Three for Two and One for One

Game nights are a great way for family and friends to send time together. But for single- parent, single-child families (or even a one-on one date night), finding fun games for two players can be a challenge. Single-player games are even harder. This week we take a look at a number of games that fit into both of those categories.

code master think funCode Master (Think Fun)

This single-player game is actually a series of increasingly complex puzzles that encourage the player to use coding and programming concepts to advance. The idea is simple: Write a program using game tokens that will get your avatar from point A to B (go forward from space 1 to space 2, follow the blue path to space 3, go back to 1, now take the red path to 4, and so on), picking up valuable crystals along the way. There’s only one solution for each level. You’ll whip through the early ones pretty easily, but by the time you get into the teens and 20s (there are a total of 60), you’ll be sweating buckets as you flex your critical thinking, logical, and planning muscles. $24.99. One player, age 8 and up. Available exclusidely at Target.

puzzlets digital dream labsPuzzlets (Digital Dream Labs)

Like Code Master, Puzzlets has players think like a programmer, using problem-solving, logic, sequencing, and other skills to advance through a series of increasingly difficult game levels. Research has found that when kids (and, presumably, adults) use their hands and mind together, they retain new information longer. It all starts with the free app (for Android and iOS only). Fire it up and on screen you’ll see an avatar and an object that avatar needs to collect. Then, players arrange physical game tiles (forward, backward, jump, and so on) in the Play Tray in a way that will accomplish that goal. The Tray relays those commands to the app. If your program works, you’re on to the next stage. If not, go back to the Tray and reprogram. Feeling collaborative? Puzzlets is a great one-on-one parent-child activity. Or, you could play it by yourself. Comes with everything you need to play—except a laptop or tablet. Will be available in September, 2015 for $99.99. But you can preorder now for $69.99.

nefarious from usaopolyNefarious (USAOpoly)

Designed by Donald X. Vacarino, creator of the popular Dominion and Kingdom Builder games, Nefarious pits you and other evil geniuses against each other to see who can bring the world to its knees first. All you have to do is build the most dastardly device, amass the biggest fortune, hire the most minions, and do the most sabotage and espionage. Special Twist cards turn the rules on their head so you’ll never play the same game twice. For 2-6 players, age 13 and up. Will be hitting store shelves soon.

peanuts surprise slides from wonder forgePeanuts Surprise Slides Game (Wonder Forge)

This game is similar to Candy Land in a number of ways. It’s colorful, easy for preschoolers to learn, and fun enough for adults to want to play with their children more than once. But one of the biggest differences (besides more recognizable, child-friendly characters on the board) is that players move through the game using a spinner instead of cards—and we all remember how card get bent, torn, filthy, and lost. Players are on a race through the seasons. Like Candy Land, there are tons of shortcuts; some move you ahead, others backwards. Unlike Candy Land, pieces of the game board can be rearranged and flipped over, creating new shortcuts and getting rid of old ones. Ages 3 and up. Under $10 at retailers everywhere.

Imagination and Coordination

This week we take a look at a number of toys that combine imagination and fine motor skills.

playmobil horse farmTake Along Horse Farm (Playmobil)
As readers of this column know, we’re big fans of building systems. But not every child shares that particular passion. This colorful, realistic set is perfect for the child who doesn’t mind putting a few pieces together, but would much rather spend his or her time getting the horses fed, groomed, exercised, and ready for to ride. The 81 pieces include two horses, three humans, a couple of dogs, a wheelbarrow for delivering food (or removing horse manure), scrub brushes, and more. The barn itself turns into an easy-to-carry case so your little equestrian will be able to pack up the whole thing and take the show on the road (or just back to his or her room). Ages 4-10. $35.53 at Amazon.

playmobil sunshine preschoolSunshine Preschool Set (Playmobil)
Like the Horse Farm, this set doesn’t require much building, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. In fact, with 394 pieces, there’s almost no limit to the number of entertaining, home-related scenes a creative boy or girl can concoct. The setting is, as you might guess from the name, the Sunshine Preschool, and the kit includes one adult figure, four children, and a dizzying array of accessories: a music area complete with instruments, a climbing wall, a clock with moveable hands, backpacks, pencils, paintbrushes, a coffee pot, mugs, a chalkboard, two toilets, and a lot more. The only risk is that after spending time at the Sunshine school, your child may refuse to go to his or her own preschool—Sunshine is definitely a hard act to follow. Ages 4-10. 394 pieces. $99.99 at Amazon.

flipsies SandyFlipsies Sandy’s House and Ocean Cruiser (VTech)
Sandy is just one of the Flipsies, collectible dolls that are designed to inspire the little girls who play with them. Sandy wants to be a marine biologist, and each of the other Flipsies has her own unique dreams. Carina’s on her way to medical school, Styla runs a fashion boutique, Eva wants to be a veterinarian, and Clementine has a thing for ice cream. All of the Flipsies (each is sold separately) can switch clothes, accessories, and even hair. But what’s especially fun is the MagicPoint locations that are in each Flipsie’s habitat. Put Sandy in one of the MagicPoints on her Ocean Cruiser and she’ll tell you something nautical. Put her into a MagicPoint in Styla’s salon, and she’ll tell you something that’s appropriate for a budding biologist with a strong sense of style. Ages 4-9. Prices vary, depending on the kit. This one is $56.62 at Amazon.

tugie, marbles the brain storeTugie (Marbles, the Brain Store)
Tugie (pronounced “tuggie”) is a fun, engaging game that’s super easy to learn and definitely has that “let’s play another round” quality. There are 12 colorful disc-like pieces that stack on a spindle, plus a gray one that sits on the very top. Each disc has a string attached. Players take turns rolling a die to see which color they need to remove by tugging on the string. If you get your disc out, gently place it on top, and it’s the next player’s turn. But you’ve got to be careful—if you knock any pieces off the spindle, you keep them. The player with the fewest wins the round. Each round takes no more than a few minutes to play. Tugie requires a fair amount of hand-eye coordination (not quite as much as Jenga) and a bit of luck. Ages 5 and up. $29.99.

A Midsummer Days’ Dream

Summer is fully upon us, in all its glory. And by “glory” we mean that it’s hot, sticky, and sweaty. (Almost enough to make you forget what a brutal winter it was. Almost.) For those of you looking for ways to cool down, try these.

fisher price sand and water tableLittle Tikes Treasure Hunt Sand and Water Table (Fisher Price)
Kids love water play and they love sandboxes. Combine them? Oh, yeah. There are several things about this toy a great summertime option: there’s zero tech, it gets kids to play outside, it encourages creative play, it can be used in a variety of ways, multiple kids can play together (or separately), you can bring it indoors in case of summer rain showers, and, best of all, it keeps kids busy for hours. The Sand and Water Table is a great way for you and the kids to spend time together getting your hands dirty and wet. It’s also a great option if you need a few minutes to mark some of those boring grown-up things off your to-do list (but you’ll never, ever leave small children alone around water, right?) Oh, and did we mention that it’s a bargain at $59.99.

little tikes slam n curve slideSlam ‘n Curve Slide (LItle Tikes)
While we’re on the topic of things that will get the kids up, outside, and occupied for hours, check out the Slam ‘n’ Curve Slide. It’s easy to set up—less than a minute if you use the included pump—and anchors solidly to the ground to keep it steady. Then you attach your water hose, turn it on, and voila! water slide/bouncy house fun, right in your very own backyard. The slide comes with a basketball net and mini inflatable ball, and there’s a small pool at the bottom that gradually fills up, but it doesn’t get very deep. The Slam ‘n Curve is one of the best warm-weather toys we’ve seen and it’s perfect whether you’ve got the kids at home all summer long or you’re just planning a short staycation. The only downside is that it’s a little cumbersome to put away—you have to empty it out, let it dry, roll it up like a giant sleeping bag), and stuff it into the included storage sack. It’s also a bit heavy, but given how much you’re going to be using it, you want something solid. The Slam ‘n Curve Slide provides days (not just hours) of entertainment for the whole family and is well worth the $399.99 price. Find it at your favorite retailer or

dyson am09 bladeless fanAM09 Fan + Cool Heater (Dyson)
This fan is perfect for those long evenings when, even though the sun has gone down, everything still feels sticky and gross.  Some of the coolest features about this fan are that it oscillates, tilts, is easy to clean, and is blade-less. You know kids and fans: They always want to stick their fingers (or toys, or straws, or silverware) into the slots to “see what will happen.” As adults, we all know what happens, and it’s never good. Eliminating the blades eliminates most of those potential disasters. It also makes the fan easy to clean (you’ve seen how dust accumulates on fan blades: no blades = much less dust to blow around). The AM09 is quieter than most other fans and comes with a remote that controls oscillation, temperature, and airflow. It also has a sleep timer. When summer turns to fall and then winter and the nights get cooler, the AM09 functions as a heater. Get yours at  for $449.99

Don’t Know Much About…

Whether you call it the “summer brain drain” or the less-catchy “summer slide,” the sad fact is that most children forget a lot over the summer. According to the National Summer Learning Association (, “students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.” Low-income students do worse than their middle-class peers. The result is that, on average, teachers have to spend the first 3-6 weeks of the new semester reviewing the previous year’s material instead of teaching new material. This week, we review several products that will put a plug in that brain drain.


super genius - multiplication super genius - 5 gamesSuper Genius (Blue Orange Games)
Super Genius is a collection of five very clever games that are designed to be used at home or in school to help early elementary age children learn, review, and master basic math facts and sight words. The basic platform is the same throughout: match something on one card with something on another. With the math games (Addition and Multiplication) about half of the card have five equations (2+3, 2×4) and the other half have five numbers. With the word-based games (First Words, Reading 1, and Reading 2) half the cards have pictures and the others have words. We’re not sure how they did it, but there’s always one match between any cards in the two decks. Each Super Genius game comes with instructions for how to play five different matching games. Some require memory, some speed, some both. What’s especially nice is that the names of those games and the basic rules are the same in each set. So kids will be able to move from reading to math and back again without having to learn new rules. All games can be played with 1-6 players. The reading games are targeted to kids 5 or 6 and up, and the math ones for 7 or 8 and up. And all take a maximum of 15 minutes to play. Prices ranges from about $8 to $14 at your favorite retailer. Or visit


talking USA puzzleTalking USA puzzle (Discovery Kids)
Every year we hear the results of surveys that show that American school children can’t find China, Iraq, India, or most other countries on a world map. That’s bad enough, but the real shocker is that a lot of Americans (some estimates go as high as 20%) can’t even find the U.S. on a map. And if they can’t locate the country, they’ll have a really tough time identifying individual states. The Talking USA puzzle will definitely help with that. There are two components: The largest is a colorful puzzle with pieces that are shaped like each of the states (although a few of them combine some of the smaller east-coast states). Push on the state and you’ll learn its slogan, capital, and a fun fact. The other component is the USA Fun Fact Map that has a visual hint for each state and a series of statements. The object, of course, is to match “This ‘Pine Tree’ state produces 99% of all the blueberries in the country” with Maine. Although this puzzle is theoretically for kids, geographically challenged grownups will learn plenty. (At the very least, people on the coasts will be able to stop saying, “somewhere over there” when asked to identify a state on the opposite coast. Although, in defense of the West, some of those East Coast states are really, really small.) Batteries included. Comes with a pull-out storage drawer to keep the pieces from getting lost. About $30.

Minions and Dinos: Separated at Birth?

At first glance, you wouldn’t think that Minions and dinosaurs have very much in common (aside from being the subject of summer blockbuster movies). But they’ve both been around since the dawn of time. In fact, according to the story, Minions evolved long before the dinos did. If the success of those movies is any indication, both will be around for another hundred million years or so. Here are a few of our favorites.

minion kevin storage chestMinions Movie Kevin Storage Chest (Jakks Pacific)
When playtime’s over, it can be a real chore to get the kids to help put their toys away. One approach that tends to make things easier is to turn clean-up into a game. And Jakks Pacific’s new Minions Storage Chest is just the ticket. The chest itself is a giant (well, 20 inches high) Kevin, decked out in his denim overalls and gloves. But despite his size, he manages to retain his cuteness (and what would a Minion be without cuteness?). Pop open his head and your kids can stuff Kevin with all of their other Despicable Me and Minion Movie toys and gear. Or they can use the inside shelves to display things in a more organized way. But either way, those slightly crossed eyes and wry smile make him hard to resist. Ages 3+. $54.99 at Amazon and other retailers.

minion beach partyDespicable Me Minion Beach Party set (MEGA BLOKS)
We’ve already established that Minions are cute .But how’d you like to take a crack at designing your own? Well, now you can. MEGA BLOKS has a whole series of delightful mini-scenes that feature Minions in a variety of environments. The Beach Party set includes one Minion, a beach blanket, parasol, plant, table, glass, and an ice cream cone. But by far the coolest feature is that all the pieces of the Minons are interchangeable, meaning you can swap their shorts, goggle, arms, feet, and accessories. Want two eyes, a hula skirt, a Mohawk, and a crown? Easy. One eye, a winter coat, a pirate bandana, and a sword? Okay too. Ages 5+.

dino silicone molds habaDinosaur Silicone Cake Mold (HABA USA)
Getting kids into the kitchen—and giving them something productive to do—has always been a challenge. But these silicone molds from HABA will get even the most reluctant food preparer interested. This cute silicon T-Rex mold lets little kids get in on the Jurassic craze, even if they’re afraid of big dinos. And who could be afraid of a smiling T-Rex—especially when she’s made of cake? Comes with booklet with three easy-to-make recipes. Ages 4+. $19.99 at

Dinosaur Parade Silicone Chocolate Lollipops Mold (HABA USA)
If you’re into baking, your favorite cupcake recipe (or one of the ones in the included booklet) will let you make adorable, fun cake pops. But if you’re looking for a way to cool off, you can just as easily use these molds to make adorable, fun popsicles. And what’s especially great about these silicone molds is that whatever you make pops out incredibly easily and leaves almost no mess behind. Ages 4+. $11.99.

interactive t-rex animal planetInteractive T-Rex (Animal Planet)
Tyrannosaurus Rex was a 40-foot-long, eight-ton package of vicious, carnivorous ferociousness. But this Interactive T-Rex is anything but ferocious. Yes, he roars, swings his tail and his head, stomps his feet, gnashes his teeth, and his eyes light up. But if you scratch him in the right place, he purrs. Touch somewhere else, and he snores, burps, or farts. And if you touch two places at the same time, well, we’re not going to give that one away. Ages 3+. Available at Toys R Us.

Coming to a Screen—and Living Room—Near You

This summer, there are so many kid-friendly movies and TV shows out there that you’ll undoubtedly be spending lots of time in theaters. And there are even more movie-themed toys so you can keep the fun going when you’re away from a screen. Here’s some of what’s hot right now.

avengers hulk gloveAvengers
With several superhero movies still in theaters and more to come (Ant Man, for example), there’s no shortage of Marvel characters for you and the kids to “become.” The new Marvel Avengers Age of Ultron line lets you dress up as Hulk, Thor, Captain America, or Iron Man. Gear includes masks (which typically have large eye holes and are big enough for most kids), gloves, and other accessories (one of the Iron Man Arc FX Armor gloves lights up just like the “real” Iron man’s). Unfortunately, there are no Black Widow costumes, which makes it harder to get girls interested in superheroes. Not to worry, ladies, your day is coming soon… In the meantime, the male characters are still a blast. You’ll find everything you could ever want in the aisles of Toys R Us and Target.

paddington plusPaddington Bear
Whether your family are long-time fans or just discovered Paddington thanks to the new movie, your little ones will want a Paddington of their own to snuggle up with.  YoTToy makes an absolutely adorable plush  who comes in several styles and sizes; one even has his own suitcase and marmalade sandwich.  You grab the book, the kids grab their stuffies, and everyone settles in for a nice, long story.  Available at or stores like Barnes & Noble.



sonic hedgehogSonic the Hedgehog
The first generation of Sonic came out when you were a kid, but he’s back with a new TV show (“Sonic Boom”) and a video game of the same name, so your kids can fall in love with him as well.  To get your off-screen hedgehog fix, check out the new Sonic the Hedgehog Tails Plane ($29.99), which comes with a moving propeller, flashing headlights, engine sounds, and an ejector seat to send Tails to safety. It also comes with a Tails figure and the required batteries (which last a really long time). And don’t forget abot the cute Sonic the Hedgehog Interactive Chili Dog Plush ($29.99).  Sonic’s favorite food is chili dogs (you knew that, right?), and he needs to have one with him at all times. This 15″ Sonic the Hedgehog Plush says 10 different phrases and operates in three different modes: talk, run with me, and chili dog. When you (the parent) need a break, you can turn the sound off. Whew.

jurassic legoDinosaurs and All Things Jurassic
If your child is a builder and likes dinosaurs, he or she will love the new Jurassic World LEGOs. Kids can recreate scenes from the new movie or, if they aren’t old enough to be obsessed (yet—but it’ll happen soon), they can always just use their (gasp) imagination. Raptor Rampage is one of our favorite sets, and comes with three mini-figs, two raptors, vehicles, tons of accessories, and more ($50).  Pteranodon Capture is the least expensive set, and comes with helicopter, dinosaur, two mini-figs, and more ($20).

lionel dinosaur dieselWhile it’s not specific to Jurassic World, Lionel’s Dinosaur Diesel Set is a wonderful way to support your child’s dino habit and spark—or deepen—an interest in trains. These ready-to run set comes with a locomotive, LionChief remote, freight cars, a caboose, several colorful dino eggs, dino figures, enough track for a 40”x40” circle, and a power supply. Available everywhere; prices vary widely.