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7 (more) board games to help kids think big
We catalogue seven more board games to teach children science, problem-solving, and even foster their creativity.
- The number of board games being released each year is unprecedented.
- Among the deluge of new and interesting titles, many can help develop life-critical skills, such as creativity, problem solving, and lateral thinking.
- We look at seven more board games that help teach children to think big.
We are living in a board game renaissance. Where once families had a paltry selection of dice rollers to choose from, today the shelves of toy stores and hobby shops buckle under the weight of fun and absorbing board games. Tucked among those variegated boxes are fantastic learning experiences that educate and entertain children in equal measure.
Last time, we cataloged seven of the best board games to teach children STEM, strategy, and executive functions. But that barely scratched the surface, so we're back with seven more.
The rules are the same. Every game must support a family-friendly four players, so classics like Go and Chess will be truant again despite their cognitive-expanding capabilities. Also, a ten-year-old should be able to comprehend the game's mechanics after a game or two, meaning stat-laden behemoths like Scythe and Terraforming Mars—though wonderful in their own right—will need to find their dues on another list.
In Ticket to Ride, players transform into 19th-century tycoons bidding to monopolize the burgeoning railroad industry. They collect cards of various colors and use them to purchase tracks. Connecting these tracks with major railway hubs, they create routes crisscrossing the continental United States. Longer routes earn more points, with additional points awarded to players who complete special Destination routes.
Though easy to learn, the game hides enough strategic depth to earn it the 2004 Spiel des Jahres. Players must use spatial reasoning to plan their routes, understand the risk-reward between collecting more cards versus claiming routes, and adapt their strategies to an ever-changing board.
The game also introduces children to basic U.S. geography, helping them understand the relationship between major U.S. cities. Though, the map isn't 100 percent accurate (as any citizen of Duluth, Minnesota, will tell you). Other versions of the game sport maps for Asia, Europe, the Nordic Countries, and the United Kingdom.
Many board games recognize only cold calculations and cutthroat planning. Dixit, the 2010 Spiel des Jahres winner, takes a different tack by rewarding players for their creativity and a strong theory of mind.
Each round, one player becomes the storyteller. This player plays a card from their hand face down and offers a clue to describe it. The other players then place cards they think match the clue. After a good shuffle, the cards are revealed, and everyone tries to figure out which card was the storyteller's.
Here's the trick: To maximize points, the storyteller wants only some players to guess the correct card. If everyone guesses correctly, they lose the round.
To galvanize players' imaginations, Dixit's cards depict fantastical scenes in a surrealist art style. Think a boy on a ladder fashioning clouds into animals, biomes collected in raindrops, or a cenotaph imprinted with a blood-red snake. And because everyone's creativity is unique, each grouping of friends and family will result in wildly different experiences.
Labyrinth asks players to navigate a maze to find a treasure buried in its depths. Simple enough, except the maze morphs at the will and whim of your competitors.
Players take turns sliding an extra piece into the rows and columns of the maze, altering the passageways available to the players. The extra tile then passes to the next player, who alters the maze further. The first player to retrieve all their treasures and get out wins.
A pure puzzle-solving game, Labyrinth presents players with spatial and strategic challenges. Do they use their turn to block an opponent's path or try to shift the wall blocking their own? Though each move is simple, it's the chain of effect that makes the game challenging and fun.
Where most games require players to defeat each other to claim victory, Forbidden Desert asks them to work together against the game itself.
Players must discover a legendary flying machine in the titular desert. Each one embodies a role that grants them a special skill, and as a team, they must explore the desert to discover the far-flung pieces of the flying machine.
To succeed, everyone must coordinate their actions, efforts, and equipment before they die of thirst or the shifting desert sands bury them forever. And should one player fail, everybody loses.
A Mensa Select Winner, Forbidden Desert is one of the best games out there to develop children's cooperative and team-building skills. Its predecessor, Forbidden Island, is worth a look, too.
The board game world overflows with fantasy and science fiction settings that cast players as the conquerors of eccentric lands. Wingspan takes place in a wildlife preserve for birds. Not even thunderbirds or phoenixes, but run-of-the-mill blue jays and sparrows. And it is pure joy.
Players cultivate a wildlife preserve to attract and support different bird species. Through the game's card-drafting and hand-management mechanics, they'll have to keep the species fed and aid in their procreation. In turn, the birds affect the habitat in combinations that assist the player's efforts.
Players learn strategy, resource management, and gain an understanding of ecological conservation, but the game's real educational draw is as an introduction to birds. The game includes 170 unique North American species cards, each beautifully illustrated to look painted by John James Audubon himself.
The world of cells is a weird and bewildering place. It doesn't help that the cellular structures and functions come wrapped in hazy terminology. Enter Cytosis, a worker placement game that takes place inside the human cell.
Players place workers on organelles to tap into the cell's biological processes. These processes allow players to amass enzymes, hormones, and receptors, which are in turn converted into health points. The healthiest player wins the game.
Cytosis does a good job of personalizing the cellular life cycle through gameplay. It introduces players to organelles like the Golgi apparatus and endoplasmic reticulum and familiarizes them with cellular resources like ATP and mRNA, as well as the processes that manifest them.
While players won't be able to write a dissertation after a game, they will find the concepts far less intimidating. And it's also a solidly fun worker placement game to boot.
Few games enjoy the pedigree of Dominion. The game won all the awards and honors of 2009—among its golden trove the Spiel des Jahres and a Mensa Select—and for good reason. Through its deck-building mechanics, the game teaches strategy, resource management, problem-solving, lateral thinking, and the principles of cost-effectiveness.
Players become monarchs aiming to expand their kingdoms through territorial claims. To do so, they must deepen their provincial coffers by collecting treasure cards and enhance their economic prowess through kingdom cards. Kingdom cards offer players unique moves that, if properly paired together, can increase a deck's efficiency and purchasing power.
Like Settlers of Catan, Dominion enjoys near infinite replayability as each game can populate the field with a unique combination of kingdom cards. As such, players can't rely on the same tactics to see them to victory. They must instead learn core strategic principles and then adapt to the resources available. They must also learn to balance purchasing power and victory conditions with deck efficiency to seize those beguiling estate, duchy, province cards before others.
What to play next?
These board games will be a welcome addition to any family's Saturday night, but with more excellent games coming out every year, this list is hardly comprehensive.
If you're looking for something new, be sure to research past award winners and visit board game websites like BoardGameGeek. Board games can be expensive, so try to find a local hobby shop that has demonstration events or store copies to try before you buy.
With these tips, it won't be difficult to find a board game that teaches your child something new. As a bonus, it's also a great way to facilitate fun family time.
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So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
The distances between the stars are so vast that they can make your brain melt. Take for example the Voyager 1 probe, which has been traveling at 35,000 miles per hour for more than 40 years and was the first human object to cross into interstellar space. That sounds wonderful except, at its current speed, it will still take another 40,000 years to cross the typical distance between stars.
Worse still, if you are thinking about interstellar travel, nature provides a hard limit on acceleration and speed. As Einstein showed, it's impossible to accelerate any massive object beyond the speed of light. Since the galaxy is more than 100,000 light-years across, if you are traveling at less than light speed, then most interstellar distances would take more than a human lifetime to cross. If the known laws of physics hold, then it seems a galaxy-spanning human civilization is impossible.
Unless of course you can build a warp drive.
Ah, the warp drive, that darling of science fiction plot devices. So, what about a warp drive? Is that even a really a thing?
Let's start with the "warping" part of a warp drive. Without doubt, Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity ("GR") represents space and time as a 4-dimensional "fabric" that can be stretched and bent and folded. Gravity waves, representing ripples in the fabric of spacetime, have now been directly observed. So, yes spacetime can be warped. The warping part of a warp drive usually means distorting the shape of spacetime so that two distant locations can be brought close together — and you somehow "jump" between them.
This was a basic idea in science fiction long before Star Trek popularized the name "warp drive." But until 1994, it had remained science fiction, meaning there was no science behind it. That year, Miguel Alcubierre wrote down a solution to the basic equations of GR that represented a region that compressed spacetime ahead of it and expanded spacetime behind to create a kind of traveling warp bubble. This was really good news for warp drive fans.
The problems with a warp drive
There were some problems though. Most important was that this "Alcubierre drive" required lots of "exotic matter" or "negative energy" to work. Unfortunately, there's no such thing. These are things theorists dreamed up to stick into the GR equations in order to do cool things like make stable open wormholes or functioning warp drives.
It's also noteworthy that researchers have raised other concerns about an Alcubierre drive — like how it would violate quantum mechanics or how when you arrived at your destination it would destroy everything in front of the ship in an apocalyptic flash of radiation.
Warp drives: A new hope
Credit: Primada / 420366373 via Adobe Stock
Recently, however, there seemed to be good news on the warp drive front with the publication this April of a new paper by Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martre entitled "Introducing Physical Warp Drives." The good thing about the Bobrick and Martre paper was it was extremely clear about the meaning of a warp drive.
Understanding the equations of GR means understanding what's on either side of the equals sign. On one side, there is the shape of spacetime, and on the other, there is the configuration of matter-energy. The traditional route with these equations is to start with a configuration of matter-energy and see what shape of spacetime it produces. But you can also go the other way around and assume the shape of spacetime you want (like a warp bubble) and determine what kind of configuration of matter-energy you will need (even if that matter-energy is the dream stuff of negative energy).
Warp drives are simpler and much less mysterious objects than the broader literature has suggested.
What Bobrick and Martre did was step back and look at the problem more generally. They showed how all warp drives were composed of three regions: an interior spacetime called the passenger space; a shell of material, with either positive or negative energy, called the warping region; and an outside that, far enough away, looks like normal unwarped spacetime. In this way they could see exactly what was and was not possible for any kind of warp drive. (Watch this lovely explainer by Sabine Hossenfelder for more details). They even showed that you could use good old normal matter to create a warp drive that, while it moved slower than light speed, produced a passenger area where time flowed at a different rate than in the outside spacetime. So even though it was a sub-light speed device, it was still an actual warp drive that could use normal matter.
That was the good news.
The bad news was this clear vision also showed them a real problem with the "drive" part of the Alcubierre drive. First of all, it still needed negative energy to work, so that bummer remains. But worse, Bobrick and Martre reaffirmed a basic understanding of relativity and saw that there was no way to accelerate an Alcubierre drive past light speed. Sure, you could just assume that you started with something moving faster than light, and the Alcubierre drive with its negative energy shell would make sense. But crossing the speed of light barrier was still prohibited.
So, in the end, the Star Trek version of the warp drive is still not a thing. I know this may bum you out if you were hoping to build that version of the Enterprise sometime soon (as I was). But don't be too despondent. The Bobrick and Martre paper really did make headway. As the authors put it in the end:
"One of the main conclusions of our study is that warp drives are simpler and much less mysterious objects than the broader literature has suggested"
That really is progress.
The Black Death wasn't the only plague in the 1300s.
- In a unique study, researchers have determined how many people in medieval England had bunions
- A fashion trend towards pointed toe shoes made the affliction common.
- Even monks got in on the trend, much to their discomfort later in life.
Late Medieval England had its share of problems. The Wars of Roses raged, the Black Death killed off large parts of the population, and passing ruffians could say "Ni" at will to old ladies.
To make matters worse, a first of its kind study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology has demonstrated that much of the population suffered from another plague — a plague of bunions likely caused by a ridiculous medieval fashion trend.
If the shoe fits, it won't cause bunions
The outlines of a leather shoe from the King's Ditch, Cambridge. It is easy to see how these shoes might be constricting. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
The bunion, known to medicine as "hallux valgus," is a deformity of the joint connecting the big toe to the rest of the foot. It is painful and can cause other issues including poor balance. The condition is associated with having worn constrictive shoes for a long period of time as well as genetic factors. Today, it is often caused by wearing high heeled shoes.
The medieval English didn't care for high heeled shoes as much as modern fashionistas, but there was a major fashion trend toward shoes with long, pointed toes called "poulaines" or "crakows" for their supposed place of origin, Krakow, Poland.
This trend, already silly-looking to a modern observer, got out of hand in a hurry. According to some records, the points on nobleman's shoes could be so long as to require tying them to the leg with string so the wearer could walk. At one point, King Edward IV had to ban commoners from wearing points longer than two inches. A couple years later, he saw fit to ban the shoes altogether.
But, just knowing that people back in the day made poor fashion choices doesn't prove they suffered for it. That is where digging up old skeletons to look at their feet comes in.
Beauty is pain: the price of high medieval fashion
To learn how bad the bunion epidemic was, the researchers looked to four burial sites in and around Cambridge. One was a rural cemetery where poor peasants were buried. Another was the All Saints by the Castle parish, which had a mixed collection of people that tended toward poverty. The Hospital of St. John's burial ground contained both the poor charges of a charity hospital and wealthy benefactors. Lastly, they considered the cemetery of a local Augustinian friary, home to monks and well-to-do philanthropists.
The team considered 177 adult skeletons that were at least a quarter complete and still had enough of their feet to make studying them possible. The remains were classified by age and sex by observation and DNA testing. Each was examined for evidence of bunions and signs of complications from the condition, such as falling.
Those buried in the monastery's graveyard were the most affected. Nearly half, 43 percent, of the remains found there had bunions. This includes five of the eleven members of the clergy they found. Twenty-three percent of those laid to rest at the Hospital of St. John had bunions, though only 10 percent of those at the All Saints by the Castle parish graveyard did.
The rural cemetery had a much lower rate of instances, only three percent, suggesting that these peasants were able to avoid at least one plague.
Overall, eighteen percent of the individuals examined had bunions, with men more likely to have them than women. Those at cemeteries known for exclusivity were more likely to have them as well, though it is clear that the condition also affected members of other classes. This makes sense, as it is known that these shoes had mass appeal.
The authors note that the rural cemetery having fewer cases is partly because that cemetery "went out of use prior to the wide adoption of pointed shoes, and it is likely that those residing in the parish predominately wore soft leather shoes, or possibly went barefoot."
Those skeletons with evidence of bunions were more likely to have fractures indicative of a fall. This was more common on those estimated or recorded as having lived past age 45.
In our much more enlightened times, 23 percent of the population currently endures having bunions, most of them women, and one of the leading culprits behind this is the high heeled shoe.
Some things never change.