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7 of the best games and toys invented by women

From STEM kits to fashion dolls, these creations all came from the minds of female inventors and designers.

Image source: Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash
  • You love the games and toys they made, but do you know their names?
  • The women behind these products are engineers, CEOs, and accomplished designers.
  • Learn about the creators while adding their toys to your holiday shopping list.

Most people have heard of major toy and game companies including Mattel, Hasbro, and Parker Brothers and have, for generations, purchased their products. Unfortunately, not as many people know the names of the individuals behind those board games, playsets, and action figures. Being an inventor is often a thankless job, especially for historically marginalized groups. While many creators have already been forgotten to time, the women on this list don't have to be.

From an iconic doll introduced in the 1950s, to a popular building block game, to new STEM kits designed to inspire young girls to become engineers, what the toys and games in this gift guide all have in common is that they were first designed (and often prototyped) by creative women. Some of them became entrepreneurs and still run their own successful toy companies, while others never got the credit and compensation they truly deserved. In honor of the brilliant minds that made them, here are 7 of the best toys and games invented by women that you should consider adding to your holiday shopping list.

Leslie Scott introduced Jenga at the London Toy Fair in 1983.

Born in Tanzania and raised in West and East Africa, Leslie Scott was inspired to create Jenga after reflecting on her childhood. The game was based on one that Scott's family played using wooden blocks. Scott wanted a strong name that would become synonymous with the game. She chose Jenga, which comes from the Swahili word kujenga, meaning "to build."

Goldieblox was created to shatter stereotypes about how girls play.

Debbie Sterling created GoldieBlox to give young girls a curious female engineer character to look up to. With maker kits ranging from an inventor's mansion to this smartphone projector, girls can learn to build and customize their own fun toys and objects. Major companies wouldn't back Sterling's vision because they said that girls would not be into engineering play, so Sterling launched her own Kickstarter campaign and successfully launched GoldieBlox as an innovative and independent toy company.

Elizabeth Magie created The Landlords Game to protest the existence of monopolies. 

Monopoly as we know it was introduced in the 1930s, but Elizabeth Magie's "The Landlord Game" dates back to around 1903. Magie originally created two sets of rules for the game: one that rewarded players for creating monopolies, and another that rewarded everyone for creating wealth. The game was not a cash cow for Magie, but a man named Charles Darrow was able to hijack her idea and sell his version for millions to the Parker Brothers. Controversial past aside, the game is an undisputed classic that has divided and delighted families for generations.

 Ayah Bdeir's littleBits are a great introduction to the world of STEM toys.

LittleBits building block kits include magnetic modular "bits" that can be configured and reconfigured to perform various functions. The color-coded pieces teach builders about electronic circuitry in a way that is fun and easy to understand. LittleBits CEO and founder Ayah Bdeir told that her company's kits are designed for boys and girls and that "accessibility helps everyone to unleash creativity and instill a love of STEAM through the cycle of inventing."

Being surrounded by children with polio inspired the invention of 'Candy Land.'

While recovering from polio in a hospital in San Diego in 1948, a retired teacher named Eleanor Abbott created a board game to keep young patients entertained during their long and often painful treatment cycles. Candy Land was well-received by the sick children, so Abbott decided to pitch it to Milton Bradley the following year. The sugary-themed game was bought and quickly became the company's best-selling title. Five and a half decades later in 2005, Candy Land was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Natalie Rebot invented a way to turn story time into more of an experience.

The idea for the Moonlight Storybook Projector came from Natalie Rebot's bedtime ritual of making shadow puppets with her daughter using the flashlight on her smartphone. After building a prototype and launching a successful Kickstarter campaign, Rebot left her career at Google and turned Moonlight into a full-fledged company. There are now story reels available for the projector from Disney and other major publishers.

One of the most iconic toys of all-time is still being sold decades later.

Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler debuted the first Barbie doll at the New York Toy Fair in 1959. Named after her daughter, Handler was inspired to create the fashion icon after watching how young Barbara played with her paper dolls. Barbie has since had over 180 different careers and has spawned a pocket universe of friends, family, pets, vehicles, and structures. This doll in particular, designed by Caroline DeMersseman, commemorates the figure's 60th (diamond) anniversary and features an elegant ball gown with silver earrings.

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How accountability at work can transform your organization

If you don't practice accountability at work you're letting the formula for success slip right through your hands.

  • What is accountability? It's a tool for improving performance and, once its potential is thoroughly understood, it can be leveraged at scale in any team or organization.
  • In this lesson for leaders, managers, and individuals, Shideh Sedgh Bina, a founding partner of Insigniam and the editor-in-chief of IQ Insigniam Quarterly, explains why it is so crucial to success.
  • Learn to recognize the mindset of accountable versus unaccountable people, then use Shideh's guided exercise as a template for your next post-project accountability analysis—whether that project was a success or it fell short, it's equally important to do the reckoning.

What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth

Could this former river island in the Indus have inspired Tolkien to create Cair Andros, the ship-shaped island in the Anduin river?

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
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  • J.R.R. Tolkien himself hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

An eight-metre-long Whale shark swims with other fish at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium on February 26, 2010 in Motobu, Okinawa, Japan.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
  • Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."


A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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