The Games People Play

Games that take the pressure off, but keep the brain on - Part II

I'm always looking for 'games that take the pressure off but keep the brain on'. This week, encouraged by a group of mothers whose children are taking the 11+, and my own children who said that the list I wrote a few weeks ago was too short, I bring you yet more fun to be had at home.

In my life as a television presenter, I never made it as host of a gameshow. But if I had done, I think I would have loved it. Remember Ben Shephard, my friend from Maths 4 Real? He now presents Ninja Warrior - a crazy show that you should watch if you haven't already, and if you're old enough, you'll remember The Krypton Factor: contestants from across country competed in a series of rounds that tested their physical stamina and mental attributes. 

One school in west London is considering changing its entrance tests at 11+ to include a series of games and puzzles based on the television quiz show The Crystal Maze in an attempt to avoid the ‘arms race’ in tutoring. My message here: it's easy to keep the mind ticking over in ways that don't always involve traditional schoolwork.

Scrabble and Monopoly may still be top of the pops when it comes to board games, but both require time and time is something many of us are short of. Just for a moment, consider the negative effects of excessive gaming, social media and all things related to illuminated screens. Now is the time to interact with your children. When they have time for a break from revision or homework, the games below are just what the doctor ordered: a quick diversion from everyday activities and a fix of fun.


The 7 Gems of wisdom


1. Magnetic Dartboard - bet you didn’t see this one coming! Obviously this is not a serious option for someone who wants to learn darts and turn professional, but a lot of fun when stuck indoors and feeling in need of something livelier than a game of chess. There is no danger of injury from sharp spikes flying hither and thither and if you are so inclined, you can make it mathsy by adapting the rules of traditional darts and counting down from 501 and finishing on a double. 


2. JacksDid you play this as a child? Ten small ‘jacks’, a ball and a nice flat surface. Each player bounces the ball, picks up a number of jacks, and then catches the ball before it bounces for a second time. Typical rules include picking up one, then two, then three and so on ...depending on the total number of jacks included. The game can be taken to another level with certain phrases such as, "horse before carriage", which for some reason brought us out in incredible mirth when we played this over the summer. Google the rules and get ready to sharpen up your hand-eye co-ordination.

3. ElasticsHone your precision jumping skills and concentration with ‘elastics’ - sometimes known as French skipping, which is not actually French. It was invented in China in the 7th century. Three or more players (or two dining chairs and one player) use a long circle of elastic to compete a series of increasingly difficult jumps without making an error, often while chanting a song. FUN! The position of the elastic is raised as the jumper moves through the levels, from ankle to knee to waist height and higher. When I was at school, we had great respect for the girls who made it to thighs-ies and then on to waist height jumps. Seriously impressive! Where are those girls now I wonder?!

4. Rubik's CubeAnother favourite from school days which enhances your patience, memory and spatial reasoning. Invented in 1974 by a Hungarian architect, this is often given the accolade of the world’s best toy and it surely needs no explanation. Cubers talk about algorithms and make it sound oh-so-intellectual, but by learning a series of simple moves (those algorithms) you too can solve it. I can do it in under 2 minutes - nothing compared to the world record but not bad for a 45 year old mother of 2! For fun, search “3 year old solves Rubik’s cube in high chair”, and “fastest feet only solution," on Google. (Incidentally, one of my favourite films of all time, The Pursuit of Happyness (sic), features Will Smith solving a Rubik's cube during a taxi ride. If you find the algorithms are all a bit too much for you, watch this wonderfully uplifting, true life story.)

5. Time Shock! (Previously called Perfection) - A frantic game of race-against-the-clock madness: see how many shapes you can put into the right slots before the tray pops up! Feel that heart beat… and test your skills of working under pressure. These are probably the emotions you’ll need to channel if you find yourself acting the part of a bomb disposal expert in a James Bond film one day.

6. Wentworth JigsawsIf it all gets to be a bit too much - a jigsaw is the perfect break for everyone. Attempt those 1000 piecers if you have time…  - but if you don’t, how about a small puzzle under 100 pieces. It will still be sharpening up your hand eye-co-ordination and spatial reasoning. I love the Wentworth traditional wooden jigsaws which come in mini boxes with ‘whimsy’ pieces often in the shape of butterflies, trees or animals. Perfect when you need a little break and someone wants the kitchen table back later.

7. 3D puzzles: IQ Puzzler Pro - 2D and 3D Brain Teaser - This puzzle is a winner for problem solving, logic and analytical thinking. Using combinations of coloured connected balls, you must try to recreate designs shown in the accompanying booklet, ranging from very easy to expert. Great practice for those spatial reasoning papers set in the 11+.


That's it for this week - but I couldn't resist leaving you a verbal reasoning challenge. Can you spot the hidden games in the following text? There are 7 and I've done the first one for you...

Take the risk and remove the games console from your child. It is true that, sometimes it can be quite an operation requiring all your skills of diplomacy to persuade your child to agree. But you should try. If you don’t have a clue don’t be put off. The 7 gems of wisdom could help you to regain the monopoly on the remote controls and gaming devices in your home. In less than a fortnite you might change the vibe in your house and it will be hard to guess who is more surprised about the fun that can be had from these old fashioned games - you or your child? Everyone’s a winner - Kerplunk! I mean ker-ching! (Did you see what I did there?!)

Coming soon: stealth general knowledge with 7 biographical films that every child should see. 

Until then, farewell.