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Print-&-Play Board Game: Paths and Predicaments!

Guest post by the fabulous Jill Katzenberger

Are you looking for more ways to keep your family edu-tained through quarantine?

Well, look no further. I​t is with great excitement and minor trepidation that we announce the laborious fruits of our playtime, ​Paths and Predicaments in the Kingdom of Quandary​. This collaborative game is brought to you by Ryan Madson, Leo Borasio, and me (Jill Katzenberger). We are the Boulder-based non-profit, Junkyard Social Club​, and ​Paths and Predicaments​ is just what you need to get your family across the social distance. Puzzle your way through the paths that lie before you. Express your creativity, challenge your resourcefulness, and reinvent your experience each time you play.

While I may not self-identify as a hardcore “gamer”, I have always had a geeky love for games and puzzles. This love, and our penchant for strategic and creative thinking, drove the Junkyard team head first into the world of original board game design. Our goal: to orchestrate playful opportunities that encourage families to foster strong bonds through collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

The first step to develop our original Junkyard gaming experience was to play-test as many games as we could get our meeple-loving hands-on…at work and at home…with family and friends. While on this mission, and in the name of research, I also took it upon myself to spread my love of games to my 6-year-old son. He was mentally ready and I was emotionally ready. My husband and I used to play games regularly, but when we expanded from DINKs with a dog to the complete nuclear family, games were superseded by stacking rings and cups. As legos began replacing baby toys, we got a glimpse of leisure time that once again resembled (almost) mutual play. It was like a dim light at the end of a BPA free tunnel, one that could lead us back to game night.

Fostering my son’s love of games took some time – some carefully carved out and curated time with a commitment to keeping his toddler sister from going all Godzilla on the gameboard. Initially, the nostalgic side of me wanted to introduce him to the games of my childhood like Candyland, Chutes and ladders, and Life.

I learned something. As an adult, these games are mind-numbingly lame​. I don’t think Milton Bradley ever played with obsessive kids (over and over and over again).

These games require zero strategy. There’s little incentive to “try.” In fact, there’s really no logical way to. They’re all chance, no thought, and if you really want to win, you figure out how to cheat. The game pieces are cheap choking hazards and at best they prepare your kid to understand the concept of a lottery ticket.

Luckily, there is a world of family-friendly games beyond the big-box store toy aisle. We fell in love with collaborative games that encourage you to work together, to celebrate your successes and commiserate in your losses. We were also drawn to games with creative narratives that immerse you in a story where YOU are the main character. Even better… were games with clever mechanisms that level the playing field so that while you might have decades of gaming wisdom, compared to your kid, the tables can suddenly turn and force you to rethink your next move.

Each of these concepts informed the development of Paths and Predicaments​. We found ourselves repeatedly inspired and reminded of the beauty and ingenuity of well-designed rules (and instructions). We also learned that while quality games for families DO exist, there’s definitely room for more experiences that bring groups together by engaging the mind AND the body. Paths and Predicaments is a​ ​fast-paced, collaborative game that will challenge you to apply ​MacGyver-​ like resourcefulness and Unicorn-level creativity in order to survive a wicked wonderland. Each time you play, the game can be different: a new board, new challenges, new resources, and even a new playing field.

Purchase the files to print your own copy of the ​game​ today. Let us know about your experiences: what worked, what didn’t, what we spelled wrong.

Pay what you can. Your contributions go directly towards the execution of the Junkyard Social Club, an adventure playground and cafe coming to Boulder as soon as the fabric of society can be woven once again.

Visit the JunkShop

 

The Lessons of Lock Picking

maxresdefaultAt the Boulder Mini Maker Faire, we hosted a lock picking table.  Adults and children alike sat for hours experimenting with locks and practicing their lock picking skills.  One of the parents at the event questioned our judgement stating that lockpicking is promoting illegal behavior.

That really got us to thinking.  Is she right?  Why would we encourage illegal behavior?

We sat down and examined the sport of lock picking (called locksport – see http://locksport.com/), and the value and virtue of lock picking as an activity.  Here are the reasons that we love lockpicking and why we’ll have it again at The Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest in September.

Criminals don’t take time to pick locks.  Statistics show that crooks don’t pick locks (technically “non-destructive entry”), they break windows, kick doors, or cut padlock hasps (“destructive entry”). The criminals don’t have the patience to learn a skill which will slow them down in the act of stealing things.

Locksmithing is a legitimate profession.  Locksmithing — the art of fixing locks, which often means picking them — is a legitimate, sometimes profitable, legal profession.  One of the goals of our STEAM Fest is to connect young people that are exploring their career options – or adults that are looking for a new career, to possible professions.

A lock is a complex mechanical device. Really, a lock is a puzzle. Our lockpicking exhibit has “open sided” locks that allow participants to see the insides of a lock. Participants have an opportunity to see how the tumblers and locking mechanisms actually work — this familiarizes them with the functionality, and gives them insight into why these devices protect their belongings and property.  It might also help them to identify locks that are not as secure, as well as those that are.

Because locks are complex mechanical devices (puzzles), they require problem solving skills to both open, and close.  A younger child will enjoy closing and opening a lock with a key (which was also provided at the table), while his or her older sibling, (or any one of the dozens of adults that were interested in the locks), will enjoy multiple approaches to solving the puzzle at their fingertips.  Problem solving is a critical skill (in life), and a skill that has been identified by dozens of career success reports as lacking in American adults.

It’s important to learn persistence.  Part of being a proficient problem solver (and of being a productive member of society), is the skill of failing, and learning to persist and to try again. If you visit a lock picking exhibit, you will observe all of the participants are failing many times, until they find a solution that works — and then they’ll do that two or three times (often with an expression of delight on their faces).  This determination and persistence is important to learning outcomes, and lock picking is a terrific way to give kids (and adults), a taste of it, without being so frustrating that they are angry.

Everyone likes the joy of accomplishment. Because lock picking exhibits typically include some relatively easy locks to pick, most people got to enjoy success with the task — giving them a sense of pride, joy, and accomplishment — as great event-planners, we want folks to get as many of these opportunities as possible.

There is a large contingent of people around the world that participate in the sport of lock picking — check out http://locksport.com/ – they have competitions around the globe — these are all sporting and professional men and women who love the challenge of a good puzzle — they are not criminals, nor are they advocating or participating in destroying security, privacy, or personal property.

Activities like lock picking can stimulate great conversations. Any child (or adult), that is concerned about the illegal uses of lock picking, can facilitate a great conversation about “good” activities and “bad” ones — some lock picking is illegal and NOT OK — but that same activity, in a legal and constructive environment, can be a fantastic learning tool. We’re also excited to provide activities like this that get people talking about important and complex issues.

Join us at Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest and try your hand at a lock or two yourself!

Homemade Halloween: Gizmo is More Than a Costume

At your school, how many kids will be dressed as ninjas? How many will be Star Wars or Harry Potter or superhero characters? How many animals or vampires or witches? How many will be dressed as Gizmo? No, not the adorable fuzzball from the 1984 blockbuster film Gremlins, but Gizmo the robot as conceived in the brain of Maker Boulder co-founder Martha’s 9-year-old son, Coulter. The answer is exactly one, that is if you go to Coulter’s school. See, Gizmo is one of a kind and the process of one-of-a-kind costume creation makes more than a costume — the process of making creates an emotional connection between the builder and the product that no trip to Target can recreate. Check out what Coulter wrote about his design process:

“First, I drew a picture of the robot. I didn’t know his name, then, we had to make him to name him. This picture is our plan:

Gizmo.Plan

I showed my mom the plan and she had some ideas for how to create his legs – the problem was how could I bend my elbows and knees? So we cut strips of cardboard and used duct tape to keep them together. We went to EcoCycle’s Charm area to select boxes that were the perfect shape. Well, one box was leftover from Mom’s new computer. We painted the boxes with chalkboard paint. Then we painted the legs and arms with silver paint. It was a long day, and here is what he looks like now that he is done. We had to spray him with fixing spray so the chalk wouldn’t smear. After he was done, I named him Gizmo.”

GizmoPersonally, I remember the time I dressed up as a jukebox; when people put candy in a slot I would sing a song. And I remember how hard it was to bend chicken wire into the shape of Nightcrawler’s shoulder pads. About all those other store-bought costumes I wore all those other years? Meh, I can’t recall. It was the process of making that burned the now-slightly-mortifying memory of the jukebox into my brain. Let’s be honest: it’s the Tuesday before Halloween and so your child probably has his or her costume already made or picked out. And let’s also be honest about something else: some years you have the time and some years you just don’t. But memories built on making don’t have to limited to Halloween. Next weekend, when that ninja costume is shoved in the dress-up box never to be seen again, what could you build? Maybe it’s sugar rockets, built on Saturday and launched Sunday afternoon? Maybe it’s a trebuchet? But I’ll bet you this: if you build for Halloween, your kids will remember it. And if you build something — anything! — the weekend after Halloween, it’s that home-built project your kids will remember, far beyond any experience that can be bought in a store.

Why You Need to Visit the New SparkFun Building in Niwot

I’m more science geek than technology geek, but lately I’ve been doing my best — learning how to solder and code by building SparkFun kits along with my kids (6 and 8), first the WeevilEye, then Herbie the little mouse kit and now into the world of Arduino. (My daughter, Kestrel, bounces off furniture and people and walls as if she were the cue ball of a billiards trick shot, but she’ll sit and solder for a straight hour.) What this means is that instead of looking at soldering kits from the perspective of an electrical engineer who, I’m sure, sees these kits as simple teaching tools, I’m completely flabbergasted along with my kids when Herbie hits a wall and his electrical whiskers make the mouse turn. Wow! When we reach the great moment of flipping the switch to “on,” my armpits sweat.

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