 was quickly met, and the project closed with over $630,000 in funding, the must backed game in Kickstarter history!

When funding closed, the turtle frenzy was in full swing. Learning that no additional games were planned after the initial print run for Kickstarter backers, ThinkFun reached out to the inventor to share our excitement about continuing the Turtle movement – and we were thrilled to work out an arrangement to bring the game into the ThinkFun family!

Here’s a fantastic video introducing Dan and showing the game in action:

 ThinkFun made a few modifications to Dan’s phenomenal game, including improvements to the instructions, storage box, and card design. While the game doesn’t ship until June, ThinkFun is accepting pre-orders now and including an expansion pack with new challenges and ways to extend the fun and learning!

 rt preorder224px1 Turtle Power!

As a child, there was nothing better than spending an afternoon sitting on my dad’s lap and playing on our (gigantic!) desktop terminal. He shared his love of programming, I got to control the actions of the little Turtle and get special time with dad. To me, Robot Turtles represents the opportunity for families to share that same learning and bonding experience – in a board game!

Vote ThinkFun for Toy of the Year!

Exciting news here at ThinkFun!  The 2014 Toy of the Year (TOTY) finalists were just announced – and we have THREE nominees! We are over the moon about these nominations… and we need your help! 

TOTY 2014 lm war Vote ThinkFun for Toy of the Year!

TOTY awards are determined in large part by online voting – can you spare 3 clicks?!

 

The 3 Nominees (with links to vote) are:

Laser Maze – Innovative Toy of the Year

WordARound – Game of the Year

Laser Maze – Specialty Toy of the Year

 

As an added bonus, all voters are eligible to win a fabulous prize pack!  HUGE thanks for your vote and for your continued support of ThinkFun!

(Voting ends Jan. 13th.)