Don’t Try This At Home Kids

don't try this at homeA monkey on a unicycle rolls down a ramp towards a snake. The bar holding the snake drops, which causes a bag of peanuts to fall into a container that sends a cart down a ramp into a tennis racket rigged to a mechanism that touches a match to a cannon fuse and fires an acrobat through a ring of fire!

Rube Goldberg’s inventive cartoons have fascinated me since I was a kid. A few years ago, our library even hosted a Rube Goldberg program, complete with a behemoth of a page turner and other activities. So imagine my delight when I spotted Wonderology’s Rube Goldberg kits on the shelves at Target.

wonderology rube goldberg kitsIntended for ages 8 and up, Wonderology offers 6 different kits that cost between $10 – $20. Each kit contains a plethora of parts and a fully illustrated set of instructions. I purchased the Acrobat Challenge, the Garden Challenge, and the Speeding Car Challenge, then invited 3 kid testers (ages 6, 8, and 10) to try them out.

kid testers at workThe kids were very excited as they unpacked the kits. The parts are fun, bright, and nice quality plastic. Here, for example, are the various pieces of the Acrobat Challenge:

acrobat challenge kit partsHere are the kit’s illustrated instructions. They’re presented in classic Rube Goldberg format (they even use his special font!):

acrobat challenge instructionsBut as soon as construction started on the kits, well…that’s when things started to go wrong. Take the Acrobat Challenge, for example. In one part of the instructions, it clearly shows the yellow “monkey release” flag facing right. In two other sections of the instructions, it’s facing to the left! Also, either way I turned the flag, I never could get the monkey to work quite right.

problem with instructionsThere was a lot more of this I’m afraid – mechanisms not working like the instructions suggested, confusion with where to place the various pieces, the whole schbang toppling over when you tried to adjust it. Soon, there were shouts of frustration, explosive sounds of exasperation, creative G-rated cursing, and a box kicked across the floor (and it wasn’t just the kids doing all that).

Between me and the 6 year-old, we never did get the Acrobat Challenge to work. So our kid tester used it like a play set instead, creating and narrating an involved story about a monkey snake circus. Cool.

Meanwhile, things were looking a bit more promising at the Speeding Car Challenge. It was, against all odds, assembled with somewhat minimal adult assistance.

speeding car challengeBut…see that chicken? It’s supposed to get a feather “plucked” from its tail, which causes it to lay an egg, which triggers the tennis racket, etc. But the egg just wouldn’t stay under the chicken. It just kept dropping and triggering the rest of the mechanism. So you had to skip the chicken all together, which is rather disappointing.

Also, the 8 year-old kid tester wants you to know that the balloon on the car is a little tricky. Once you blow it up, you have to: 1) Block the tailpipe with your finger; 2) Rapidly remove your finger; then 3) Plug in a plastic cork in juuuuuust right. The seal on the balloon starts to leak pretty quickly too. But it was, he admits, a cool-looking car.

balloon car testSo that just leaves the Garden Challenge. This kit was particularly intriguing to me because it involves real water! Our 10 year-old tester managed to assemble it just fine.

the garden challengeBut we soon discovered a fatal manufacturing flaw. See the orange gutter at the top of the mechanism? It’s supposed to tilt downward and let the 8 ball roll down and hit the watering can. But there was a little plastic piece that wouldn’t allow the gutter to tip down far enough! Katie had to saw the piece off with a box cutter in order to get it to finally work.

bad partThen it was test, adjust, retest, adjust, curse quietly under one’s breath, test, adjust, and retest. It took dozens and dozens of attempts, close to an hour of concentration, and Katie’s sheer determination to get it to work. And yes, I did say work. Katie and the kid tester got it to work! Drumroll please…


OK. So maybe the ball bounced off that final ramp, but I’ll take it and call it DONE.

I really admire Wonderology’s concept. The kits are a clever idea, they look fantastic, and the quality of the plastic is good. However, they’re simply not for kids. Especially 8 – 10 year-olds (unless said 8 – 10 year-olds have the patience of saints and the hands of neurosurgeons). Heck, some of us adults had trouble getting them to work! Our testing group found them difficult and rather vexing. While we ultimately had success with one kit, we encountered enough flaws along the way that the ultimate take-away was more exhaustion than exhilaration. Alas, not recommended.

Bestseller

bestseller

The objective? To arrange the books so that the top shelf is perfectly level. But you can only use certain books, in certain orientations, with a minimum of 2 books touching the top shelf at any time. Oh, and leave some room for a little black cat!

Today, I’m reviewing By The Book, a stacking puzzle for ages 8+ (Brainwright, $18). The game consists of 40 challenge cards, 12 wooden books, 2 wooden shelves, 1 plastic cat, and 1 balance level made to look like an adorable red flower pot.

by the book gameTo play, select a challenge card (which are graded as beginner, intermediate, advanced, or expert). The face of the card tells you which books you can use, if they need to be placed horizontally or vertically, or if they can’t touch at all. Sometimes, the card will require the cat to be included on the shelf as well. The back side of the card has the solution. Here are a couple examples of card faces and solutions:

challenge cardsOnce you’ve gathered all the relevant pieces, lay the bottom shelf on a level surface, then try configuring the books to the card’s specifications. Put the top shelf in place when you think you’re done, then place the balance level on top to see if your solution measures up. And remember – a minimum of 2 books much be touching the top shelf at any time.

If your solution passes the level test, flip the card over to see if matches the official solution (and the rules do mention there may be other ways to solve the challenge). Some of the solutions, however, are not what you expect! Look at this creative configuration!

stacked solution

When playing this game, it’s important to work on a level surface. If your work table is tilted, you’ll never reach a solution. So use the level to make doubly sure you’re nice and even before you start playing.

So, what did our kid testers (ages 6, 8, and 10) think of By The Book? They loved it! The game requires analysis, trial & error, testing, and re-testing, but it’s very calm, non-competitive, and you can take as long as you like to reach the solution. By The Book is labeled as a 1 player game, but our kid testers found ways to collaborate. The cat adds a nice touch, and the kid tester found it very satisfying to put the level on the top shelf to see if their clever arranging worked!

testing a solution

By The Book is the best (a “bestseller,” if you will). It’s fun, intelligent, works with a large age range of kids, and the pieces are really nice quality. This would be a terrific classroom chill-out activity, the perfect addition to library game nights, or an awesome gift from that super cool librarian aunt or uncle. Plus, it comes with a CAT! Five out of five stars.

Going Cordless

going cordlessI use hot glue. A lot. And the projects on this blog? 99.9% of them use hot glue in some way, shape, or form. Hot glue is the perfect solution when you don’t have much time, but need something to stick quick. The drawback, of course, is that hot glue guns need to be plugged into an electrical outlet in order to operate.

That’s fine if you’re making a project at your desk. But not so fine when you need to glue projects for 22 kids and their caregivers. During out workshops, kids either have to carry their projects to hot glue stations, or I have to walk around the program area, dragging a cumbersome daisy chain of extension cords behind me.

That was why I was so very, very excited to learn that hot glue guns were going cordless.

Today, I’m reviewing the Imaginisce i●bond cordless hot glue gun. It retails for around $30 and requires 4 AA batteries to operate. I’ll cut to the chase…it doesn’t really work that well. The Imaginisce burns through batteries like crazy. Just one hour of use and the batteries are dead (I tested this twice, with new batteries each time). Also, the batteries just don’t seem to have the same oomph my plug in glue guns have. The glue isn’t as hot, and it dries quicker with less adhesive properties. I tested this with the glue sticks that came with the gun, and with another brand of stick.

Interestingly, Imaginisce added an LED light to the end of their glue gun, presumably to illuminate your work area. But if you’re working in sunlight or with a light on, you can already see your area clearly, right? Unless you like to craft in the dark?

glue gun lightSo the LED light wasn’t very useful. Mostly, it allowed me to take cool pictures like this:

glue gun in vault

I will admit, the cordless aspect of the glue gun was sheer heaven. I could go anywhere! No dragging cords! No knocking things over on my desk! But the trade off was a glue gun that didn’t heat up or last very long. If, however, you have a small job to do in a limited amount of time, the Imaginisce glue gun could work for you. But I since I use my glue guns for heavy construction, this cordless model’s batteries just didn’t produce.

Looks like I’ll remain tethered for the time being.