These fascinating cousins to the steel drum open up an opportunity for anyone to make a beautiful, ethereal-sounding kind of music.  Invented only recently (2000) by a Swiss couple, they can be played simply or with an astonishing amount of rhythmic and melodic virtuousity.

 

 

If you want to know more, Wikipedia has a nice entry on the history of the instrument and how to play it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsaTuyjS1Ic

A great find for a budding musician or a musician who just wants to experiment with something new.

 

If you're not familiar with Recent Toys' collection of fun and creative brain-teasers, go search them out online.  Today, I'm looking at Brainstring Advanced.  This perplexing-looking plastic ball has a simple goal -  but a time-consuming solution, one which will test your visualization skills and concentration.  The idea is to get the pegs of like colors all on the same side of the ball, with all of the strings that stretch across the interior untangled and pulling straight through the ball to pegs on the opposite side.  How complicated you make it is up to you, based on how much you tangle up the "innards" before beginning.  Fun - if you have the patience for it!


We are fans of the ingenious Korxx blocks, the brainchild of parents Patricia and Sven Kuck of Germany.  Made of safe, sustainable cork, these blocks are a VERY different experience from the traditional, beloved maple unit blocks.  Aside from the variety of shapes (circles, ovals, rectangles, triangles, columns, etc.), they are:

- Quiet

- Lightweight

- Attractive

And, due to the friction between Korxx surfaces, they hold fast even when tilted on an angle -- making for some very unusual creations!

 

They have produced smaller color sets for some time, but this year, you can find larger color sets and a new black-and-white set that is quite striking. 

 

 

Great for any young builder, from 3+.



Edition Cuboro, the game-oriented brand of marble run company extraordinaire, Cuboro, came out in 2014 with Cuboro Tricky Ways, based on the block and marble design of the original Cuboro product line.  They came out last year with a less expensive model, Tricky Ways Fasal, which is identical in all ways except for the scale (smaller) and the materials (they used the fascinating wood composite product Fasal, instead of solid beechwood, a lightweight material that is nice to the touch and the eye).

The game itself seems simple -- In Version 1, each player tries in turn to create the longest marble track from a central starting block to an empty end-point using the surface channels on each block.  On each turn, you can move or rotate 3 or 4 blocks to create your track.  But as the empty spots are filled, the options narrow as to where you can direct your track to end.  And, for those who truly want to give their spatial visualization skills a workout, there is the more challenging version in which you can use not just the surface channels of the blocks, but the interior tunnels as well. 

I've played this many times, including some real spankings at the hands of Cuboro inventor Matthias Etter and can only say:  This is one that will have you scratching your head and revving up your intellectual competitive streak.


The German designer Fred Voss created this fascinating "rhomboid dodechedron" block set.  With two different colors of blocks (natural and either red or green, depending on the set), this construction toy has a surprising appeal and seemingly limitless combinations.  It's 40 blocks and 5-piece base elements have sat on my coffee table for months, inviting any and all to rearrange and re-design.  Designs can be relatively flat or climb upwards.  The blocks are smooth and nice to the touch and beautifully and precisely manufactured.  Like many of the cool toys we find in Europe, Pyrom is equally at home in the playroom and on the desktop.

Cwic - The Tree of 4 Seasons, from Wodibow. This beautiful bit of 3-D poetry in wood is new to the US as of 2016.  In its own "flowerpot" wooden storage container, Cwic lets players change the tree to different seasons using the wood pieces to mark the tree's passage through the year.  We found that, as with all Wodibow toys, their passion for quality woods and craftsmanship comes through.  The shapes are simple, but lyrical, and pleasing to the touch, thanks to natural sealants used in the making of the pieces.  Another item that could be at home in the playroom, on a teacher's desk or on the kitchen counter.  A very sweet and high-quality toy.

Wodibow (from Spain) is obsessed with elegant, creative toys that stimulate the imagination and are 100% eco-friendly.  Their simple Mastodonts and Nanodonts are fun to put together, wonderful to the touch and beautiful in the playroom or on the desktop.  Their system lets you choose from one of four animals (Rhino, Bean, Hippo or Elephant) or to get one body with all four heads to alternate as the mood takes you.  A new favorite!