Planning a car trip this summer? Cruise the miles with a few ingenious travel games designed for family or individual entertainment.
Lateral thinking puzzles, or word puzzles that require a unique approach to problem solving, are classics. They require participants to approach a given scenario from every angle, examine all the clues, test their assumptions, recognize red herrings, and propose a novel solution. They encourage divergent and creative thinking, the development of questioning skills, and the use of deduction and logic (see the box for a sample scenario).
In group play, one person acts as quizmaster, reading the scenario aloud and looking at the clues and answers before play begins. The other participants then test their assumptions by asking questions that can be answered “yes,” “no,” or “irrelevant.” Whoever solves the puzzle first becomes quizmaster for the next round.
Sterling Publishing prints a book series of lateral thinking puzzles, from easy to tricky and perplexing (see the list of titles), that challenge all ages, from young children to adults. Though some scenarios are fabrications, many are drawn from history, science, sports, mathematics, crime scenes, and court cases. For example, one question asks why the English playwright Ben Jonson was buried in a sitting position, while another relies on one’s scientific knowledge of matter and displacement to determine how a sailor marooned on a deserted island extracts drinking water from the small crevices deep within rock formations.
While the Sterling books provide an extensive range of puzzles, some (dealing with crime and murder) are a bit morbid and may be inappropriate for very young or highly sensitive children. Also, some scenarios are repeated in different books, so watch for duplications. Though not all the puzzles are well written, they are intriguing and may stimulate engaging conversation and family fun.
For solitary enjoyment, Sterling offers a number of challenging puzzle books for all ages and ability levels. Mathematics, logic, language, and mystery books range from beginning- to Mensa-level challenges guaranteed to entertain, enlighten, and stretch boundaries of logic and imagination for the whole family. For a complete list of titles and descriptions, visit the Sterling Web site.
Another good choice for children ages 7 to 12 is Brain Quest Extra for the Car, by Workman Publishing. The set contains two decks of 2½” x 7″ cards (one for each player or team), bracketed at the bottom so they fan out easily. The decks pose different questions in five categories about each of the 50 states: people, geography and nature, history, culture and customs, and odds and ends. The answers appear at the bottom of the cards. Teams quiz each other, keeping a tally on the score pad provided. The backs of the cards pose similar questions about the United States in general. Instructions for seven game variations, some of them calling for observations of the scenery and automobiles you’re passing, are also included.
Brain Quest provides a good format for learning about America. Some questions are obvious—“Florida’s #1 tourist attraction, located near Orlando?”—and some are yes-no or either-or questions: “Is Death Valley the hottest or coldest place in the U.S.?” Others require more exacting knowledge: “What Detroit native flew alone and nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927?” The set encourages knowing and learning factual knowledge rather than applying critical or divergent thinking, but it does stimulate interesting discussion appropriate for elementary children of all abilities. The Brain Quest series offers a range of curriculum-based games that are similar in format and conducive to travel entertainment. Sets cover a wide range of subject matter geared toward each grade level, from preschool through grade 7.
Many classic board games, such as Monopoly, Scrabble, and Clue, come in travel sizes, and there are magnetic versions of checkers and chess, not to mention playing cards and tangrams. More fun and creative ideas can be found at www.momsminivan.com. So plan for family fun and learning for your next journey as well as for the destination.
—Sarah Boone, MA
Sarah Boone holds a master’s degree in teaching and is certified in gifted education. She teaches at Meredith College.
Books by Paul Sloane and Des MacHale include Challenging Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 1993; Great Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 1994; Improve Your Lateral Thinking, 1995; Intriguing Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 1996; Perplexing Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 1998; Ingenious Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 1999; Tricky Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 1999; Super Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 2000; Colorful Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 2003; and Brain-Busting Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 2004. Other titles are Classic Lateral Thinking Puzzles, by Edward J. Harshman, Des MacHale, and Paul Sloane, 2003; and Lateral Logic Puzzles, by Erwin Brecher, 1994.
Brain Quest for grades 1-7; Brain Quest Math and Brain Quest Reading for grades 1-3; Brain Quest America; Brain Quest Presidents; Brain Quest Hispanic America; and Brain Quest Black History.
Take the Brain Quest Challenge, or enter the “Win Your College Tuition” sweepstakes. Grand prize: $150,000; first prizes (five): $10,000.
The Lateral Thinking and Brain Quest series are available from most major booksellers and online vendors.
- Sterling Publishing Lateral Thinking Puzzles
About $7 each
- Brain Quest
About $11 each
For Paul Sloane, coauthor of Sterling Publishing’s Lateral Thinking series, such puzzles are useful because they furnish mental exercise, which “keeps our creative abilities nimble” and without which “we trap ourselves in mental routines that . . . prevent us from having choices.”