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Puzzle This

Rubik's isn't the only cube when it comes to puzzles. This is a collection of some of our favorite compact puzzles that challenge kids to find and create unique patterns, all while following the rules of the games.
Block Buddies Block Buddies
Ages: 3 & Up
MindWare, $24.95

With 21 blocks and 76 picture puzzles, adventurous building lies ahead. Double-sided puzzle cards show designs of people, animals, vehicles, places, and even some abstractions to which an imaginative child could give a name. The cards come in four levels of difficulty so children can work their way up from beginners to experts, and eventually create their own constructions.

Pattern Play Pattern Play
Ages: 3 & Up
MindWare, $29.95

Pattern Play by Mindware is a set of 40 beautifully colored blocks of varying shapes that fit into a wooden tray. The object is to use all the blocks to reproduce each of the 40 patterns on the challenge cards. The challenge cards increase in difficulty from simple to complex, broadening the game's appeal across generations. Whether completing a challenging pattern, describing what the pattern could be (a windmill, a quilt or a butterfly), creating original designs, this seemingly simple box of vibrantly colored blocks continues to surprise its playful users.

Inverse Inverse
Ages: 6 & Up
Family Games Inc., $29.98

"Simple, quick, yet fun" was the consensus of our testers. Two players each use an identical set of five blocks, each a different size, color and shape. They take turns placing one block at a time within the grid lines of the game board until one player finds it impossible to place a block, thereby losing the game. The challenge comes in the form of placement rules: pieces of the same color may not be positioned in the same orientation; pieces of the same color and/or height may not touch; and pieces may not be stacked on top of one another. The game takes barely five minutes to play, which pleased everyone because in a short period of time they had many chances to refine their strategies.

36 Cube 36 Cube
Ages: 8 & Up
ThinkFun Inc., $24.99

Thirty-six towers, all the same height, are arrayed in six rows, and the towers in each row are topped with a different color. The challenge is to rearrange the towers so that each color appears only once in each row and column. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Ah, but there’s one thing more. All the towers must still be the same height when rearranged. On closer look, you will find that each tower is made of two parts: the bases are unmovable, so only the right size top will fit. Partial solutions are acceptable, with scores given for six levels of successful placements.

Adams Cube Adams Cube
Ages: 8 & Up
ThinkFun Inc., $9.99

Each face of this 3-1/2 inch cube has an indented outline of a different shaped polygon. Stashed inside the cube are five puzzle pieces which, when correctly positioned, fit perfectly into each outline. These are very tricky indeed, and you may be surprised to discover which shape is hardest to solve.

Quantumino Quantumino
Ages: 8 & Up
Family Games Inc., $29.98

Fans of block-fitting puzzles will find multiple challenges with this set of 17 3D pentacubes. The object is to remove one of the shapes, then fit the remaining 16 blocks into the playing perimeters. This means, of course, that there are 16 possible solutions, depending on which block is eliminated. And you can't tell whether you've succeeded until near the end, because the first 12 or so shapes can easily be manipulated to fit together. Consider inviting a friend or two to brainstorm.

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