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.

Thrift Store Costume Challenge

thrift-store-costume-challengeThe challenge? To costume as many literary characters as you can in 180 minutes. The catch? You can only use what you find on the racks of Nearly New consignment and thrift shop in Princeton.

nearly-new-clothing-rackFor those of you unfamiliar with Nearly New, it’s an independently-owned consignment and thrift store with tons of fantastic stuff. Toni Maher, the owner, is always helpful when I drop by looking for costume items for work (or, heh heh, just shopping).

nearly-newToni’s also extremely accommodating when it comes to more unusual requests, such as  borrowing a mannequin for this Cinderella dress design event, or hunting for teacups and saucers for this Victorian Tea program. She didn’t even bat an eye when I asked her if she’d be up for hosting the costume challenge.

The other major player was Princeton University sophomore James Jared. Last year, James designed and sewed the Mathamagician’s costume for our Day in Digitopolis program (you can see it in this post). He also works in the costume shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts. James is incredibly talented, and was totally game for the challenge. There’s an interview with him at the end of the post!

The big day dawned and Marissa and I headed to Nearly New with photo equipment and a long list of possible characters (we went with female characters because, as James so astutely pointed out, the women’s sections of thrift stores are much bigger than the men’s sections). James and 4 Princeton University students who agreed to model met us at Nearly New. Then it was full steam ahead. In 180 minutes, James costumed 9 characters. Are you ready to see his results?


#1 NANCY DREW

nancy-drew-costume


#2 VERUCA SALT

veruca-salt-costume


#3 THE GRAND HIGH WITCH

the-grand-high-witch-costume


#4 MS. FRIZZLE

the-frizz


#5 PROFESSOR TRELAWNEY

professor-trelawney-costume


#6 MRS. COULTER

mrs-coulter-costume


#7 DOLORES UMBRIDGE

dolores-umbridge-costume


#8 MISS TRUNCHBULL

miss-trunchbull


#9 THE WHITE WITCH

the-white-witch


James’ costumes look fantastic, but they’re even more fun when you learn some of the behind-the-scenes facts. Nancy Drew, for example, is wearing a belt in her hair because we couldn’t find a headband. Miss Trunchbull is wearing men’s shoes, men’s socks, and little kid’s jacket to make her look bigger and bulkier. Dolores Umbridge’s sweater was overwhelming her dress, but James expertly pinned it to a better length. Professor Trelwaney is holding a fishbowl. And the White Witch’s crystal daggers? Those are salad forks that she’s holding handle-side-out.

The other thing I didn’t really appreciate until we got there was the volume of items and how fast James had to sift through them. To find the perfect belt, James had to dig through dozens and dozens of belts while simultaneously looking for earrings, dresses, and boots. He did this while expertly delegating the models to bring him possible shirts, skirts, sweaters, and hats. Also, James could find an awesome dress, but if it didn’t fit the model, or match the personality of the character, it was out. Finally, I learned that it’s not easy to make pieces from different decades work together without just the right vision.


JAMES JARED

james-jaredWhat’s your costuming background?

I’ve always loved making Halloween costumes, but I officially taught myself how to sew in high school when I started to cosplay (make costumes based on characters from movies, tv shows, books, etc).

What was the costume challenge like for you?

I was very nervous going into the challenge because I’ve never done anything of the like before, and I was worried that the time constraint would prove difficult to work under. In the end, though, I had a fantastic time and I’m very proud of the costumes that we were all able to make together.

Did you have an overwhelming favorite?
I think my favorite costume had to be Trelawney from Harry Potter. There were so many scarves and shirts that fit the character in the thrift store that her outfit almost seemed to show up without having to look for it. It almost became less of a question of which scarf would be best and more how many scarves we could get away with throwing on her.

Which was the toughest character to costume?
The hardest character to costume was the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia. Her character description includes a crown, which the shop didn’t have, so it took a while for us to come up with a way to mimic the crown. Eventually we found a circlet that suggested royalty, as well as some spiky earrings that were reminiscent of icicles to use as a necklace.

If you had more time, which character were you hoping to do?
I would have loved to costume someone as Kate Wetherall, as the Mysterious Benedict Society was one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, her costume is fairly specific and there isn’t much room for leeway.

What’s your major at Princeton University?
I’m just starting out in the Electrical Engineering department.

Do you see any connections between your major and costuming?
Interestingly, I once told an employee in a fabric store I frequent at home about my major, and she said that she often thought of sewing as a type of engineering. Though I’d never have put the two together on my own, as soon as she said that I knew she was right, and I think it applies to costuming as well.

In both costuming and engineering you have to pull materials together using techniques you’ve learned to create a final product that’s more than the sum of its parts. I think I enjoy sewing and costuming so much for the same reason I like engineering, which is that it’s a great feeling to have created something new out of basic materials. And that’s something I think anyone can do.


A big, enthusiastic “Huzzah!” to James Jared, costumer extraordinaire, who aced the costume challenge with style and flair. Warm waves of gratitude to the Nearly New for letting us overrun your store and create chaos in your racks.

And finally, many thanks to models Amanda Blanco, Ailyn Brizo, Joani Etskovitz, Grace Turner, and Marissa Warren. It wasn’t easy to keep a straight face through it all, much less glower, growl, look haughty, or stare intensely into the camera wearing shoes that were at least one size too small for you.

outtake

Natty Nessie Neckwear

nessie-neckgearNever has a Loch Ness Monster sighting had so much style! Customize a super-long Nessie scarf, then circle the scarf on the floor to create a tossing game that involves…believe it or not…a bowl of oatmeal!

We read The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster: A Tale of Picky Eating, written by A.W. Flaherty, and illustrated by Scott Magoon (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Little Katerina-Elizabeth is going to visit her grandmother in Scotland, and it’s her very first time traveling alone on a big ocean liner. Her parents, planning ahead, select what they believe to be the absolute best breakfast food for their little girl. Oatmeal. Katerina-Elizabeth loathes oatmeal and promptly tosses it out a porthole. The oatmeal is discovered by a tiny sea worm who eagerly eats it and grows twice its size. The sea worm follows the ship across the ocean, gobbling the oatmeal as fast as Katerina-Elizabeth can toss it overboard. They form a friendship that lasts all the way to Loch Ness where the boat disembarks. There, the sea worm discovers that Scottish children also hate oatmeal. It circles Loch Ness, grazing on oatmeal and growing to monstrous proportions. To keep the tourists intrigued and the oatmeal coming, the Loch Ness Monster allows itself to be seen on rare occasions. But the most famous sighting is when the sea worm rises out of the water to give Katerina-Elizabeth a friendly smooch as she sails home. I won’t give away the very end of the story, but rest assured it had all the parents at story time cracking up!

You’ll need:

We wanted the kids to have really long scarves for this project, but we didn’t want them tripping over their new neckwear! Ultimately, we went with 5″ x 56″ scarves that we shaped into round heads, tapered bodies, and dragon-like tails. We also hot glued green felt fins towards the front end of the scarves (about 13″ down from the top of the head). We prepped the scarves in advance. Here’s a shot of an undecorated scarf so you can see the shape:

nessie-scarf-shapeAt story time, we gave kids a whole pile of self-adhesive foam to cut and apply to their scarves (just make sure you test how well the adhesive sticks to your felt – ours stuck surprisingly well). Hot glue wiggle eyes and a pair of 12″ curling ribbon whiskers on the head, and you’re done!

nessie-faceKids got really creative with their Loch Ness Monsters. Here’s just a few I managed to snap. This one’s got a pretty fantastic pair of lips:

nessie-1And this one’s sporting an impressive set of teeth…

nessie-2There were flowers…

nessie-3And manicures!

nessie-4But here’s my favorite. This little girl spent a long time making a color gradient down her Loch Ness Monster’s back. She did this all by herself!

nessie-5To make the oatmeal bowl for the toss game, decorate a paper bowl with patterned tape and self-adhesive foam. Fill the bowl with a handful of polyester fill. Don’t glue or tape the oatmeal in the bowl. It’s funnier when it flies out during the toss game!

bowl-of-oatmealMake as many bowls of oatmeal as you like. Then circle the scarf on the floor, step back, and try to toss the bowls into the circle.

nessie-ring-tossIf the circle toss is a little too challenging, stretch the scarf straight and toss the oatmeal over it like a finish line!

nessie-line-tossWhen you’re done with the toss game, drape your Nessie around your shoulders for the ultimate look in Loch Ness apparel.

nessie-scarf

Speaking of mysterious creature sightings, did you know that Bigfoot has been spotted twice on this blog? You can catch a glimpse here and here!