Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Distraction Game: Discover Yourself Through Laughter

Play Distraction with Toys are Tools to find out how to really stretch your working memory! photo: ThinkFun

Distraction by ThinkFun
DOES:  work on and play around with your working memory using laughter as the motivator to challenge you and your family
INVEST: $12.99
TOOLS: Remember to Learn, Lose and Win Gracefully

Last year, I learned about a computerized memory training program where kids participated in some strenuous memory strengthening exercises.  I was told that it was evidenced-based and that it really worked to help kids.

When I got a chance to a view sample run of the program, I was amazed.  It was basically a game.  Could it be done?  Memory training through games?   I'm still figuring that out but what I can tell you is this:  Just trying to test out your memory can be extremely helpful too.

Learn What Powers Your Engine

When you test it out, you are putting your brain out there.  Everytime you challenge your memory through the same game, you learn a little bit more about yourself and which tactics work best for you.   Some people take mental pictures, some people put it in a melody, some people tap their fingers on a desk, some people remember things by writing it out or whispering it to themselves while closing their eyes.

You may also learn that you absorb better if you have a sip of water or do push-ups before you start.  How about some mid-game jumping jacks?  That is what I love most about memory games.  You get to know how your brain works best!  This information is gold.

And do I encourage him to apply those strategies to homework and for studying for spelling tests?  Are you kidding me?  How could I not?

But one thing I've learned about memory outside of the game world is that working out your memory and stretching it to its limits can be really hard.  Just think about all those tests that you studied for like crazy and you were still disappointed with the grade.  Memorizing is hard stuff.

But this year, a new working memory game called Distraction by ThinkFun was released and it is not only fun but also fun-ny. But can memorizing something, just memorizing numbers as in the case of this new game really be funny?

I know one veteran child development expert that thought it was not only fun but funny too.  Dr. Karen Hopkins, Clinical Associate Professor of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics at the NYU School of Medicine gave me her insights on Distraction, "This was a fun game because people mess up and they laugh at each other." 

What is Working Memory?

For those of you who are familiar with only a few of all the different types of memories that a person uses, you are not alone. (It goes way beyond short and long term)  I am only familiar with just a few myself but working memory is still a new concept to me. Karen says that working memory is used when you have something in your mind but you are doing something else.  But working memory requires that you can come back to the first thing and use it in the process of doing something else. 

"For example working memory is important with reading and reading comprehension," said Karen.  "As you read you have to remember rules of reading - so you have to remember when you see a comma, when you see a period...  Sometimes when you change punctuation, you change the meaning of a sentence."  Karen continued, "You have to remember those kinds of things and that you have to keep in your mind as you're reading it and you're able to get the full meaning of the passage."

ThinkFun, where were you when I was in the fourth grade and I failed EVERY single one of my reading comprehension tests? (Don't tell my mom, she still doesn't know.  I had ways....)

Leave it to the Toys are Tools family to play things backwards.  We didn't even know that we were playing it backwards until Andrea told us.  (She reads directions!)  But you can watch the ThinkFun video right before you play if you don't like reading directions.

To be sure, Distraction looks nothing like a passage for the reading comprehension portion of the SATs or even one of my kid's leveled readers for school.   Rather, players are given a stack of cards, each with a single-digit number.   As each player gets a turn, you must flip over your card, say the number and then keep a sequence going as others put down their cards in the middle, "9,8,4,2..."  That sounds a little hard but then throw in a random question by the un-luck of the draw like, "What's your favorite dessert?" and your brain takes a trip to another place and then you come back and you wonder, was it "9,8,4,2" or " 8,9,4,2"?

I know that sounds like fun but does that resemble the working memory process and how it is challenging?

"I think it does.  It's a fun way to test it and play around with working memory," said Karen.

Distraction was one of my Toy Fair 2012 favorites.  Click here to watch Charlotte Fixler explain this game.

Memory- It's Not Just For School

All fun aside, I asked Karen about the importance of working memory because despite my failure in reading comprehension, I did finish college and feel kind of functional sometimes. 

"Of course. Working memory is really important," she said noting that we need to keep salient things in our mind while we're doing other tasks.  "That's also such an important thing in terms of executive functioning and being able to function independently as an adult."

"It just causes people to appear irresponsible," she said of people whose working memories may not be so great. "Also, when you're learning something in school, it can really affect it because if a teacher is speaking to you, you may need to remember what they said, a few sentences ago, in order for something to make sense."

Hmmm, not being able to remember what a teacher said? Uh, I bet some of these kids can get in trouble a lot!

"Yep," Karen agreed instantly.  I was one of those kids.  It still happens to me at social events but I have learned to sort of smack myself on the head and say "Oh, not enough coffee today, sorry."   I don't think kids have anything like that to say. 

These questions certainly distract me.   Some distraction cards ask you to do things instead of answering questions.  It's all really funny.

Discover Your In-Distractibility!

Recently, I heard that my friend's 13-year old daughter, Andrea would be going on a long bus ride with fellow 8th graders for a middle school graduation field trip.  I suggested that she take this game along to make the bus ride fun.

Andrea had played it a couple of times already but she had never played this game with her friend.  She described her friend as more into video games but when Andrea introduced Distraction to her, her friend was immediately put off.  What's with all these numbers?  Andrea's friend had never played a ThinkFun game before.  After a bit of explaining, the two girls played Distraction at school before the trip and Andrea's friend loved it!  Moreover, in the morning, as they were packing together to leave for the trip, she asked Andrea five times if she remembered to pack Distraction.  Wow!

Andrea's friend had actually discovered that her memory was quite good!  Despite her being the novice between the two of them, she beat Andrea many times.   "Whenever we got a Distraction card, she rarely lost,"  Andrea said.  This is what Dr. Hopkins must have meant by "it's a fun way to test it out."

I asked Andrea what was her friend's response to her surprising newfound talent of In-Distractibility!    Andrea said, "She said, 'Oh, I feel smarter.'  She liked the game, she really did."

I find moments like this to be so fulfilling!  Kids deserve to play with games that help them further their natural talent.  It just sucks for us parents and teachers because a kid's talent is not labeled on their forehead at birth.  If only they would come with a description sheet of some sort.

When I used to teach English in Asia, I used questions like "Name your dream job."  all the time because my follow-up question would be "Why?"   Make 'em talk!  Take your Distraction cards to the dinner table or to your English classroom!  There are 100 questions!

Memory Games Encourage Casual Talk about Brains

Andrea is a good sport because she did get a beatdown from her friend but what does she say after losing?

"I think I should play Distraction more."

We both laughed but I explained to her that working out her memory with even the most fun games may not show highly distinguishable results if you are using it to solely improve your memory. (Remember, you're supposed to have fun)   It was a great time to explain more about how research studies are conducted in centers of higher learning just like NYU School of Medicine where Dr. Karen Hopkins works.   Truth be told, I am sure some research trials are taking place on models that help improve working memory right now.

Professor Anil Chacko of Queens College (CUNY), who had been working on one such trial and was the expert consulted for Cartoon It!, another ThinkFun game, also said what Dr. Hopkins told me:  It is possible to work on working memory.  Dr. Hopkins also said that there was evidence that card games helps improve memory in older people.  Hooray!!!!!

It would have been nice to see what the other kids on the bus felt about the game but they weren't allowed to move around and so Andrea asked to borrow Distraction to take to school after this review is published!   How cool is this kid?  

The last piece of good news is what Andrea remembered from that long busride which is also the last trip she'd be taking with her schoolmates.  After graduation, all of her friends are going separate ways.   Andrea told me, "I noticed that we were laughing a lot when we were playing because it was really fun."  Andrea would tell her friend, "OH, You're SO Smart!"

Thanks ThinkFun and thanks to Andrea and Friend!  I like when kids play a game and just laugh so much that they remember their laughter as a separate observation.  Those are some powerful words and even more so when it comes from the children themselves.

Extra tip:  The fact that Distraction is all about numbers is fabulous.  That means you can do so many things!  Spice up your game by requiring folks to not go by the sequence shown or the backwards sequence that we did but RATHER.... by repeating the numbers by ascending or even descending numerical order.    

Number 1's Tip to Kids:  Teach how tone can change the meaning.  If you say your number sequence with a questioning tone then you are possibly setting up a trap to be challenged.  Oh, that is just bad!

So you think you can be a game inventor? Go to ThinkFun U!   photo: ThinkFun

I just found out that there will be something called ThinkFun University!  Doesn't that sound like huge fun?  Kids will be encouraged to create their own games with the guidance of the creator of Chocolate Fix.   I know that it does say something about participants must be 13.  However, a spokesperson for ThinkFun told Toys are Tools that children under 13 ARE welcome.  They believe 5th grade and up is the ideal age but younger kids have tested it too.  Cool!   (If under 13, you need an adult's email address to enter) At the end of the course, the students would create their own Chocolate Fix challenges and share them with their friends and family online.   My only question is, can grown-ups go to TFU too?

Time to Win Your Own Distraction Game!  Remember to follow the rules!   The winning game can only be shipped to the U.S.  Ends: June 18, 2012 12:01 AM EST

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Can wait to see who wins? Get your Distraction game via our Amazon link today!

 Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.  The product was given to Toys are Tools' testers  to facilitate a review.  Reviews are never promised.   


  1. I would like it for my kids. We also have the original memory game we like to play.

  2. My son has an amazing memory. I know he would have a lot of fun with this, I think I would too! If he was older I know he would like the ThinkFun University too.

  3.  Nicole, What does the "original memory game" look like.  I wasn't born in the U.S. and so there are some things I've never seen before.

  4.  Mayla, if your son has an amazing memory than he is going to feel super fabulous with this game.   I am sooo curious about ThinkFun University.  I'm curious about inventors too.  Like what did they major in school and what was their favorite childhood game. 

  5. This game is awesome... my son would go crazy playing this game and would always win, for sure!

  6. not sure who would like it more .. we love games at our house & i love ones that help w/learning!

  7. My children would all benefit from this game but more so my 9 yr old with ADHD! It would be a terrific way to spend our free-time over Summer break :-)

  8. Oh boy, I KNOW Tyler will win at this....

  9. I'd really like to see how I do with this game.  I've got a great memory for stuff that isn't important but a lousy memory for numbers and other important stuff (like passwords and user names). 

  10. Ok, I am really excited to get this game for my daughter.  Laughter and memory game together--that's awesome.

  11. looked up this game..and is it ever fun, cant wait to play it>>>>>>