Monday, December 5, 2011

Puzzles For Train Lovers -Subway Series Part 2

A goes to D, then back to A, then A, then B- but no unnatural turns!

WHAT: Metroville *     
DOES: a challenging puzzle that requires a child to create a path from point A to point B by turning tracks around to path. Great for subway lovers and puzzle lovers alike.
INVEST: $12.73 (most recent check on Amazon listed)
TOOLS: Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Family Fix-it

When I got this in the mail for Number 2, immediately I thought it was a mistake and then I realized that it was one of those good mistakes. (hint: you learn from them)

I was on a big puzzle kick for Number 2 because his open-ended play was developing so slowly and so I thought he would also enjoy his time doing some puzzles because some kids who look at you like "what is it that you want me to do with this robot and cowboy?" sort of like it when things have a beginning and an end.

However, no matter how much Number 2 liked the subway, even he wanted to walk away from this puzzle.  And that is what is good about this puzzle.  It is really different.

one day #2 decided to make his own puzzle
First what is similar to such puzzle-by-the-card puzzles like Rush Hour Traffic Jam and Mighty Mind is that they are all sequential with the puzzles on the card and after you complete the card, you must go onto the next one.   It is especially like Rush Hour because the player must set up his own puzzle before solving it.  It's a two-step process.  Those require patience. Even a 1,000 piece puzzle only requires you to dump out the pieces onto the table and then solve it the way you know best.  Two-step puzzles with cards require you to be more Do-it-Yourself-ish and also invite you to make your own puzzle!

However, what I find different about this puzzle is that each card has a sequence of eight puzzles as each card represents one city's subway system. So Shanghai #1 is easy but Shanghai #8 is the master level and that is really hard.  This made Number 2 crazy.  He needed to finish one card to move onto the next or the world didn't make sense.

We are so used to going by a step 1, step 2, step 3, step 4 way of thinking.   Why must we do this?  There is nothing wrong with it but I like that with this puzzle, you may feel like or feel forced to say, "Gosh, I can't do Shanghai #5.  Maybe I'll just leave it like this and go to New York #1."  Is something wrong with this?  I say not, especially if Number 2 is able to do the easy levels of all the "cities" but if we keep training him to do "one card at a time" then he misses out on some fun puzzles he can do.  Moreover, unlike a jigsaw puzzle, his brother can play with the same puzzle at different levels and not ruin the work of his little brother.

I know now that most of the puzzles within this puzzle is definitely too hard for Number 2 (suggested age is 8+) but I also learned a great lesson from this puzzle.  Sometimes, you must break up a sequence to get stuff done.  I once heard Temple Grandin say that we need to let some children skip Algebra and go straight to Geometry or Trigonometry which is more visual.  This is not possible in many schools.    But some people have a mind for different things and we do have to allow for that somehow.

 the "levels" are color-coded for motivation
To be sure, I do think a child should keep track of what he/she finished and really all that needs to be done is for the parent to create a simple checklist or a chart.  For each puzzle completed, the child can check off the box (Paris #1- check, Moscow #4-check, etc..)    Moreover, instead of the traditional sequence of easy to hard to super duper hard, the sequence of going easy to hard to easy again is kind of appealing. These puzzles should make our brain stronger, but not fry them.  In fact, I think that is good for any of these puzzle-by-the-card puzzles.  I  really hope that card puzzle makers will consider doing that someday because these puzzle appeal to kids who think visually but these kids are also motivated with visual aides like checklists and charts.  Elenco's Snap Circuits Junior, which isn't a puzzle necessarily has an actual checkbox on each of the project descriptions of the kit, all 100 of them. All these cards can get overwhelming and some lose the ability to sense accomplishment because they cannot see it in front of their face.

If I could use just one example, I would refer to Number 1's grand project to "earn" a popular Beyblade set.  He had to write reams of "sentence sheets" to earn 100 stickers (used a blank hundred chart).   To my surprise, Number 1 grabbed a pencil and started dividing up the hundred chart into quarters.  When I realized what he was doing, I colored in the quarters with different colors and he acted as if he was found by his long lost mother.  I don't know why I'm surprised.  The video game makers have figured this out a long time ago and that is why, at the end of each game, a child is given a visual presentation of some sort of how far they've come and to what "level" they've now elevated.  That is some pretty sneaky sh*t and so of course, I'm doing it for puzzles and the writing of the dreaded "sentence sheets"!  It works and it is definitely worth the trouble!

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion for the publication of this post by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the products mentioned here . 

 *Update: 2.23.2012- Toys are Tools has learned this game is now called Metroville by Smart/Tangoes.

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