Tag Archives: educational games

If You Give a CEO a Camera…

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ThinkFun CEO Bill Ritchie in his Super Solver cape!

This is as good a time as any to introduce ThinkFun CEO and co-founder, Bill Ritchie!

Over the last few weeks, Bill has been jetting all over the country, stopping in Berkeley, CA to visit the folks at the Bunge Lab for Cognitive Control and Development who are gearing up for a new study measuring the impact of our Rush Hour Brain Lab program on reasoning skills!

Bill made his way through Seattle to brainstorm with a designer and meet with the programmer who generated over 20,000 new Rush Hour challenges!  Next, he and his wife, ThinkFun co-founder Andrea Barthello, went to LA for the TED Conference… Here he purchased a Flip video camera, and the rest is history!  Bill and his new gadget made the rounds at TED, then came to NY Toy Fair to document the events and people with whom he met!

This one minute video of Bill’s whirlwind tour gives a great sense of the incredible people with whom he and ThinkFun have connected.  Enjoy!

So who buys these games anyway?!

Toy Fair was particularly fun as I had a chance to step out of my education/product development bubble and see the real impact of the games I help create through the eyes of the people who buy and sell them!

As the bulk of my communication is with educators, the only regular interactions I have with buyers come during my own “reconnaissance missions.”  As my very patient husband will attest, regardless of where we are or what we’re late for, it’s impossible for me to walk by a toy store without stopping to ask how ThinkFun is selling, jot down feedback, requests, critiques, etc., share new developments– and more often than not end up playing a few challenges!

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For me, Toy Fair was a rare opportunity to connect with hundreds of our retailers from all over the world (without a tired, hungry husband in tow)!  I’d expected to meet almost exclusively with buyers purely interested in stocking their shops with ThinkFun product, and I was pleasantly surprised to be completely wrong!  I met so many people who know our products inside and out and have identified all sorts of new uses and populations to target with them!

A sampling of the various buyers and fans who visited our booth these last 4 days…

  • A non-profit that donates games to sick children at NY hospitals.  I learned that the 40 challenges in games like Rush Hour and Hoppers make them well suited for these kids who often tire quickly or are interrupted frequently.  This progression allows kids to complete as few or as many challenges as they can handle at a time and feel a sense of accomplishment, tackling the next when they’re ready.
  • A reporter who downloaded our new Rush Hour Android app in the booth was so engrossed he took a seat and played challenges on his phone until forced to leave for his next appointment!
  • A Temple bookstore that can’t keep bilingual Hebrew Zingo on the shelf!
  • A speech and language pathologist who reviews games for a blog!  She lit up on the improvements to our What’s GNU? game and gave me new insight on new ways to use this in a theraputic setting!
  • A consultant who uses our games as adult team building exercises
  • A hobby shop in Pennsylvania that hosts the Pinewood Derby event each year for local boy scout troops was thrilled to see Knot So Fast! He felt this competitive knot tying game would be a perfect challenge for these scouts!
  • The Director of a summer camp program looking for new enrichment activities and interested in using ThinkFun games as part of a game invention unit.
  • The developer of a new web site interested in linking ThinkFun games to specific types of learners and their strengths based on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.
  • A buyer looking for products suited for children with autism.  She really lit up on our new Zingo To Go, explaining that the push-to-flip action on the playing boards is a manageable, non-overwhelming task that provides appropriate tactile and visual stimulation.
  • A retailer searching for games for a nursing home community that would to keep older adults’ minds sharp with fun, appropriate challenges.  He felt the leveled challenges and chunky pieces in many of our spatial games like Brick by Brick made these a good fit.

Returning from Toy Fair I’m even more energized to continue doing everything I can to make our games the kinds of products that make our customers and buyers stretch their own thinking and see the potential that these games have for use in a huge range of settings!

Before closing down the booth, a few of my ThinkFun buddies and I couldn’t resist seeing how we measure up on the ThinkFun Games to Grow with display… I came up a bit short icon smile So who buys these games anyway?!

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I just made it past the line!

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ThinkFun Designer Josh is all grown up!

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Here's Edoardo from Marketing! Was he stooping to make me feel better?!

Greetings from Toy Fair!

What an incredible week this has been!

Just wrapped up day 3 of Toy Fair here in New York and wanted to share some quick high points.  While ThinkFun has been exhibiting at this show for the past 24 years(!), this was my very first experience, and I’ve been completely star-struck to put it mildly… Wow!

DSCN0829 225x300 Greetings from Toy Fair!
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Welcome to Toy Fair!

A few highlights:

  • We unveiled our 2010 products!  The incredible reception these games have gotten is amazingly rewarding… buyers are as excited about them as we are!  Lots more to share about these in the near future, so stay tuned!
  • ThinkFun buyers, distributors, and fans from all over the world have come to visit us in the booth… it’s so neat to see how well known and recognized our games are worldwide!
  • I met Ron Dubren, the inventor of Tickle Me Elmo!
  • A fantastic group of ThinkFun supporters from Colvin Run Elementary, including Barbara Ross (the brilliant teacher who created Strategy Labs!) came up from VA for the day to see the booth and explore the exhibit halls!
  • Donny Osmond and his son stopped by the booth to play a game of Rush Hour!
  • A puzzle store owner whose sister solved the 36 Cube (aka the “World’s Most Challenging Puzzle”) 2 weeks after it came out and has been holding it over her head ever since!  She came to ask for a hint to the solution (nice try—but my lips are sealed!)
  • I solved an Expert level Solitaire Chess challenge!  This giant version of our newest single player strategy game has been a huge hit in the booth (and a great way to keep ThinkFun staff entertained when we have down-time!)
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I've shrunk! Our enormous Solitaire Chess display was a hit at Toy Fair!


Loads more highlights to share, but wanted to give you a taste of the fun I’ve had.  Looking forward to a great final day!

Update:  See more photos of our Toy Fair Booth!

Extreme Makeover… ThinkFun Edition!

Two ThinkFun Favorites Get “Gnu” Updates Based on Player Feedback!

Over the years we’ve gotten LOADS of fabulous suggestions from parents, teachers, and kids for ways to improve our Zingo! and What’s GNU? games, and we’ve listened! Last year, we went through massive amounts of player feedback, including online reviews, customer emails, and letters from kids, and we found several recurring themes! To share a few:

“Make Zingo! tiles double-sided!”

“Loading the tiles back into the Zinger is a pain”

“What’s GNU? is too tough for the youngest players”
“There is often no way to make a word in What’s GNU?”
“What’s GNU? Cards scattered everywhere make it way too overwhelming for my 5 year old!”

Using these suggestions and more for guidance, the product development team explored all possible updates, and, having tested countless prototypes and ideas firsthand, I can confidently say that the refreshed versions of these two games are greatly improved as a result!

Updates include:
Zingo!

  • Double-sided tiles!
  • Zingo! Zinger now features easy reload slots that let players pop tiles back in as they play! No more tiles littering the floor means fewer missing pieces… and makes clean up a snap!
  • New tile and image distribution means a winner every time!
  • Instructions feature new options for game play!
  • 2-sided cards offer 2 distinct levels of play. For beginners, the green side is less competitive. If all tiles are used, every player will fill his/her board. The image distribution on the red cards brings a much more competitive element to game play, and players must be quick to call for tiles to have a shot at victory!

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What’s GNU?

  • Now features 2 levels of play! For beginning readers, green cards feature 2 printed letters, meaning they must only fill one missing sound to complete a word. Advanced players can flip to the red side and play with 1 printed letter.
  • New letter distribution on the Word Cards and tiles for maximum word building opportunities!
  • New rules for younger players make the game less overwhelming, and instructions offer loads of play variations!
  • Red vowels highlight spelling patterns and help young readers learn word-building conventions
  • More word learning opportunities than ever with a new online 3-Letter dictionary (see the link below)!

*See some of these “GNU” updates for yourself in our online What’s GNU? game!*

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"Gnu" word cards and red vowels help early readers build words and learn spelling patterns

For these and all products, making sure we get things exactly right before launching them is about the truth of the game play itself. Obviously packaging, graphics, color scheme, etc. are vital to a product’s success, but the most stunning box in the world means nothing if the game inside doesn’t inspire players to stretch their thinking and grow as they play! It is this commitment to ensuring every game is not only as fun as possible, but also genuinely fosters the development of critical thinking and social skills, that drives our rigorous testing process conducted “in the field” (aka classroom!) by yours truly!

What makes me so proud of the games we produce is the incredible amount of research and testing that go into each product, particularly games targeted at the very youngest players. As you can see, feedback from our teacher partners and their students drives the development (and re-development) of everything we do, so your ideas and comments are ALWAYS welcome – please feel free to email me anytime!

And finally… a HUGE thank you to the many teachers and parents who tested these new games!

Can Playing Rush Hour Make You Smarter?

Can playing games make you smarter?  This is the kind of question that causes many traditional educators to roll their eyeballs… and the kind of Holy Grail dream that drives companies like ThinkFun to develop our new programs and continue to innovate!

Last month, I was contacted by Allyson Mackey, a doctoral student who works in the Bunge Cognitive Control and Development Lab at UC Berkeley. She and a team of researchers had just finished a pilot study in which elementary school students engaged in a program playing Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix and several other games over the course of two months… and they measured an average increase that was the equivalent of thirteen IQ points from beginning to end!

The implications of these initial findings are huge, and we are thrilled to be communicating with this team and exploring possible larger-scale research in the near future using our new Brain Lab online program!  Read more about this exciting study!

brainlab Can Playing Rush Hour Make You Smarter?

A Brain Lab Tester Hard at Play

There is increasing evidence that playing the right kind of games with the right kind of structure and incentives can effectively teach content and improve thinking skills, and this is precisely what we aim to do with our new online Brain Lab program. This program takes games students already know and love like Rush Hour, and structures game play in such a way that players stretch their thinking, build their arsenal of strategies, and ultimately become more effective in their reasoning and problem solving!  Initial testing showed players eager to engage and hungry for more challenges, and we are currently in the midst of a second round of testing.