Looney Pyramids

Looney Pyramids (formerly known as “Icehouse Pyramids”) are a system of plastic board game playing pieces. They come in a variety of colors (10 are commonly available) and 3 sizes and are sold in sets. The pieces can be used like a deck of cards for boardgames with the rules for over 300 games utilizing them already published online.

The publishers, Looney Labs, also greatly encourage their fans and customers to create their own games using the pieces. I have created a few myself and entered design contests that are fan run and intended to expand the Pyramid game world. As a means for creating your own boardgame or just a versatile system to playing hundreds of games, they are a fantastic investment of your entertainment dollar.

-- Sam Zitin  

Looney IceDice

Available from Amazon


I’ve played with the Kaleidograph Pattern Design toy for two years.

Simply: It allows me to be creative. It’s like a paper kaleidoscope. You can learn about composition, movement, color theory, pattern, geometry. It’s a design toy AND tool. It’s a quiet diversion. It’s open-ended. It’s relaxing. Almost meditative at times. It claims to make billions of designs with the 12 cards.

I don’t think there’s anything else like it. It’s for kids and adults.


-- Amy  


Available from Amazon

Tally-Ho Playing Cards

As a practicing magician, playing cards are just one of the many tools in our “magical toolbox.” For the causal card player any pack of cards will most likely do. But for anyone who practices card magic or just plays a lot of card games, cards might be a subject of interest. If you’re looking for quality long-lasting budget playing cards, I highly recommend Tally-Ho cards. They’re inexpensive and can be subjected to being bent and abused, while maintaining its ease of handling. Tally-Hos’ durability can be attributed to its linoid finish, which also helps prevent the cards from sticking together. Unlike most other playing cards such as Bicycles or Bees, Tally-Hos are rather resistant to warping after heavy usage. In fact, a pack of Tally-Ho’s I own for five years and counting, still springs and fans just like it did first out of the box.


-- Jefferson Deng  

[The magicians who hang out at The Magic Cafe message board seem to agree that Tally Ho cards are more durable than Bicycle cards. Another interesting thing about these cards is that the Circle back design is slightly asymmetrical, which makes the cards useful for mentalism tricks. The one negative thing about Tally Ho cards is that spectators are usually more familiar with Bicycle cards and unfamiliarity raises suspicions about whether or not a deck is gimmicked. -- Mark]

Tally Ho Circle Back Playing Cards

Available from Amazon


Around my house, the best thing about a Lego kit is building it. When it’s finished, it’s fun to admire for a few minutes, but by the next day, my daughter and I have lost interest. We just want to build another kit, but they are too expensive to buy every couple of days.

Pley is a Lego kit subscription service that focuses on the fun part – the building. It’s like NetFlix. Pley costs $15 a month. You make a queue from over 250 kits, and Pley sends you the kit at the top of your queue. When you are done, take the pieces apart and put them in the supplied shipping box. Pley pays shipping in both directions. If you lose a couple of pieces, you won’t be charged.

Pley will then send you the next kit in your queue. Each kit is cleaned and sanitized before you receive it.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  


Sport Rocketry * Rocketry

The next step up from boy scout model rockets is high power rocketry. This is real fun for adults. These things will go miles high. It’s a strictly build-your-own endeavor, requiring permits. The National Association of Rocketry publishes a bi-monthly magazine for sport rocketeers called appropriately enough, Sport Rocketry. But my friends who are avid amateur rocketeers scoff at Sport Rocketry as kid stuff. They want to make their own real rockets reaching the stratosphere. From their garages come complex computer-guided peaceful missiles. They struct their stuff in Rockets, the magazine of the Tripoli Rocketry Association.



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-- KK  

Sport Rocketry
$62 (includes membership)


Sample Excerpts:

High Power Rocketry, also known as HPR, is similar to model rocketry with differences that include the propulsion power and weight increase of the model. They use motors in ranges over “G” power and/or weigh more than laws and regulations allow for unrestricted model rockets. Like model rockets, High Power rockets are typically made of safer, non-metallic materials such as cardboard, plastic, and wood, however, construction and recovery techniques usually differ somewhat, due to the requirements imposed by the use of HPR motors. This means that these models must be constructed in such a way that they have the ability to safely fly under these higher stress conditions.

High Power rocket motors cannot be purchased over the counter by the general consumer and typically are not carried by your average hobby store. They can be mail-ordered or purchased at some launch sites by adult modelers who are High Power certified, which is a requirement to purchase and use them. The NAR offers a three level certification program for modelers who want to fly high power rockets. Also, High Power rockets must be flown in compliance with their own separate High Power Rocket Safety Code.

Launching High Power rockets requires more preparation than launching model rockets. Not only is a larger field needed, but FAA clearance must be arranged, well in advance of the launch date. There may also be local or state regulatory issues to be addressed before you can fly your first high power rocket. This is another good reason for joining a NAR Section — many organized clubs already have the personnel and experience in making these tedious arrangements, freeing you to concentrate on the actual flying.


TeamSnap is the coolest tool I have come across in a very long time. I use this app to help manage my daughter’s high school tennis team. It does everything from schedule, post, update, change, notify players and parents about events. It builds rosters, keeps scores, lists directions, links navigation. Includes email and text messaging. It has player and parent forms. And fundraising and refreshment information for the whole team. The app doesn’t stop there — it also includes a record keeping task for billing and stores all of the team’s statistics in one place. It is by far the best tool I have ever used or heard of to help organize and maintain a recreational sports team.

-- Kristin Lawrence-Monroe  

Free and paid version available

Useless Machine Kit

The Useless Machine was a popular contraption in the 70s that is making a comeback. It’s a simple mechanism with a two-circuit switch that inverts the direction of motion of a DC motor in the box, enabling a finger in the box to switch itself off.

It’s sold as a kit, and the assembly is a pleasant weekend experience. It should not take more than an hour to put together.

I customized mine by ordering a halloween costume’s hand, and rebuilding the plastic to more closely resemble a human finger. The first time one see it pop out, it is actually quite startling!

I use mine in demonstrations to another team — to illustrate what tedious repetitive work is all about.

-- Federico  

Black Useless Box Kit

Available from Amazon

Plastic Dice in Bulk

I carry 3 red dice in my back pocket so that I can play a game called Cee-lo with people that I meet. Like most betting games, Cee-lo has a rough reputation. But played among friends, not betting for money, it can be rather wholesome.

I really like being able to play a simple dice game with people for a few reasons:

– it’s a really fun game!
– I’ve successfully played it with kindergartners and every age group above,
– I’ve gotten mixed age groups to have a GREAT time playing,
– It never runs out of batteries or needs to be upgraded,
– it’s very portable,
– it gets people to talk in real time,
– I don’t have to hand an expensive device to other people or count on them having one, or having one compatible to mine.

I’ve also found that the game itself is pretty simple, but with the betting aspect things get really interesting. And the world is full of trinkets to bet with. Collect a bunch of stones, or sugar packets, or tear up a piece of paper into bits that are all roughly the same size, or anything you can get a reasonable number of and you’re in business.

That said, my personal favorite thing to bet with is the little scraps that people have in their pockets: twist ties, tooth picks, vitamin pills, movie stubs. It is amazing to see how people will value these little bits of nothing while they are playing, but once the game is over, it all goes back to being little bits of trash. (I also like to see what people do to get that one important item back, that they really shouldn’t have played in the game…)

One thing about dice games: everyone plays them different. To paraphrase the Cee-lo advice U-God of Wu Tang in this NSFW (language) video: state the rules and save some fools. Better to spend a bit of time outlining the rules at the beginning then to get into any sort of fight later. (And not a bad rule in life in general.)

So, here is how I play Cee-lo:

Cee-lo – 2 or more players – 3 dice

Determine who is going to be playing and who is going to be the first player.

If betting, all players put in their bet.

The first player rolls all three dice until they get a recognized combination, or are otherwise disqualified

The combinations are, ranked from best to worst:

The highest possible roll. Instant win of the round for the player who rolled it. They take the entire pot, and the next round begins. This skips the turns of anyone who has not gone.

Rolling three of the same number is known as “trips”. Higher trips beat lower trips, so 4-4-4 is better than 3-3-3.

“Spare and a Pair”
Rolling a pair, and another number, establishes the singleton as a “point.” A higher point beats a lower point, so 1-1-3 is better than 6-6-2.

Automatic loss. Play forfeits turn, but the game continues.

Any other roll is a meaningless combination and must be rerolled until one of the above combinations occurs. It is also an automatic loss if a player rolls the dice 5 times without getting a meaningful combination.

If either of the dice roll off the playing surface, it is also an automatic loss for the player.

Play then proceeds around to other players, going clockwise.

The player who rolls the best combination wins. In cases of a tie for the best combination, there is a a shoot-out: the players who tied will play another round of the game until there is a single winner.

The winner gets to stat the next round.

And that is all there is to it! I also like it the way the game is explained in this video.

There are PLENTY of other games you can play with dice. But, Cee-lo one my favorite!

I usually buy dice by the 100, so after I teach people, I can give them their own set.

100 Red Dice

Available from Amazon


This is the best site for learning how to build your own kites. Good tutorials, decent forums (quieter since the site’s founder died) and a great encyclopedia of techniques and materials. Their best asset is the stash of plans submitted by users for almost any type of kite.

(Kite making supplies can be found from the previously reviewed Into the Wind.)

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

There’s no such thing as kite fabric! Just about any fabric will work… including the fabric grade Ripstop you chose. Was it difficult to sew? It is probably pretty stretchy eh?? The coated Ripstop often used by most builders on this website is coated with a finish that reduces stretch and porosity. It is also pretty light weight, probably about half the weight of the cloth you used. So… your kite will probably require a little more wind for optimum performance… but if balanced and bridled properly, it should still fly.




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Best New Games * Play It! * Great Group Games


Get off your screen and come have fun! Run around, chase a ball, make a face, best your friend, be silly, make up a game. When you run out of ideas, here are some more.

New games were invented by Stewart Brand in the 1970s to introduce cooperation and open-ended play into overly competitive games. These type of games like to unfold outdoors, involve large groups of people (5 -50), include all abilities. In contrast to sports games none of them require equipment, and everyone wins. The main point of these games is simply to keep fun going as long as possible. Dale LeFevre has been running new games for 30 years and has collected the best of them here in Best New Games. Playing some of these 77 games has been the most fun I’ve had in years. Good for family reunions, scouts, school picnics, summer campgrounds.


Play It! is a densely packed book of game ideas for youth groups — church, camp or school. Many of these might better be described as activities, such as scavenger hunts, or role playing situations. They depend on easily gathered props, but also require some preplanning and set up. They are not as spontaneous, but kids love them.


Small groups benefit from playing games together, so a cottage industry has emerged to lead games for organizational and business teams. A deliberate sequence of games starting with fun icebreakers, then onto ones building trust, and ending with celebration games can strengthen teamwork. The best selection I’ve seen for “serious play” games are in Great Group Games. Suggested game options are grouped by their function in the “learning” sequence. In a business setting these team-building games require the right tactful facilitator (not the boss!) to lead, but many of them also work fine informally with a family or friends.

Come on, put that screen down!

-- KK  

Best New Games
Dale LeFevre
2012, 256 pages
Available from Amazon

Play It!
Wayne Rice, Mike Yaconelli
2000, 120 pages
$7, Kindle; paperback used from $4
Available from Amazon

Great Group Games
Susan Ragsdale, Ann Saylor
2007, 228 pages
Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

From Best New Games

So what is a New Game? It is a cooperative group interactive game that is done just for fun and is for everybody regardless of age, size, gender, or ability level. The games sometimes include competition, but anybody can win. That’s because when there is winning, it is only one element rather than the main element of a game. No trophies or awards are given for winning; we simply go on to another game. This way, everyone can play without having to suffer the extremes of competition. Instead of being eliminated, players change roles or sides and keep playing. And always, enjoying a New Game is more important than winning it. In this sense, everybody wins every game.


Zip, Zap, Pop

Description of Game

Who needs snap, crackle, and pop when you have “zip, zap, pop”? The group sits together in a close circle. The first thing to pass around is a “zip,” which is accomplished by placing a hand on top of the head with the fingers pointing at the person on one side while saying “Zip.” The person on that side also puts a hand on top of his or her head with fingers pointing in the same direction while saying “Zip.” It passes from person to person this way around the circle. Practice this in one direction and then the other.

The next thing to learn is a “zap,” which is done by putting the hand under the chin the opposite direction from which a zip is coming. A zap makes a zip reverse directions. And, of course, if one zaps a zap, the zip rereverses directions. A “pop” is done by pointing to anyone in the circle, who then has to either start passing a zip, zap it back, or pop to someone else.


Lap Game

We first get the group into a very tight standing circle facing in so that each person is touching the person next to him or her. Everyone takes a quarter turn in the same direction so that each person is facing the back of a person. (This is often the hardest part. Invariably, several players turn the opposite way.)

Each player puts the hands on the hips of the player in front of him or her. It is important to get the proper spacing. If everyone’s arms are stretched out, people are too far away from one another and they need to take a step in toward the center. If people are too close, they need to take a step out from the center. Try small step adjustments first. The idea is to be able to sit on the knees of the person in back of you while having the person in front of you sit on your knees. Having someone sit on your thighs is painful!

At the count of three, you might try having everyone touch down briefly to see if they are all connecting properly. Then have the group all sit on each others knees all at the same time, perhaps with the magic words “On my knees, please.”



From Play It!

Time Warp Tag

Here’s another crazy version of the most famous of all games. You simply play a regular game of tag but at the blow of a whistle, each player (including “It”) must slow down to a speed equal to a sports replay “slo-mo.” In other words, they must do everything in slow motion. Kids will soon get the hang of it and become very exaggerated in their motions.

Make sure the kids do everything in Time Warp state, even talking and shouting. The game can be played in total Time Warp, or you can blow the whistle for start/stop intervals. Limit the size of the playing area so that several players have a chance to become “It.”


Swedish Baseball

This variation of baseball is most effective with 25 or more participants. Teams are divided equally with one team out in the field and the other at bat. No bats or balls are used. All you need is a Frisbee.

The batter comes to the plate and throws the Frisbee out into the field. The fielding team chases down the Frisbee and tries to return it to a garbage can that is next to home plate. The Frisbee must be tossed in rather than simply dropped in. Meanwhile, the batter runs about 10 feet to the first base, then to the second base about eight feet away and begins to circle them. Every lap is one point for the batting team, and the runner continues until the Frisbee is in the can. All the players on the batting team get to be up each inning. There are no outs.

After two or three innings, the score can get quite high. You’ll need to have a scorekeeper who can keep track of all the points.



Group Juggle

This circle game is something like hot potato, with a dash of Concentration. Throw a ball to one person in a standing circle of kids. That person throws it to another, and so on until everyone has received and thrown the ball once-but exactly once. No one should get the ball a second time, which means each player needs to remember where the ball’s been. If your group’s frustration threshold is high, increase the speed of the game and add more


From Great Group Games