Creative Play: Games & Puzzles

Warning: this particular page is likely to be under construction
until well after the cows arrive back at the barn.

Games are central to so many of the skill sets needed to survive adulthood and the work place: spatial and pattern recognition, problem solving, creativity, social interaction, negotiation, and the list goes on. This category, more than some of the others, promises or threatens to be rather long and convoluted. One of the problems of being an only child is that you are limited to four approaches to games: talking the adult in the house into stopping what they are doing to play the umpteenth round of Candyland (a game my mother abhorred, a fact she admitted to years later, primarily because I went through a two year phase where I thought it was the coolest thing going); invite a friend to spend the day visiting (a challenge since the closest neighbors with kids was in the next town over–Hilger wasn’t known for dense population); playing by one’s self or with the closest stuffed animal, which takes away the challenge, the benefits of social interaction, and negotiation (negotiating with one’s self or asking for a refereed decision is somewhat problematic); playing one-person or solitaire games (I was a wiz at Klondike (Vegas rules) at age 4, compliments of my Grandmother Bennett). From a personal perspective, the advent of computer games has partially solved some of the downsides of only childhood. On the other hand, they’ve created an equal or greater number of problems (including the advent of couch-potatoism in those under 18). Despite the potential for abuse, computer games, especially those that replicate traditional board games are well worth bookmarking or installing on your computer. We’ll leave the field of game reviews to others, but there are some good online resources to help you make decisions on what to install and what to stay away from.

General Activity & Puzzle Sites

  • NEWActivity Village. Possibly our favorite site for puzzles and activities for children 10 and younger.  They have over 10,000 pages of activities– from printables to puzzles, coloring pages to crafts ideas, to games. The site covers every conceivable subject and holiday.  Their materials are beautifully designed. They do have products for sale (and we encourage customers to purchase some of their downloadable publications to help support the ongoing work of the folks who run the site), but most of their material available free of charge. This is a great site for parents who are looking for activities to keep young minds and hands busy on even the stormiest of days. We haven’t found another site that is even close to comparable.

Pencil Games

  • "64" Game Board

    “64” Game Board

    64 Squares. One of the great “back of the bus” games. Requires 2 players. The basic idea is to capture at least 33 squares (half +1). Each player, in turn, adds a line (either horizontal or vertical) between two dots. The idea is to avoid adding a third line to a square, giving the other player the chance to create a square. If you do create the third side and your opponent misses it (it can happen), on your next turn you get to fill in that box or boxes (when the 4th line around one box makes a third line on an adjacent box) and then add another line someplace else.

  • Pencil and Paper Games. A terrific collection of pencil and paper games from England. While the names of the games may not be entirely familiar, many of the games will.
  • Math-Based Pencil Games. More accurately, the following games are based on game theory and mathematical theory. We have added the theory after the name of the game and the link to the online rules and theories.Sprouts (Invented by mathematician John Horton Conway and Michael S. Paterson, combinational game theory).
  • Sim. (based on the Ramsey Theory, named after Frank P Ramsey). The idea behind the game is that you start with six dots. Each player chooses a different color pencil or pen. In turn, each draws a line between two of the dots. The idea is to not create triangles in which all three sides are the same color, except when one point of the triangle is formed by one of the original dots.
  • Go-moku. A Japanese game, based on Go, that can be played on paper. It is also know as Connect 5, Caro (in Vietnam), Renju, and Pente (US). The game has a fair number of variations, so players will need to agree on the rules before they start. It is typically played on a 15 x 15 grid. Players draw their circle at the points where the gridlines cross. The row can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal.
  • Paper and Pencil Games. A fairly good collection of pencil and paper games. The site includes reasonably good instructions and examples.

Game Review Resources (for all sorts of games)

The best advice about games probably comes from neighbors and your local vendor. If you are buying a game at a store, unless it is a tried and true game that has been around for a few millenia or a few decades, ask the store owners about the games they carry. Also keep in mind that age ratings aren’t always particularly accurate or may have a limited age range. Most games come with a “minimum” age rating (4 and up, 7 and up, 10 and up, etc.) based on normal or expected cognitive abilities. Look at games and think about whether the “rules” can be modified either for a child under the rated age or for children who are somewhat older. For example, at the tail end of my “candyland” period, my mother,who had an MFA in painting and decorative arts from the Chicago Art Institute, changed the rules so that I had to move to a color dot that was adjacent on the color wheel to the color on the spinner. I spun and it landed on blue; I had to move to either green or purple, depending on her set of rules for the day. It should be noted that the “candyland” period ended soon after the rules change.

  • About.Com’s Board/Card Games. This is about as good a place to start as any, especially if you have games but have lost the instructions.
  • Board Game Geek. A fairly comprehensive list and resource for all thing boardgamish.
  • NEWRink Works Games & Puzzles. We have a few of the individual pages listed below, but the larger site is also worth listing. There are a few games and puzzles that can be modified for younger children (under 8), but most are probably more appropriate for ages 8 and up. Beyond some very challenging puzzles (including lateral thinking), they also have a reasonably good collection of classic games that can be played on the site. We do recommend that parents take some time to look through the site before handing it off to their kids.

Online/Download Classics for Only Children (sorry…I can’t resist).

  • Backgammon. A perennial favorite, Backgammon, like many of the other classic games is available on I discovered one oddity on the computer variation…the board is set up backwards from the game I learned from my mother. Given that the backwards approach seems to be the standard for online versions, I suspect my mother’s version of the game was one more example of her “creating stuff for southpaws.” She was left-handed; I am not. Backgammon dates from roughly 3000 BC (the earliest example was found at the Persian Shahr-e Sukhteh archaeological site in Iran and is estimated to be a couple of hundred years older than Ur.) Examples of backgammon can be found in ancient Egypt and Greece, in medieval Europe (see the tapestries), and even Iceland (c. 1300 AD). There is, in short, no arguing its ongoing popularity). Oddly enough, Queen Elizabeth wasn’t a particular fan of what were known as “game tables” (what we would probably now call most board games these days), so while mainland Europeans happily pursued the game, Elizabethian Law banned it. The English finally decided, sometime around 1650 (47 years after Elizabeth’s reign ended), that perhaps game tables, including backgammon, were not the root of all evil. It should be noted than chess, checkers, and 9 man morris suffered the same fate.
  • Nine Man Morris. You can thank the Roman Empire for this game. While Elizabeth may hva banned game tables (see Backgammon), Nine Man Morris was popular, even warrenting a mention in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act II, Scene I).In the American colonies, it was simply known as Morris. If you are looking for “simple to learn / hard to master,” this is a terrific game. Nine Man is based, at least to a degree, on the same principle as tic-tac-toe (Three Man Morris has a striking resemblance). The idea is to get three in a row, at which point you get to remove one of your opponent’s pieces, and keep doing it until the other person is down to two remaining checkers. It is, by the way, a pretty good game for camping. It requires either a paper drawing of the board or a drawing in the dust (my father’s favorite variation), nine pennies and nine either dimes or nickles to stand in for the checkers. A variation of Nine Man Morris is part of the Klutz Game collection, along with a number of other international board games.
  • Cribbage. My grandmother believeed that cribbage was a great way to learn math, or at least that was the excuse she used when she taught me how to play at age 5. Unlike the two games mentioned above, Cribbage actually has an identifiable inventor (English poet, John Suckling, during the early part of the 17th Century) and has its own organization (The American Cribbage Congress). The ACC has tournaments and seasons and standings, although its popularity seems to be limited to the northern climes, at least in the US. Despite the board, cribbage is actually a card game and is taken as serously as chess or poker by its adherents. That said, it is a great game. While game play is fairly straight forward, learning to count the cards can be a bit difficult. Short of having a grandparent around to teach you the game, the fastest way to learn cribbage is by using a cribbage program (you can find some freebees online that will do the trick). As with backgammon, cribbage requires a combination of luck and skill, and like Nine Man Morris, it makes for a good traveling game. If you have a cribbage board but don’t know what to do with it, Wikipedia has a reasonably good description of the rules and the scoring.
  • A Deck of Cards. Okay…not a single game. In 2010, the National Toy Hall of Fame added playing cards to its roster (along with the Game of Life). Little known card trivia: A deck of cards inspired the periodic table (check out Dmitri Mendeleev, inventor of the periodic table for a longer explanation). While there are a whole host of games that can be played with a single deck of cards, the coolest use is building: 1) 10 Amazing Sculptures Made of Playing Cards (Bryan Berg), including some interesting video; 2) House of Cards: Adventures in Card Stacking; and 3) Build a Tower of Cards (WikiHow)
  • Playful Learning…a blog plus extra. (Interesting blog!) The blog includes step by step instruction how how to try different things, from learning measurement to dissecting flowers to choosing games for only children.

Visual Puzzle

  • Visual Puzzles. The folks at have put together a terrific collection of visual puzzles and manipulative puzzles. If you have a child who love puzzles, this is a terrific site. They have put together a wide variety of puzzles, so you should have no problem finding puzzles that will appeal to everyone in the household.
    Illusions and Paradoxes. From Scientific Psychic, this collection of visual illusions will challenge how your visual perceptions. More examples of illusions are available from other sources as well, including: Optical Illusions and Visual Perception Puzzles (

Math, Logic, and Word Puzzles Another English/European puzzle site.  The site includes some terrific math, science, and logic puzzles but with a decidedly European bent, so you may have to do a bit of research to figure out the answers to some of the questions.

NEWBrain FoodA great collection of word and number puzzles (primarily for teens and older), although some are not for the faint hearted. the site includes logi-numbers, logic puzzles, word boxes, word puzzles, number puzzles, party puzzles and joke puzzles. It even includes a crytogram maker.

NEWWord Game World A nice collection of crossword puzzles, anagrams, word games, and word searches. They even have some puzzles for the somewhat older crowd.

Games for the Winter Months

Winter has a habit of limiting the amount of exercise and increase the number of times you are likely to hear “mom…I’m bored.” There are some great indoor games that may help to limit the number of time you hear the age old complaint.

NEWPips: Original Playing Card and Dice GamesA nice collection of game variations using playing cards, dice, or dominoes. The site provides detailed rules and directions for each of the games.  A personal favorite in the collection involves building a domino skyscraper.

NEWCardboard Box Games. While we would love it if our customers only games they purchased from us, the best games can’t be purchased. We have quite a few games that we have played around here that can be made at home with a few cardboard boxes, scissors, some colored markers, some construction paper (if you have it), 1 die,  and some tape. The “I’m Bored” Board Game. Design 20 to 30 “stepping stones” each stone has a different activity (dance, hop on one foot, spin around–something that requires motion) or actions (go back 2 steps, jump to the next stone, etc.). Once you have your stones created, randomly line them up around the room (in front of a chair, behind a couch, down a hall, up the stairs (or down). For each round, one person is designated as the “roller” (the person who keeps track of the die, rolls it for all of the other players, and announces each number).  The cool thing about this game is that you can easily add new stuff and make the game as long or as short as you want. It can also be adjusted for age and allows a wide range of age groups to play. It also encourages movement during a season when it is easier to hibernate. Card Board Hop Scotch. The more self explanatory game…create a hopscotch board in minutes. If you have a bean bag, you can use it…if not, grab a couple of snack ziplock bags and fill them with dried beans (be sure to use different colors). A few rounds of hopscotch will use up some of the excess energy.

  • Bowling Alley. Needed: 1 long hall, 1 medium-sized indoor ball (4-6 inches), 1 piece of masking tape or another type of tape that will not mar your floor, 10 empty plastic water bottles (12 to 16 oz.), and a “score sheet.” Set up your bowling pins at one end of the hallway and leave room behind the pins to allow for a “catcher” (the catcher stops the ball before it can bounce back and take our more of the pins. Players rotate between bowler, catcher, and rooting gallary.
  • Building Block, Wanted Bricks, and Toys Miniature Golf or Croquet. We tried this over New Year’s. The game will vary based on the types of blocks, bricks, or other construction material you have. We prefer the bricks because you can also make the mallets to go along with the game. We have not tried this with KEVA planks because of concern the the “holes” might collapse.The first step in building the course. Determine how many holes you are going to have and whether your course is going to be on one story or multiple stories (there is a lot to be said for including a stairway in the game, especially with older kids). Holes can be actual holes (dixie cups work well) or arches that you have to pass through. The arches can be built with nearly any type of building block, although we also found that some of the track pieces from a wooden railroad set work as well. You can tape off the “fairways” using a painter’s tape. Make sure that whatever you use can be easily pulled up when you are finished with the game. Fairways can also be made with cardboard, which is easy enough to store away when the course is not in use. One last piece of advice, use either a whiffle ball, another “cat toy” ball, or a ping pong ball so you don’t end up with dents in the drywall.

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