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Five Crowns Card Game

It's somewhat like rummy. Each succeeding hand is played with one additional card; the number of cards dealt determine which card is wild: e.g. when players begin with three cards, the 3's are wild; with four cards, the 4's are wild and so on up to thirteen cards, when Kings are wild. (Ruth B. Roufberg, Parent's Choice®, 1996)

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Zen Blocks

Contemplative and calming, Zen Blocks have a place everywhere. How about in a desk drawer at work to pull out and play with after a stressful meeting? Or, how about in a backpack for friends during school lunch break? This symbol-matching game engages both intuition and logic and can be played in many variations--some simple enough for beginners, others challenging enough for Zen masters! Fourteen wooden blocks are decorated with symbols: heaven, earth, sun, rain, lion, lamb, and yin-yang. Match symbols to build your Zen cube. Zen Blocks can be played alone or in a team. Team players build cooperatively and "link their fates." Win as a team or lose as a team! Zen Blocks come with a felt play pad, and the Zen cube is 3.5 inches tall, wide, and deep. --Wendy Slotboom

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MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System 1.5 (9747)

The Robotics Invention System is the core set in the amazingly innovative and--consider yourself warned--highly addictive Mindstorms series from LEGO. Combining the power of your PC with an onboard RCX (Robot Command Explorer) microcomputer, LEGO gives you the tools to construct thousands of sophisticated robotic inventions. But don't let the technology scare you. As always, LEGO sets can be as simple or as complex as you want. Twelve "Guided Challenges" take you through the construction of various robots, including a light-sensitive Trail Tracker and a freewheeling Acroflip. A CD-ROM graphically walks you through Mindstorms' intuitive programming system. Just build your robot, assemble its instructions on the PC, and then download to the robot's RCX through the infrared transmitter. The transmitter works through a 9-pin serial port on your PC. The 717-piece set includes the RCX and transmitter, the CD-ROM, two motors, two touch sensors, a light sensor, and a Constructopedia to give you more ideas once you've built your first few robotic pals. The Robotics Invention System requires a 90-MHz Windows 95 machine with 16 MB of RAM and 50 MB of hard-disk space. For more robot fun, check out the Mindstorms Droid Developer Kit. --Paul Hughes

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Pushing the Envelope

As a clever play on words, Pushing the Envelope is a handsome piece of office décor that keeps postal mail neat and tidy in this handy holder. Sticking bills or correspondence between the sculpted, gold-plated figure and a gold-plated backing helps a desk remain free of clutter. Simple and clever, it would be great for a corporate citizen in your life or for your own desk. --Diane Beall

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Reach for the Clouds

Thought Works specializes in small portable kinetic sculptures such as this piece, made of gold-plated wire. Here, a stick figure in a hang glider balances on the end of a flexible metal wire, and this swaying wire gives motion to the delicate sculpture. Made of forest green and deep burgundy plastic, the weighted base measures 5.5 square inches and bears an inspirational quote, "Reach for the Clouds," in elegant yellow-gold lettering. Resting on felt tabs to prevent surface scratching, this 9.5-inch-tall sculpture will provide abundant desktop inspiration. --Gail Hudson

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The Stone: Global Internet Mystery Game

The Stone is a necklace unlike any other. Each Stone is decorated with six cryptic symbols that match the symbols of only one other Stone in the world. What do the symbols mean, and how does the Stone's wearer discover who is wearing the matching Stone? The answers are found on the Internet. Players of the Stone game will need Internet access with Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. When they arrive at the Stone Web site, they'll be asked to register their Stone. A cluebook is included with each Stone, and is needed to answer one of the registration questions. Once registered, players are welcomed to the Enigma. They'll need to solve puzzles (the cluebook will come in handy here), and will likely get caught up in the mysterious atmosphere. For additional game information, they can check out the Web site's "News" feature. There's also a "Commons" area where they can chat on-line with other Stone players. The Stone will probably be absorbing fun to many kids, but some parents might not be comfortable with the quasi-mystical nature of this game. --Wendy Slotboom

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Santiago De Compostela, Spain 1000-piece Puzzle

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Frida Kahlo 1000-piece Jigsaw Puzzle: Frieda and Diego Rivera

Mexican folk artist Frida Kahlo was known for her finely detailed personal portraits, while her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, was famous for his monumental, politically oriented work. That contrast is evident in a painting Kahlo did in 1931 to remember a time she and Rivera spent in San Francisco. Entitled "Frida and Diego," the painting recalls the style of a traditional Mexican wedding portrait. The piece is reproduced in this 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Kahlo's work is also seen in several popular books, including Devouring Frida: The Art History and Popular Celebrity of Frida Kahlo, by Margaret A. Lindauer. The puzzle measures 26.75 by 19 inches when finished. It comes with a cardboard easel for viewing the box top during assembly. You also get a fixative for gluing the puzzle together for display. Lost pieces can be replaced for free. --Joan DeClaire

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