July 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 7
ThinkFun Puzzles Set Brains on Fire
Educational Games Stimulate All Ages
MAKING LEARNING FUN
“We make challenging games that can ignite the mind, help kids learn how to problem-solve, and help keep older people’s minds going,” said Andrea, vice president of corporate development.
“Solving puzzles can be an engaging and exciting experience for students, while they’re learning facts and problem-solving processes,” Jerry Slocum, president of Slocum Puzzle Foundation, told TDmonthly. “Many of ThinkFun’s puzzles are ideal because they provide a wide range of graduated levels of difficulty, from very easy to expert.”
ThinkFun’s products include Game Club Kits that help teachers cultivate a dynamic learning environment for students. Shannon Sutter, a specialist for the gifted/talented program at Newton-Lee Elementary School in Ashburn, Va., uses the kits as an educational resource. “These games tap into the critical thinking skills that all students need to succeed,” she shared with TDmonthly.
FINDING FUN IN A NAME
Bill and Andrea built their firm from a two-person, home-based company into a 40-employee business that has made the Inc. 500 list four times and distributes to some of the world’s most prominent retailers.
“[The name] ThinkFun combines what we do and creates a more recognizable brand presence,” Andrea explained to TDmonthly. We found people were confused by Binary Arts — it sounded like a computer graphics company.” This original name reflected the patented 3-D puzzles that illustrated how binary numbers worked.
Beginning with the challenging Hexadecimal Puzzle and the popular Spin Out, and growing to the enormously successful Rush Hour, ThinkFun is an industry pioneer, featuring such perennial best-sellers as Zingo!, Tip Over and Cover Your Tracks.
It’s also a family affair. At age 10, the founders’ son Sam invented Math Dice as a way to help math-challenged friends. With his parents’ support, he applied for and was awarded a patent at age 12. His younger brother Mike helped him further develop the game.
PLAYING TO DIFFERENT LEVELS
A critical element behind ThinkFun’s successes is what Barthello describes as a subtle marketing twist: recognizing different customer levels. “Understand your customer, who they’re selling to, and their (retail) environment, and then choose the right product mix for their store,” she said. “It’s not about selling product, but about selling product that works for their customers.”
Such synergistic thinking has contributed to a successful relationship with Barnes & Noble, which added ThinkFun’s branded fixtures to 450 superstores. “Their cohesive line of brainteasers was appealing to us from the very beginning,” said Ellen Heaney Mizer, a buyer for the bookstore chain. “We were just expanding what was, at the time, a new category, and ThinkFun was one-stop shopping. It’s refreshing to see games that are educational and fun."
See some of ThinkFun’s games below:
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In this captivating 3-D game of mental math, players try to get closest to the target number by creating different equations using addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and even powers. Launch date: 2004.
— Terry Myers, owner of Kaleidoscope Toys in Round Rock, Texas, told TDmonthly in a Fall 2012 survey that Math Dice is one of their top-2 best selling educational products.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 19041 (added 5/23/2008)
This game of deductive reasoning involves life-like candy play pieces. Players examine all the clues on the cards before making a move. Once they discover where to put a chocolate piece, they combine this knowledge with the clues to learn more information. Some clues give exact or possible locations, while others just give you the token color or shape. Narrow down all of the possibilities to fill each candy assortment. Challenges range from beginner to expert. Awards: TDmonthly Top Toy 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16461 (added 12/5/2007)
This competitive board game is a wacky two-player strategy game for younger kids. They will giggle at the colorful beach board and plucky ducks. After deciding whether they want to be the duck that surfs or the one that water skis, the two opponents face off, and try to be the first to line up four ducks in a row.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16462 (added 12/5/2007)
¡Estrella! Star! Any way you say it, Bilingual Zingo!® is the new way to have fun while learning a new language. This version of the best-selling Zingo! game lets players test their Spanish/English skills while building word association, improving short-term memory and teaching shape and pattern recognition.
— “I think educational is anything that makes your brain think,” Robin Ellerman, owner of Trains N Toys in North Canton, OH, told TDmonthly in July 2008, having referenced Zingo! as a top seller.
— “We carry ThinkFun games because they have a learning base behind them,” said Jill Jernigan, owner of J. Christopher in Jonesboro, Ark., when asked about her best-selling educational products in summer 2008. Twenty percent of 68 retailers told TDmonthly that games are their strongest educational product category.
— Kara Fitchner, manager of Out of the Blue in Albuquerque, N.M., said ThinkFun games are strong sellers in her store because “[We] tend to sell more strategy-based games because they bring out that logical thinking.”
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15430 (added 9/27/2007)
Players are challenged to create identical shapes using different game pieces. This seemingly simple game is not only loads of fun, but can also be surprisingly tricky! The 40 challenges are excellent for helping kids develop spatial and pattern matching skills.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 15428 (added 9/27/2007)
In this game, players help 12 whitewater rafters brave the rapids and make it safely back to their raft. The crew, fit with jigsaw pieces as a base, can face either the bow or stern of the raft, but there is only one correct solution for each direction. Players must help these rafters back in their raft or they will be all washed up. The game includes two puzzles in one and a boatload of fun.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11862 (added 3/7/2007)
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In this high-stakes spatial-development game, kids must cover their tracks on a journey through mud, sand, snow and cement. First, kids select one of 20 challenge cards. Then they must place all four pieces on the game tray to cover their tracks. As this single-player game gets more challenging, players will put their spatial-development skills to the test on this journey across different terrains. Launch date: February 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10710 (added 12/14/2006)
This game lets two to six young players choose between competing and cooperating. It encourages healthy competition as kids race to form three-letter words faster than their opponents. Whoever forms the most words wins. Parents (or older kids) can combine forces with little ones to help them learn how to spell new three-letter words. The game contains 72 letter tiles, 36 word cards, Gnu's stand and instructions. "What’s Gnu? is designed as an essential learning tool to help younger kids develop important language and vocabulary skills. It's perfect for multiple players and the rapid-fire game play keeps kids coming back again and again," said Emily Peters, marketing communications manager for ThinkFun. Launch date: 2004.
— "ThinkFun: They have a lot of very popular games," said Gwen Bowden, manager of Doodlehopper 4 Kids in Springfield, Va.
— "ThinkFun games: What’s Gnu?" is a best-selling game according to Jamie Burdette, owner of LB Toys in Media, Pa.
— In fall 2009, two of 40 specialty retailers named games by Thinkfun when polled about best-selling educational items.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7999 (added 5/25/2006)
TIPOVER is a three-dimensional, multi-level challenge game that encourages players to test their sequential thinking, spatial relationships, strategy and problem-solving skills. Visualizing the next move is important, as players solve their way through 40 challenges, ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert. The distinctive design of the multi-level, challenge-card system enables players to quickly begin learning and playing the game, which in turn creates success and builds confidence and encourages them to attempt the more difficult challenges. TIPOVER has been nominated for the "Specialty Toy of the Year" by the Toy Industry Association (TIA).
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 6024 (added 12/15/2005)
In ancient times, the great Oracles proclaimed that whoever solved the mystery of the Gordian knot would rule the world. For 400 years the knot remained a mystery until Alexander the Great solved it and went on to rule great kingdoms. Today the classic tradition of the world’s toughest puzzle continues. This colorful modern variation features just six interlocking pieces but takes 69 different moves to take it all apart. A step-by-step how-to booklet will jump-start the most perplexed and help put the puzzle back together once it is solved.
— In a Summer 2011 survey, Mary Porter of The Curiosity Zone in Ashburn, Va., told TDmonthly that "We sell a lot of ThinkFun puzzles. Gordian's Knot sells very well."
— As of 7/12/2011 this product had 4.2 out of 5 stars from 34 reviews on Amazon.com. Pros: Challenging and fun; a great value; fun for adults and older kids. Cons: One reviewer said it was not challenging enough; One adult reviewer said it was too small for him too use.
— “Gordian’s Knot is an innovative brainteaser challenge that helps kids develop deductive reasoning and problem-solving skills. Players can’t wait to unravel the mystery of the knot,” Emily Peters of Thinkfun told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 5455 (added 11/10/2005)
The object of this brainteaser challenge is to turn the seven disks sideways in order to remove the puzzle slide from its case. There´s only one place for the disks to turn. Kids will need a clever strategy to unlock the secret code.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 5454 (added 11/10/2005)
Voted one of Parent's Choice Foundation's "Best 25 Toys in 25 Years," Rush Hour puts players to the test, demanding thought and vision. As if the commute home isn’t enough, in these 40 beginner-to-expert challenges, players must navigate a red car through a traffic jam and gridlock to successfully leave the game board. Challenge cards fit neatly into a pull-out tray beneath the game tray. Watch video
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 4845 (added 9/29/2005)
Players try to fill their Zingo! cards with matching tiles from the Zingo Zinger. The first player to fill his or her card wins. Rules can be adjusted to favor more or less competition among players, and to vary the length of time each game requires. This game was a 2007 T.O.T.Y. Nominee for Specialty Toy of the Year. "It teaches memory, matching, vocabulary and social interaction skills. Kids have so much fun playing again and again; they don’t realize they’re learning essential thinking skills," Marketing Communications Manager Emily Peters of Thinkfun told TDmonthly.
— “Customers use this game as their ‘standard’ party gift,” Owner Elaine Hackney of Boing! JP’s Toy Shop in Jamaica Plain, Mass. told TDmonthly in summer 2007.
— “We sell out as soon as they come in,” added Pam Horwitz, manager of Mr. Toad’s Toy Company in Naples, Fla. Four of 63 retailers singled out Zingo! as the hottest-selling game in their store. Seven percent of 56 retailers listed Zingo as a top-selling game in January 2009. Six of 38 retailers called it a best-selling game in Feb. 2010.
— “Zingo is a great game for 4- to 5-year olds,” Jamie Burdette, owner of LB Toys in Media, Pa., told TDmonthly about this game — a top seller in his store — in April 2008. “The basic Bingo concept starts to introduce words and spelling.”
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 3529 (added 5/10/2005)
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Writer's Bio: Claudia Newcorn has been a freelance writer and editor for over 10 years, after having spent more than a decade in marketing and product management. She writes for both businesses and individual clients, crafting copy, content and advertising. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines and specialty publications nationwide (www.acornmarketing.com). She is also the author of an award-winning fantasy fiction book, "Crossover," and several published short stories (www.claudianewcorn.com). Read more articles by this author
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