Flex Your Plexus
The Superplexus is a clear plastic handheld
sphere the size of a head of cabbage. Inside, ther e’s a
crazy path — a series of ramps, tubes, chutes, and grooves — through
which you must deliver a small steel ball by tilting the sphere. The
goal is to get the ball to the end without having it fall off the path.
Along the route, you must pass 100 numbered points, each of
which represents an obstacle to navigate. Every time I pick this up,
I get immersed inside Superplexus’ twisty 3D maze. I become
the little steel ball. Despite having had this puzzle for over a year,
I’ve never made it all the way to the end, but I’m not discouraged,
because I’ve never gotten the feeling it’s impossible to solve.
The Wikipedia article on Superplexus has a couple of cool concept
sketches and prototype photographs, as well as inventor Mike
McGinnis’ notes on its design and history (he made the first prototype while he was in junior high school). You can learn even more
about McGinnis’ terrific puzzle at the Superplexus website. I’m
astonished that it’s no longer in production.
OpenX clamshell box opener
You can hurt yourself opening clam s and oys ters, even if you have the
right tool. I once jabbed the point of an opener in my palm trying to
make oysters in the half-shell. You can also get hurt trying to rip open
clamshell packages, the sealed plastic packaging that encases electronics such as batteries, flash memory, and game accessories.
Also known as blister-packs, these clamshells are frustratingly difficult to open, whether you use scissors or your teeth, and you wonder if
the manufacturer ever intended you to open it. Another special feature
of this packaging is that you can’t reclose it. Not knowing this is part of
the difficulty in opening them; I try to open them in a way that allows
me to put the two sides back together when I should just shred the
OpenX is a special tool with two different blades designed to slice
into and separate the two pieces of plastic so you can get to what you
want inside. There’s no disputing that OpenX works better than scissors or a kitchen knife, but the fact that I need a tool bothers me, even
if it costs under $5. Then again, I wouldn’t try to pry open an oyster
without something other than my teeth.
P.S. David Pescovitz pointed out on Boing Boing the irony that
OpenX arrives in a clamshell package.
If You Can’t
Open It …
Straws and Connectors
Cheap toys that thoroughly entertain kids for longer than 30 seconds
are rare. I find it impossible to keep
children interested in pretty much
anything for more than a couple
of minutes, and that includes playtime. But Straws and Connectors
are the exception to the rule.
Cheap, easy, and fun (no, not
me), Straws and Connectors are
awesome when you’re stuck with
twenty 5-year-olds on a rainy San
Francisco day, praying for a break
in the weather so you can boot
their little hyper-hypo behinds out
the door for five minutes of peace
and quiet. They love this game.
It’s also a team builder. There
are lots of games the kids love to
fight over, like Legos and puzzles.
Kids have a tendency to get
territorial over things, and it’s
completely normal. I have a great
deal of respect and appreciation
for any toy that encourages kids to
work toward a collective goal, like
building the tallest building in the
world or the longest train on the
tracks. It’s heartwarming to see
them work so hard to help each
other find the right pieces. That’s
too cool for school. So cool that
grown-ups love them, too. They’re
actually perfect for helping to
think in 3D.
And if you want to go even
cheaper, you can make your own
set with a $1.99 package of drinking straws and some of those lil’
mini potatoes … or big, fat grapes.