A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. All reviews on this site are written by readers who have actually used the tool and others like it. Items can be either old or new as long as they are wonderful. We post things we like and ignore the rest. Suggestions for tools much better than what is recommended here are always wanted.
Our subscriber base has grown so much since we first started seven years ago, that most of you have missed all our earliest recommendations. The best of these are still valid and useful, so we’re trying out something new — Retro Recomendo. Once every 6 weeks, we’ll send out a throwback issue of evergreen recommendations focused on one theme from the past 7 years.
Like Sudoku, but with colors
ColorKu is a nice looking wooden game board, with holes that hold colored wooden marbles in nine different colors. Game play is just like Sudoku, but this version makes it fun to play with others. It comes with about 100 starting problems, but you can use any Sudoku problems by assigning each color a number. I gave this to my sister for her birthday and she loves it, too. — MF
My wife bought me a dartboard for Christmas last year and we play darts a few times a week now. She got a high quality dartboard — a Winmau Diamond Plus Tournament Bristle Dartboard — and it’s much better than the cheap dartboards I had as a kid. The darts rarely bounce out, and the board has held up well, showing little signs of use. — MF
Pomegranate’s Charley Harper puzzles are beautiful and sturdy. Each piece is glossy and locks well with other pieces, and it’s a fun distraction for a few hours. I’ve bought two so far — Tree of Life and Exquisite Creatures. — CD
Favorite social puzzle
The simplest toys are the best. Our favorite family social puzzle is a tangram, an old classic from China made of 7 geometric pieces that you arrange to fulfill a required silhouette. With two sets you can race to finish. It is much harder than it looks, yet doable and fun for small folk. You can make a tangram from cardboard, or 3D print one yourself, but the version we grab is Tangoes, a tidy travel case with two sets of pieces, plus cards (with solutions) for all the target images. We own 3 or 4 Tangoes ($11), enough for larger groups. — KK
Play a cold case detective
Unsolved Case Files is my new favorite game to play with my husband and friends. Each case file comes with evidence photos, suspect interviews, coroners report, witness statements, newspaper clippings and more. The objective is to work collaboratively and solve three mysteries before you can “crack the case.” So far I’ve solved the Harmony Ashcroft and Max Cahill case and each one took a couple hours. They can be challenging, but it is so satisfying when you’ve completed one. The quality of the documents and materials are so good, that these made-up characters actually come to life and it’s hard not to let it all get to my head when I’ve solved one of the mysteries. It makes me feel like a real detective! I just ordered my third case on Amazon because they are often out of stock, so now I’m just gonna grab one when I can. I also signed up on their website to be notified about new cases that will be released later this Spring, and I discovered if you sign up for their email list, they will email you a free mini-case that you can download and print out. — CD
Werewolf, intense social game
When we meet for family reunions, or gather with friends, our favorite group game is Werewolf. Classrooms and corporate retreats also play Werewolf. It’s a deduction/deception game, extremely social, that is as much fun to watch as to play, so it can involve everyone. The games are exhilarating, surprising, and addictive. The only gear you need are some cards. While you can get by with an ordinary deck of cards, a set of dedicated Werewolf cards makes it much easier. After you’ve played a number of basic games, it’s easy and fun to play with variations, which are supported by this deck of Apostrophe Werewolf cards ($13). — KK