Check out the fun items at Wink Fun

Wink Fun is the new site that Kevin Kelly, Carla Sinclair, and I started earlier this year. Every weekday we recommend a new game, toy, puzzle, or other fun item. In recent days we’ve looked at Bocce balls, a terrific wireless kid’s headphone set, a 3D car puzzle, a superior slingshot, a game that pits Tesla against Edison, magic tricks, microscopes, high power squirt guns, and more. Check it out and let us know what you think. And if you have an idea for a fun thing to review, email us!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Estes Proto X Mini Quadcopter

I’ve been fiddling around with the world’s smallest quadcopter now for about 2 months, and it’s been great fun! It actually introduced me into the world of remote control quadcopters, and has led to a brand new hobby and addiction. My wife was initially skeptical, until she realized it would get me out of the house occasionally and provide for some much needed “me” time – for her of course.

The Estes Proto X mini quadcopter is an amazing little flying machine to say the least. It features 6 axis stabilization, bright led light indicators, and is ready to fly out of the box (actually you’ll need to pick up a pack of AAA batteries for the remote, and a tiny screwdriver [like this one] to install them).

Although this is the quadcopter that introduced me to the world of quads, I must qualify that it takes practice to become a skilled quad pilot. Good thing is the Proto X is very durable, as I have crashed it on multiple occasions, and broke a few of the blades in the process. The blades are replaceable, but it is a good idea to have ample flying space to avoid hitting walls, chairs, computers, etc… You are able to fly the Proto X outdoors and indoors, but becareful outdoors, as it is not difficult for high winds to carry your mini quad up up and away.

Overall, the Estes Proto X is an excellent cool tool toy, and a great introduction into the world of quadcopters.

Warning: This may scare some small pets or children when flown, as it sounds like a large angry mosquito when airbound.

-- Myron  

Estes 4606 Proto X Nano R/C Quadcopter
$27

Available from Amazon



 

Wink Fun – the best games, toys, and puzzles

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We are excited to announce the launch of Wink Fun, a new Cool Tools website that celebrates fun stuff! And we mean fun things made from atoms – not bits.

Wink Fun celebrates stuff that is fun, and we mean the kind of fun that’s made from atoms – not bits. We mean putty you can bounce, slime you can squish, cards you can shuffle, forts you can build, skateboards you can race, water guns you can squirt – fun that matters, made of matter.

Every weekday Wink Fun reviews one entertaining item: the latest robot kit, a fast-moving dice game, a cool vintage board game, an astonishing magic trick, a role-playing card game, a brain-busting puzzle, a hilarious party game, extreme equipment for high-action fun, and so much more.

As part of the merriment, we’re awarding a GIVEAWAY Perplexus (cool maze ball!) to a lucky reader. Simply find the word “Perplexus” that’s hidden in one of the reviews and you’ll be able to enter.

So pick a square, any square, click and have fun!

>For more information about us, go to our about page.

-- Carla Sinclair  



Raspberry Pi Computer Board

I bought one of these a few weeks ago for use in home automation projects, the first of which is an RFID – controlled door lock to my shop. It is easy to use for anyone even sightly familiar with Linux, and is quite inexpensive ($29 for the Model B). Networking is plug-and-play, and there is massive support from its user community.

It is about the size of a credit card and is powered by a USB charger (not supplied). Many accessories are available from multiple suppliers.

This is an excellent learning tool for people who want to know more about computers than how to run common apps like Microsoft Office. It is cheap, small, and very well supported for users of all skill levels.

-- Jack Powers  

[I have a Raspberry Pi. The first thing I did was install Raspbian, a version of Linux, on it. Then I installed a Minecraft Server on it. I bought a $10 USB WiFi stick and a cheap SD memory card to make it more useful. It also has an HDMI port so you can use it like a regular computer. It's pretty amazing how much you can do with one of these. - Mark Frauenfelder]

Raspberry Pi Model B+ (B PLUS) 512MB Computer Board
$29

Available from Amazon



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
$15

Available from Amazon



Kaleidograph

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.

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-- Amy  

Kaleidograph
$20

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
$6

Available from Amazon



Pley

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  

Pley
$15/month



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.

bigrocket

BigRockMan

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-- KK  

Sport Rocketry
$62 (includes membership)

Rocketry
$42

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

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  

TeamSnap
Free and paid version available