As the title indicates, today is all about play. Share these terrific, tedium-trouncing toys with your loved ones this season and watch them sparkle with childlike wonderment, regardless of their ages!
We start small with our favorite spinning pieces that are downright mesmerizing. An elegant and elevated reimagination of a traditional children's top, the Paradox Top from Matter Collection is a minimalist work of art and illusion. When the central modern rod is spun, the surrounding band seems to float, encircling the pillar as a ring of metallic mysticism that glistens in the light as it seems to spin and suspend entirely on its own.
The Votex Dome designed by Physicsfun, available from Physics Shack, is, upon first glance, a simple glass saucer-like dome that encapsulates shimmering aqua liquid that seems to billow under the surface of the glass. But the liquid is Rheoscopic, meaning it contains an incalculable number of minuscule reflective particles suspended in the fluid which are susceptible to and influenced by motion. Deep canyon like ripples of inky blue marbling pirouette through the brilliant surface of the fluid as currents trail through the handheld sea. When the dome is spun, the particles react by spiraling into a kaleidoscopic vortex that resembles the clouds drawn into the eye of a storm. It's an absolutely dazzling sensory journey that will entrance anyone lucky enough to receive one of these vortex domes this holiday.
Mechforce & Gyroscope.com
EDC & Super Precision Gyroscopes
Turning from the fragility of glass and fluidity of rheoscopic oceans, our next item is a collection of centrifugal metallic bangles. The orbits of the Mechforce EDC Gyroscope dance in their suggested galaxies, collapsing and unfolding as concentric steel rings that seem to wind through space and time. The two toned contemporary rings on the Super Precision Gyroscope spin around a central axis with gyroscopic precession, nutation, and stunningly aesthetic motion. These out of this world gifts will take you on a hypnotic optical voyage through seas of kinetic energy.
When the marks of motion are on our minds, we willingly jump into the sandy sensory traps from Orlander Earthworks and SANDSARA. Orlander Earthworks offers a collection of sensory swirl spheres that allow you to roll away restlessness while effortlessly inscribing meditative zen gardens into the sand. Each sphere is unique, carved by hand for up to 50 hours until each imprinting ridge is perfect for both deserts and delicate palms and ready to paint the desktop beaches with patterns of undulating waves and offer you endless play.
If you're loved ones would prefer to watch rather than touch the sand, the entrancing Birch Halo kinetic sculpture from SANDSARA is the ideal holiday gift. SANDSARA's commitment to thoughtful craftsmanship is visible in the profoundly elegant wooden frame, even before the field of sand enters view. As we crest the horizon, we radiate our beaming elation onto the surface of the sand as an unassuming silver sphere finds motion—with elusive origins–and winds through the desert leaving mandalic trails across the smooth plane. While the piece doesn't require our touch, it offers us endless wonder and blissful delight so we consider it a toy as well as a work of art.
Nervous System, Mrgogo Workshop, Puzzle Up Co.
Although the wooden frame on the Halo serves purely as a vessel, the organic stability of wood serves as the ideal material with which to build puzzles. We love the hidden astronaut and spaceship pieces floating through the endless galactic backdrop of the Infinite Galaxy Puzzle and the tiny tentacles of octopi that are fully camouflaged against the neighboring pieces they hold in the Nautilus Puzzle, both from the wood-puzzle-designing-masters at Nervous System. We never get tired of following the brushstrokes of Van Gaugh as we assemble the Starry Night Puzzle by Puzzle Up Co. or aligning trails of psychedelic petals with the pieces of the Magic Flower Puzzle from Mrgogo Workshop. The designs of these puzzles could stand alone, but when combined with the tactile three-dimensionality of cut wood jigsaw pieces the puzzles are entertaining for our minds, eyes, and hands!
Escape Room Puzzles
Constantin Voidlock Puzzle
When navigating the mysteries of wooden puzzle boxes, we become entirely disconnected from our bodies as we're transported into channels that approach inaccessible cavities and secret passages while we look to unlock the secrets within. These pieces are hand-held escape rooms that call upon our skills of observation, exploration and determination to decipher the unrevealed codes. It's an all-consuming, brain-teasing adventure and we can't get enough! With 300 steps required to find the solution, the Constantin Voidlock Puzzle From Escape Room Puzzles is a small but mighty puzzle that will keep your loved ones' full attention for hours—we highly recommend it for those who travel often and those with long commutes on public transportation!
Not unlike Sudoku, the objective of the Safecracker 50 wood puzzle from David Janelle is to align the pieces in such a way that each of the 16 tiered, wedge-shaped columns of numbers add to 50. With a stationary base ring below with 5 stacked rotating rings, the puzzle—complicated by the fact that the top four are notched to obscure numbers on underlying tiers— can create 65,000 permutations but holds only 1 correct solution. Offering seemingly endless fun and admittedly addictive frustration, the Safecracker and the VoidLock Puzzles are exceptional gifts that everyone on your list will adore.
Bernard Vuarnesson & Uncrate
If your loved ones are curious but either too occupied or impatient for 300 step puzzles, try catering to their inner explorer with these scientific selections. Starting amongst the stars, the Stellarscope designed by Bernard Vuarnesson and sold by Uncrate will guide your eye though constellations hung like ornaments from the dark branches of the heavenly night. Simply set the piece to your location and time and look up through the lens and discover a map that labels the treasures above. While astronomical apps are readily available, there is a romantic simplicity to these pieces that allow us to navigate the stars from the tallest desert peaks and the most secluded beaches devoid of Wifi. And for those in areas where the stars are overwhelmed by urban auras, the brilliantly portable Homestar Flux Planetarium from Sega Toys will bring the majesty of the night sky indoors and fill your ceilings with a canopy of stars.
Bella Luna Toys
Spotlighting some astronomical forces on earth, solar sensitive Sunprint Paper is an excellent artistic gift that lets you harness the power of the sun to transform the shadows of ordinary objects into stunning works of art. To use, one must simply lay out leaves, cut paper, or other opaque items with aesthetic silhouettes onto the Sunprint sheets and wait for the sun to stain the paper a deep indigo that frames the white space preserved below the objects. Each sheet offers an easy to do art project that is a perfect gift for blossoming creatives of all ages.
Cucumber Waldami Card Set
For paper pieces unaffected by the sun we highly recommend card games. There is no shortage of entertaining game decks but today we want to feature a few packs of geometric focused cards, the first of which being the Waldami. Envisioned at the Rhode Island School of Design during a week long design charratte during which teams of students were tasked with "creating a game that imparted knowledge"(1), Waldami is as beautiful as it is captivating. Utilizing an aesthetic and universal visual geometric language, the game prompts players to construct a connected maze of sophisticated and crushingly minimalist geometric forms printed on square cards.
A hybrid of dominos and Set, players place cards against those already on the table to create an approved combination of shapes paired by the two cards. There are four accepted combinations (seen in the 4 images above): 1. the card placed differs from the existing card in only one way, 2. the inner and outer shapes or fills are swapped, 3. the inner and outer shapes and fills are swapped, 4. a repeated shape or fill is matched to a card with another repeated feature. Ultimately, the game is incredibly fun and your loved ones will appreciate that it offers a bouquet of gorgeous minimalism when the cards occupy all corners of their tables!
Set Card Game
As children, we often played the Set Card Game in school as our clever teachers disguised strategy and observation skill building as this exceptionally fun combinatorics game. It's difficult to describe how blissfully excited our classes of unruly youths would be upon instruction to push our desks against one another in preparation for Set card tournaments. The deck is composed of 81 unique cards that feature one, two, or three counts of shapes—diamonds, s-shaped squiggles, or ovals—that are filled, striped, or left empty and coloured red, green, or purple with each possible combination of number, shape, color, and fill appearing only once. The objective of the game is straightforward: collect "sets" of three cards that cannot be sorted into "two of ___ and one of ___" (e.g. one striped red squiggle, two solid green ovals, three empty purple diamonds or one solid red diamond, two solid red diamonds, three solid red diamonds). It's an elevating matching game full of colourful geometry that is outstandingly fun both inside and outside the classroom.
For a bit more education, challenge your loved one's arithmetic skills with Math24. On the spot, and fueled by incentivizing competition, players stare into the hypnotizing card on which a primary tapestry is woven as a bold red square sits atop a vibrant solar yellow circle within a vivid square blue frame. Extending out from the central square are four pillars of red and white rays that separate four distinct black numbers. Using any combination of the four primary mathematical functions –addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division–one must identify a formula that uses each number once and produces the number 24. For those who celebrate their quantitative nerdiness or those who revel in the pressures of competition, Math24 is an unparalleled gift choice.
Unspoken Moments Co.
Unspoken Playing Cards
Dropping competition from our deck, our next gift prioritizes openness and self-discovery as it invites players to answer question prompts thereby encouraging conversations and understanding. Aptly described as a "playing card experience", the Unspoken Play Card deck from Unspoken Moments Co. holds a significant collection of cards with prompts "spanning from the past, present and future, some things light hearted and other things dig a little deeper, but there is an option to pass or revisit, so players are comfortable too" (2)—questions like, are you normally led by your heart or your head?, what do you overthink?, and is there a memory you would like to relive? describe it.
To us, the holidays are a time of connection, and what better way to connect with your loved ones than to offer them the opportunity to give a glimpse into the inner workings of their minds within the safe and comforting framework of play.
Easer Island Maoi Paper Sculpture
Rather than turn to paper for card games, Paperwolf in Germany designs sheets that can be folded into towering Easter Island Maoi Sculptures. The angles of origami-like folds form as chiseled noses and stand as proud square jaws. The mystifying and weighty stone monuments are reimagined as delicate desktop pieces that offer a modern stylized portal through history. The paper "pieces [ to create 3 Rapa Nui Figures] are cut from high quality, dyed-through paper, all folded edges perforated for convenient folding" so your gift recipients can build their own monuments with ease!
Should your loved ones be eager to build something functional rather than decorative, gift them an epic paper Foldscope. This flat paper microscope. designed with science accessibility in mind, combines "low cost materials with precision optics"(3) to offer 140x magnification in a lightweight form that is portable, waterproof, and endlessly versatile. Coupled with the Premium Accessory Pack which "contains the essential accessories for specimen collection, slide mounting, viewing and imaging, all in an easy durable carrying pouch", the Foldscope is an unrivaled gift for all explores and lovers of the microcosmos!
3D Tic Tac Toe
And for those who are committed to the classics, this 3D, wood-carved tic tac toe game is our gift of choice. Offered by Kubiya Games, each wooden game board holds 9 vertical posts onto which players arrange smooth spheres and block-like X's with the goal of aligning three of their pieces in a row while preventing their opponent from doing so. In the game's 2-dimensional equivalent, trios can be formed in rows, columns, or diagonals but here, in three dimensions, sets of three like pieces can be achieved in 33 possible ways—assuming our math is correct!—which adds a level of difficulty that elevates the game to new entertainment-offering heights!
Fanorona Wood Board Game
We stay at Kubiya Games to find our final gift, the Fanorona Wood Board Game that originated on the Island of Madagascar. A strategy game, Fanorona prompts players with a simple objective: capture all the opponent's 11 pieces, not unlike checkers. However, the method to capture these small spheres of wood is less conventional. Players use a series of moves to approach and withdraw pieces from "lines of enemy pieces" to capture players but are obliged to follow "the "vela partie" (debt game) after winning a decisive game (the winner must let the loser "eat" one man each turn for 17 consecutive moves)" which demands that players employ complex strategies to win the game. Gifting those with a mind for chess-like strategy games a Fanorona set offers them a world of stimulating, competitive challenge that they'll absolutely adore.
Encourage your loved ones to embrace their inner children with one of these playful pieces! And discover even more brilliant gifts by exploring the full Holiday Gift Guide.