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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Discontinued

Thank you for your interest in this blog, but it will be discontinued until further notice.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Brain Food Provides Food For Thought

Product: Brain Food moldable putty (available in seven colors)



















Price: $9.99



Overall Rating:









4 out of 5 stepping stones





My expectations:



1. Should be easy to use



2. Should be fun to play with



3. Should inspire creative ideas or exploration



4. Should be durable



5. Results should be as advertised on website.



6. Customer service should be excellent.







Review:




Upon receipt of this product, it might be obvious to some that it would mainly be targeted towards children. However, I wanted to base my review on how an adult might find this product to be useful and beneficial to their creativity. So that will be my point of view for the remainder of this review.






But what is Brain Food anyway? To quote the website http://www.fatbraintoys.com/: "Putty for your hands... a playground for your mind. Engaging the imagination and refreshing the mind. Brain Food is an impressive dose of high quality moldable putty. It is safe for use by people with sensitivity to wheat or latex and will not promote the development of latex allergies."






Brain Food was similar to a putty I had seen someone use for physical therapy exercises, to restore the motor skills and strength to their hand. It comes in a round, flat container. I thought perhaps it might be in a shape of a brain, but it wasn't. When I opened the container, the putty was glittery blue with silvery, pearly streaks through it (I had the brain stem blue color). It has the texture and feel of putty, without the moisture or crumbling associated with clay. It was sticky enough to stay stuck to my hand when I turned my hand upside down, but not so sticky that it left a residue on my hand. It was smooth and smelled rubbery, but only up close.






As soon as I saw it, I knew what I was going to use it for: relaxation techniques and brainstorming.






As I kneaded the Brain Food in my hands, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. It was a little tough to work with at first, like taffy, but it loosened up the more I kneaded it. It reminded me very much of meditation, the process of ruminating over something. It was a great help in just mulling over ideas or thinking about solutions to creative challenges. It also reminded me of kneading bread or giving a massage to tired hands.






I thought to myself, "But how is this any different than playing with ordinary clay?" Suddenly the differences came to me at once: using Brain Food was about the journey and not the destination. In other words - clay is usually about the transformation of the clay into something else, with the end result in mind during the process. For me, this product was about promoting release from stress and tension, relaxing, and refocusing your mind. Just the kind of food my brain needed!






As I played with it some more, I began to wonder about the more practical aspects of the product:






Does it bounce? When rolled into a ball, yes; quite well.



Does it melt? Yes. I left it in a hot car by accident and it melted to the inside of the container! But with a little persistence it peeled right out, like taffy.



Does it freeze? I only put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, and it came out stiff, but still pliable.



Does it print (like when you press Silly Putty onto comics and the comics are imprinted on it)? Yes, but only the black ink was imprinted onto the putty.



Does it harden over time if left sitting out? Yes (according to the website). I wanted to enjoy my Brain Food for months to come, so I didn't leave it sitting out!



What happens when it gets wet? I put it into a sink full of cold water and it sank to the bottom. I left it in there for several minutes to see if it would dissolve, but it kept its shape. Perhaps hot water would have yielded a different result. The water beaded right off of it when I took it out.



Does it keep its shape? Yes. I twisted it up into various shapes, and it did not un-twist itself.






Pros: Brain Food met all of my expectations.






Cons: May stain some surfaces or fabrics(according to the website).






Overall Opinion: I found Brain Food to be a versatile, non-messy alternative to clay. While I did not evaluate its effectiveness with my 5 year old daughter, I believe it would be a great teaching tool if used as directed on the Fat Brain website. Keep up the great work, Fat Brain Toys!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

With Dado Cubes & Squares, Brainy Isn’t Boring!



Products:

Dado Cubes: (set of 10)

Dado Squares (available in blue and original colors; set of 35, 3” squares)


Available from: http://www.fatbraintoys.com/

Price range: Dado Cubes $27.50; Dado Squares: $22.00

Overall Rating:



4 out of 5 stepping stones



My expectations:

  1. Game should be easy to use with minimal parental guidance or involvement
  2. Game should be fun to play

  3. Game should inspire creative ideas or exploration
  4. Game should be durable
  5. Game results should be as advertised on website

  6. Customer service should be excellent


Review:

As a parent, it is important to me that my daughter has access to educational games that are not only engaging and challenging, but fun. I like the games that activate a child’s sense of discovery and curiosity. So when I received award-winning Dado cubes and squares in the mail, I was curious to see how my 4 year old daughter would respond to them.


To quote the website http://www.fatbraintoys.com/, “Dado combines art and science as you explore architectural principles . . . proportion, balance, structure and color. A new twist on classic building blocks, Dado engages your imagination as the slits on each cube are interlocked to create an unlimited number of three-dimensional structures. Constructed horizontally, vertically or nested together, Dado invites visual spatial development and problem solving through design-centered, attention-grabbing fun!”


As soon as my daughter saw the cubes she knew instinctively they were for her. Her eyes brightened as she asked, “Can I play with these?” Of course!


I let her play with them without much interaction or interference from me. I just wanted her to figure out how to play with them on her own at first. I watched her open the package and look at the brightly colored cubes. “How do you do it? Can you help me, Daddy?” she asked. So I sat down and guided her play a little bit. “Do you think the blocks can stack on each other? Try putting the edge of the box through the slit on the bottom.”




Once I showed her the basics, she got the concept and our conversation during playtime included her following actual comments (with my unspoken commentary):


“I’m going to make a truck.” (using imagination to create objects)


“I’m going to make stairs.” (a favorite idea)


“I’m going to make a gate and a house.”




“Will this fit?” (try it and see)


“These are nice! Thanks for getting them!” (glad you appreciated it!)


“Where did you get these?” (notices product uniqueness)


“This is the thing I like to do. This is fun.”




She was engaged in active play with the cubes for 30 minutes and would have played with them longer if it hadn’t been time for dinner. She actually got most of them back in the box on her own, which was also a part of the play experience.


The next day (and every day for a week) she was eager to play with the Dado cubes. It was the first toy she reached for. Even while I was busy doing other things, she would call for me to come see what she created, or bring her creations to show to me. “Do you have another game like this?” she asked.





The following week, I introduced the Dado squares. She was delighted with those and immediately began building a house with different rooms and levels in it. After a few days I suggested that she try to connect the Dado cubes and squares together. She tried, but they didn’t fit together well, which was one of the only cons with this product. However, my daughter soon thought of a new use for the squares; probably one that the inventors hadn’t imagined: she carries them around in her purse and uses them as play money!


What I like about the Dado cubes and squares is how easily I could use them to help trigger creativity and problem solving. I would ask her questions such as: “How can you get the big cubes to balance on the small ones, and vice versa?” “How tall or long can you make your building?”

Pros:

Game met all of my expectations and then some.


So far none of the pieces have been broken, in spite of vigorous play.


Cons:

A set of 10 cubes is a great starting point, but it left my daughter wanting more. A larger set (or a double set) would be ideal.


The squares didn’t fit well with the cubes.


Overall opinion:

Hours of fun, exploration, discovery, and creativity can be had for such a “simple" concept. I was very creative as a child and I remember looking at the structure of how things were made. I remember using scissors to cut slits in paper and cardboard and connecting them to make it stand up. Playing with the Dado cubes and squares brought that pleasant memory back to mind. They are destined to be a classic, like Lincoln Logs, Legos, or Tinker Toys.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pearl Cards Bring Out the Storyteller in You!

Product: Pearl Cards card game, 50 card deck



Available from: www.PearlCards.com


Price Range: $9.95

Overall rating: (5 out of 5 stepping stones, which earns this product the CreativeHelps.com Stepping Stone Award for excellence in creativity, innovation and value!)


My Expectations:
  1. Game directions should be clear and easy to follow the first time
  2. Game should be fun to play
  3. Card images should inspire stories naturally and easily
  4. Game should not be boring or too easy
  5. Game results should be as advertised on website
  6. Customer service should be excellent

Review:

My life has always been full of stories beyond the ones I read in books. As a child I would spend hours on the phone with a friend as we told each other stories and interacted as characters in those stories. It was a lot of fun, and we created all kinds of crazy situations for our characters to respond to. My sister used to make up stories to tell me about a character she had created that had similarities to me, and they were quite entertaining. Sometimes she would even make up songs to go along with the stories. As an adult I find myself creating characters and stories to tell my daughter, and I’m sure she’ll develop an interest in doing the same. So when I discovered the card game Pearl Cards, I was intrigued. Would people really be interested in playing a game that is simply about telling a story? What would keep the momentum of the game going? There was only one way to find out. The game arrived promptly in the mail. I opened it and looked at a few of the cards. The images were interesting and made me wonder how they could be used to inspire or trigger a story. I decided I would test the game in several ways.

Pearl Cards is an interactive card game created by Freeman Ng where players create a story based on images on the cards. Each player adds his/her own part of the story when their turn comes. For example, there are 4 players playing the game. Players decide how many rounds they want the story to continue for and each one is dealt that number of cards (eg. 3 cards=3 rounds). The first player selects one of the three cards in her hand and begins to tell a story based on the image on that card. She puts down the card she just used and picks up a new one to replace it. The next player then builds on the story that the first player started, incorporating elements from an image on one of the cards in his hand. And so on the play goes until the story ends with round 3.


Test #1: I played the game with a close friend. I explained the instructions to him. We decided to play our first game for three rounds. As I passed out the cards, he suggested that we keep the cards used during the game hidden, and at the end of the game try to guess what the images were before revealing them. That sounded like fun, so we did that.
Since it was my idea to play the game, he insisted that I go first. Naturally, my mind drew a blank for a moment, but then after selecting one of the images I just started to tell a story. It was fun right away! We soon discovered that the stories could also provide insight into a person’s thoughts. What made the game fun is that we anticipated how we would change or compliment each other’s stories. I also noticed that our body language changed during the game. We leaned in closer and looked at each other with interest as we told our stories. The game made me feel good because I connected with others in a fun and somewhat vulnerable way. A sample story: As I looked at the earth from the surface of the moon, I wondered if the earth went through phases like the moon. Was there ever a crescent Earth? Speaking of the moon, surely the Virgin Mary must have thought the angel who visited her and told her she was God’s chosen vessel was from the moon, or perhaps heaven. And speaking of Jesus’ mother, it reminded me of a time when Jesus had to pay taxes and asked a disciple to get a coin out of a fish’s mouth. But all these thoughts came to an end once a bolt of lightning struck the Eiffel tower.
We played the game a few times, getting into it more and more as we played. At first our stories were complimentary to each other. But then my friend would redirect or totally contradict the story I had started with his own. At the end of each round, we tried to guess what the images were on the cards. It was funny to see if we guess correctly, and how the image inspired the story that was created. We played the game three times. We were having so much fun with it that other friends who were near us began to listen with interest, wondering what on earth we were playing that was so funny and engaging. So we invited them to join us.

Test #2: There were 4 of us playing this time. What crazy stories we came up with! We played twice, and each time grew more hilarious as each player pondered how to compliment or totally twist the story. It made me realize that this game would truly be great as an ice breaker for a small group. A sample story: A person threw a coin in a fountain and made a wish. The wish came true immediately and the person found himself at a castle high in the mountains, where he shared a meal with two girls and an elephant. Unknown to them all, a fire raged outside in the forest. When they discovered it they escaped on a rocket ship.

One of the players was so enthusiastic and excited about the game that he said he was going to order it online that very night! What he liked most about Pearl Cards is that it is fun, easy to play, and is non-competitive. This was very important to him because he has a son who doesn’t like to lose at any game, and as a result has great difficulty playing games just for fun. My friend saw this game as a perfect solution, because everyone shares their own story, and there is no wrong or right story; just your story. I spoke with him the next day and he said he did buy it when he got home that night. I was excited and couldn’t wait to play it with my wife!

Test #3: We had a guest staying with us over the weekend, so it was a perfect opportunity to play the game. There were 3 of us playing. The first two stories were “deep,” giving the game a rather serious and thought-provoking tone. A sample story: When faced with a brick wall in your life, you must decide how you are going to respond. Will you climb over the wall, and if you do will you find that you climbed the wrong wall? Will you try to go around or through or under it? Is the wall protecting you, hiding you, or simply an obstacle in your way? Perhaps the wall represents a person who is standing in your way. When it comes to fulfilling your dreams, you must decide. Once the wall is behind you, a road stretches before you, and you must again decide at what speed and for how long you will travel the road. Will the food you have sustain you or will you have enough food for your journey? Perhaps your focus will not be on the end of your journey, but the journey itself and the things you will earn along the way.
But the third story took a humorous turn. In fact, we had to stop playing for a moment until I could catch my breath from laughing so hard! This time as we played, I found that playing the game triggered other stories of things that happened to us in “real life” that we also wanted to share during the course of play, making the game an even richer experience. The game naturally turned into a conversation afterwards, which was great.


Pros:
This game met all of my expectations and then some. What was also neat about it was how players would come up with interesting variations to inspire even more challenging levels of play. For example: one round could be stories based on reality, one round based totally on fantasy or fairy tales, one round has to incorporate a certain word or concept with each player, or instead of saying the story players could act it out like charades, etc. I could see how the game could be used with success for group or individual brainstorming sessions, perhaps when a person is facing a creative block and needs a breakthrough. You can be as descriptive and detailed with your story as you want to be.


Cons:
The only con I had was actually starting the story; it took a few seconds to relax and think about how I wanted to start. This probably won't be a problem for you! But once the game got going, it was fun and challenging to keep it going.


Overall opinion:
Pearl Cards is a “feel good” game that you will want to play again and again! It proves that everyone has a story inside of them, and a story to tell. This game is as much about telling a story as it is about listening to others share their stories. I look forward to playing it again with family and friends at parties and holiday gatherings. Plus the website has opportunities for artists to provide artwork for the next set of cards being developed!

The only aspect of the Pearl Cards that I did not review was the online and Facebook versions of the game. If you play the game that way, be sure to leave a comment on my blog!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Knifty Knitter is Neat For Novice & Knowledgeable Alike!

Product:
Knifty Knitter Loom by Provo Craft, a set of 4 looms ranging in size from 12” to 22”

Price range:
single loom - $8.00; loom set (4 straight looms, from 10” to 22”) - $19.99

Overall rating:


4 out of 5 stepping stones

My Expectations:
1. Directions should be clear and easy to follow.
2. Product should work the first time I use it without a problem.
3. Product should be easy to use
4. Product should be easy to use while watching tv
5. Product should work a project “rapidly” with minimal effort
6. Product should be priced to suit my budget

Review:
I purchased the Knifty Knitter loom set because I wanted to make scarves to give as gifts for Christmas. What I received was much better than I imagined! I gained a new hobby and discovered that I could create something easily that brought warmth and meaning to the person who received it. I must say that I am very impressed with the ProvoCraft Knifty Knitter looms (as opposed to using a knitting machine), and here’s why:

My interest in knitting has its roots in my childhood. I learned how to sew at an early age and tried my hand at various novice sewing projects. I also had a small square loom that I used to make a wall hanging and a scarf. So years later, when I wanted to make my own Christmas gifts, I decided to try out the loom again. Since it was already October the first thing I thought of was to get a knitting machine; the kind where you turn a crank and the machine “knits” for you. I had wanted one of these as a kid and never got one. By Divine providence my wife found a Sew Easy Knitting Machine that same week at a local thrift store.


After putting it together, threading the cheap yarn I bought at the craft store to experiment with, and following the directions, here’s what I got after a few minutes:



Honestly, I was disappointed. I thought all I would have to do is turn the crank and make a scarf lickety-split. But the yarn kept coming off the hooks, so I couldn’t get into a rhythm with turning the crank. It was a bit too noisy to hear the tv when I used it. It took more effort than I expected. I put it in a corner and haven’t used it since. I suppose if I had stuck with it I could have made it work, but I really wanted something that worked the first time.

Then I purchased the Knifty Knitter single loom from Walmart and the loom set from online.


The first picture is the loom set, the second is a detail of the set with the yarn hook (included).

What a difference! The bright and colorful looms were so cheerful to look at; they were inviting me to get busy doing something fun! The instruction booklet had easy to follow directions for making a scarf, with large illustrations of each step. The directions were in 4 languages: English, French, Spanish and German. I followed the directions and I was working up a nice scarf in no time! The first one I made was for my mother-in-law:




I used purple Lions Brand Homespun yarn, which I found worked up very nice, thick, and quick. It is a soft, warm yarn, perfect for scarves. I used the 18” loom for her scarf, but found that the 10” loom worked best for the other scarves I made. Hers was pretty long, but I found that for most of my scarves I only needed 1.75 skeins to get a nice length, about 50”, using the 10” loom. I could get a scarf done in about 2 weeks, working 1 hour a day on it, using the 10” loom.

I was hooked! Honestly, I got addicted to loom knitting. I couldn’t sit down to watch tv without knitting, and I would bring my loom and knit while I sat in my car before I went to work!

In all I made 10 scarves and 1 shawl before I finally stopped.


At 84”, the shawl took me 8 weeks to make using the 22” loom. Instead of buying a knitting machine, I became a loom knitting machine, and I plan to learn how to do patterns so I can create more gifts for next year!

I experimented with a few different yarn brands to see how they worked up in the loom:

For my wife’s scarf I used a luxurious recycled silk yarn from TheWoolPeddler.com. Awesome, brilliant colors, like the sun shining through stained glass:







It was a bit of a challenge to work with because the yarn strand was not always the same weight. Sometimes it got almost threadbare, but didn’t lose its strength. And in spite of it there aren’t any noticeable gaps or “holes” in the knitting.

For my wife’s shawl (pictured above) I used Patons Divine yarn, the Denim Storm color.
It has wispy strands, as if you had taken a comb and pulled it through the yarn.



These are all yarns I would work with again, and you can find them at your local craft stores (except for the recycled silk at TheWoolPeddler.com).

Pros:
Simple and easy to use, even for the novice. Fun and relaxing. All of my expectations were met.

Cons:
Unless you press down on the pegs from time to time, they can work their way up and come out of the hole while you are working. This will slow you down as you carefully reset the peg into the hole, making sure that the hook guide on the peg is facing outwards like the other ones are. Without the hook guide properly positioned it may be harder to remove the yarn from the peg easily. However, taking pegs out to change the size of your project is easy and simple to do.

The instructions are only for the double knit form of knitting. You have to go to their website to get instructions for the single knit.

Overall opinion:
I purchased the ProvoCraft Knifty Knitter loom as a way to create money-saving, meaningful homemade Christmas gifts for family and friends. What I got was a love for a brand new hobby.

Recommendations: buy yourself some cheap yarn and practice with it first, to get the hang of it and to see if this is right for you.