Talking math with your daughters

Talking Math with Your Kids

The conversations we have with our children affect their thinking. Of course they have their own interests, but the conversations we initiate have an impact.

The New York Times’ Motherlode blog (subtitle, Adventures in Parenting—we’ll talk about the equating of parenting with mothers another time!) quoted a University of Delaware study a while back:

Even [when their children are] as young as 22 months, American parents draw boys’ attention to numerical concepts far more often than girls’. Indeed, parents speak to boys about number concepts twice as often as they do girls. For cardinal-numbers speech, in which a number is attached to an obvious noun reference — “Here are five raisins” or “Look at those two beds” — the difference was even larger. Mothers were three times more likely to use such formulations while talking to boys.

The researchers note that these differences are not intentional. They were observed…

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IKEA Reannounces and Expands Recall of Children’s Wall-Mounted Lamps Due to Strangulation Hazard

Bilen Wall Lamp (courtesy IKEA)

Bilen Wall Lamp (courtesy IKEA)

According to a press release dated 29 April 2014 from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, furniture manufacturer and retailer IKEA has re-announced and implemented a recall involving more than 30 million children’s wall-mounted lamps sold in IKEA stores. More than 15 different styles are being recalled, and can be made safe by using the repair kit (provided by IKEA) in order to fasten the lamp’s cord to the wall.

Read the CPSC press release here.

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Going Postal: Thurn and Taxis at Games Night


Thurn and Taxis Box

Box and Contents

Thurn and Taxis is a surprisingly engrossing game in which players compete to build a postal system across provinces of the Kingdoms of Germany and Bohemia, the Archduchy of Austria, the Swiss Confederation, and Poland. The game is named after the Thurn und Taxis family, whose ancestor Lamoral von Taxis was in 1615 named hereditary Postmaster General by the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Map

The Map

The game has a distinctly early-nineteenth or late-eighteenth century feel by virtue of the illustrations, which resemble old engraved maps, and the characters and goals.

The game mechanic is straightforward: on his turn, a player

  1. must add a city card to his hand;
  2. must play a city card to a route; and
  3. may close and score a route.

Routes are built by laying down city cards on the table before the player. The routes must be composed of cities (represented by cards) that are connected directly to one another. Cities may be added to either end of a route, but never inserted between two existing cities.  If a player is unable to add a city card to an existing route, and cannot score the route, the route must be discarded and a new one begun by placing a city card.

Pretty straightforward so far, right?

Scoring of routes is also reasonably easy to figure out. Routes containing at least 3 city cards may be closed and scored. The player

  1. Places houses (post offices?)
  2. Collects bonus tiles (if any)
  3. Collects a new carriage card if one has been earned
  4. Discards the city cards on his route and in his hand.

I did find the rules for placement of houses to be a little confusing. When closing a route, the player may opt either to place one house in one city in each province of the route; or may in one province, place one house in each city of the route. The number and location of houses is important both during game play, when players can acquire bonus victory point tiles by placing houses on all cities of a province (or all cities of a grouped pair of provinces), and at the game’s end, when unplaced houses are subtracted from the player’s total victory points.

On his turn, a player may also  seek support from one of a quartet of Postal Officials.  The Postmaster allows the player to take two cards rather than one from the face-up supply or the face-down deck; the Administrator allows the player to exchange all the cards in the face-up supply for a new batch; the Postal Carrier allows the player to place two cities in his route rather than one; and the Cartwright allows the player, when scoring a route, to acquire the next higher carriage even if his route is one or two cities short.  Only one of these special abilities may be used per turn.

The game ends when one player acquires a level seven carriage, or places his final house. Each subsequent player has one final turn, before scoring starts.

Our first three games played fairly briskly, even with a good deal of rule-checking (and patient reiteration of house-placement guidelines. We finally evolved a sort of Three Musketeers mnemonic to help us remember when it came time to score routes: “All in one, or one in each (province).)  Thurn and Taxis is not directly confrontational, in that players do not compete to cut one another off from desirable routes or resources. Instead, each player races to acquire valuable points bonuses and to deploy his houses — there is a definite merit to speed and efficiency in this game.

Thurn and Taxis is definitely growing on me. I like the array of options open to the player on every turn, and that the game is an interesting mixture of luck and skill. It’s easy to learn, even for non-gamers. The fact that you can easily get in one or two games in an evening makes it even more appealing to me. (I get up early, and late nights make me cranky.)

Note: According to the Rio Grande Games website, Thurn and Taxis is currently out-of-print. If you can find a German copy (publisher: Hans im Glück), you can certainly still play it, as the game is relatively language-independent.  Here’s a link to a PDF file of the Thurn and Taxis Rules — in English — just in case.

  • Thurn and Taxis (Rio Grande Games). Currently out-of-print in English.
  • Spiel des Jahres Winner 2006
  • Karen & Andreas Seyfarth (designers)
  • 2-4 players
  • Ages 10 and up
  • My rating: 8 out of 10



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“Will That Be a Boy Toy or a Girl Toy With Your Happy Meal?”

happy mealBlogger Antonia Ayres-Brown, writing yesterday in Slate, describes her experiences with McDonald’s and Happy Meals toys.

In 2009, Ms Ayres-Brown (as of 2014 a high-school junior in New Haven, CT), was disturbed to find that counter staff at a local McDonald’s asked whether the Happy Meals ordered by the family at the drive-through window should be accompanied by “boy toys” or “girl toys”.  Her initial letter to the then-CEO of the company, expressing dismay at this gender stereotyping,  received what could only be described as  a casual brush-off, but she did not give up.

Through a research experiment and letters to the higher-ups at McDonald’s, Ayres-Brown was finally able to extract a statement from a corporate executive promising that “(i)t is McDonald’s intention and goal that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy and without any reference to the customer’s gender. We have recently reexamined our internal guidelines, communications and practices and are making improvements to better ensure that our toys are distributed consistent with our policy.”

As she states in her Slate article, “The problem with Happy Meal toys may seem trivial to some, but consider this: McDonald’s is estimated to sell more than 1 billion Happy Meals each year. When it poses this question—“Do you want a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy?”—McDonald’s pressures innumerable children to conform to gender stereotypes. Retailers don’t need to use girl’s and boy’s categories when they can just describe the toys that are available and let kids choose the ones that appeal to them most.”

Huzzah for Antonia Ayres-Brown!

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All About: Fortune Tellers and Cootie Catchers

Want to hear a joke about paper? Never mind, it’s tearable.

This is Not a Cootie Catcher

This is Not a Cootie Catcher

Paper is believed to have been invented in China in the second century AD. By the sixth century, paper and paper-folding had made the journey to Japan, where the art of folding paper into three-dimensional objects became known as origami.

Incredible, It Is

Incredible, It Is

Origami has been developed into an amazing art form over the centuries. Origami masters can create mind-boggling works from nothing more than a sheet or two of paper and a little time. Given a little practice, though, most of us can learn some simple origami — and most of us have done just that, without realizing it.  In the course of a school career, who hasn’t folded a cootie catcher?

A cootie catcher, or fortune teller, is a simple origami folding exercise that creates a moveable structure. The cootie-catcher-as-game is thought to have evolved from the origami salt cellar (prior to the invention of the salt shaker, salt was served at table in a small dish known as a cellar). Here’s a video demonstrating the entire sequence for folding a 4-compartment salt cellar:

As you can see in the last part of the video, the construction is sometimes also known as “heaven and hell”, because of the two alternate movements of the points (up/down, left/right). The words “Heaven” and “Hell” are written on

Heaven and Hell

Heaven and Hell

opposite interior diamonds, or indicated with different colours of paper (red for hell, blue for heaven). The fortune teller is then closed tightly. The player must then indicate to the one manipulating the fortune teller how to open it, revealing the reward (or punishment!) The game in this form is thought to have reached Europe sometime in the 17th century.

It’s only a small step from this to the North American cootie catcher. The same basic folding technique is used, usually with a square of plain white paper.

Courtesy: The Daring Book for Girls

Courtesy: The Daring Book for Girls

Courtesy: The Daring Book for Girls

Courtesy: The Daring Book for Girls

The fun of cootie catchers lies, of course, in the silliness of the “fortunes” to be revealed under each flap. The more outlandish and ridiculous the fortune, the better!

Here’s a Valentine’s Day cootie catcher for some-buggy special! Print it off and cut out to make four valentines.  Happy Valentine’s Day!



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Simple Science: Let’s Clean Pennies! *

Not This One. It's Too Clean.

*Note: Cleaning Pennies is not at all the same as Laundering Money.  I just thought I’d make that clear.

As of 4 February 2013, the government of Canada phased out the penny from Canadian coinage. Now, when you pay or receive change in cash, the amount is rounded up or down to the closest five cents’ worth (amounts ending in 1 or 2 go down to 0, 3 or 4 go up to 5; 6 or 7 down to 5; and 8 or 9 go up to the next ten.) The Canadian Mint has estimated that it will save about $11 million dollars per year by eliminating the penny.

There are still plenty of pennies around, of course — one estimate puts the number of pennies still in circulation within Canada as some 35 billion.  And here’s a simple science experiment that you can do at home that uses the lowly penny to explore the concepts of atoms, molecules, electrons, and chemical compounds.

That's Better.

That’s Better.

What You’ll Need:

  1. A handful of pennies (the grungier the better — you don’t want shiny new coins for this experiment)
  2. White vinegar
  3. Table salt
  4. A non-metallic bowl
  5. 2 shiny new steel nails, if you can find them around the house

Using a glass or plastic bowl, (ideally a clear bowl, so that you can see everything better), mix 1 teaspoon of table salt into 1/4 cup of white vinegar. Stir it till it’s dissolved.

The Dirty Pennies

The Dirty Pennies

Hold a penny so that it is submerged half-way in the solution while you count to 10, then pull it out. What do you see?


After 10 Minutes. Notice the Penny That’s Only Halfway in the Vinegar?

Now take the rest of the pennies and dump them into the bowl of vinegar solution. Leave them for about 10 minutes. Do they look different?

Scoop out about half of the pennies and rinse them under running water (use a colander or sieve so you don’t drop any down the drain), then lay them on a paper towel to dry.  Write “rinsed” on the paper towel with a marker. Fish out the remaining pennies, but don’t rinse them. Just put them onto another sheet of paper towel (you can mark that one “unrinsed”, if you want to). Leave the two groups of pennies to dry for about an hour.

Meanwhile, drop one of the nails into the same bowl of vinegar solution that you just took the pennies out of, so that it is completely submerged. Prop up the other nail in the bowl so that it’s half-in, half-out of the vinegar. Leave those for 10 minutes, just like the pennies. How do the nails look? And what’s going on with those pennies?

What Is Going ON?

The short version:  everything is made up of tiny bits called atoms. Pennies are made using an metal called copper, which is made up of atoms of copper. Copper atoms combine with atoms of oxygen in the air to form a compound called copper oxide, which has a greenish colour.  As pennies (or anything else made of copper) are used, handled, and exposed to the air, the surface of the penny becomes coated with copper oxide.  Copper oxide can be dissolved using a weak acid solution, like the salt-and-vinegar that you used to clean the pennies. This is a chemical reaction.

It's Not Easy Being Green

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Take a look at the pennies on their paper towels.  The rinsed pennies should still be bright and shiny — but what about the pennies that were not rinsed? The copper atoms on the surface of the unrinsed pennies have joined together with the atoms of oxygen in the air and the atoms of chlorine in the salt to form a compound called malachite, which is a distinctive blue-green colour. The surface of the Statue of Liberty, pictured above, is actually made of copper plates which have naturally weathered to the distinctive blue-green through the surface formation of malachite.

Of course, if you leave the pennies on the paper towels for long enough, even the rinsed ones will start to show signs of oxidation, and they’ll get all grungy-looking again. How long do you think it would take for the shiny, cleaned pennies to turn all brown and dirty again?

What About the Nails?

When the acidic vinegar-and-salt dissolved the copper oxide (the compound that originally made the pennies look dirty), it left atoms of copper floating in the solution in the bowl.  These copper atoms have what is known as a positive charge, since they left two of their negatively-charged electrons behind when the molecular bonds of the copper oxide were broken.

Back to the steel nail. Steel is a mixture of the element iron, carbon, and some others. The acidic vinegar solution also dissolves the chemical bonds in the steel a bit, so that there are iron atoms floating around in the solution. Like the copper atoms, these are also positively-charged ions, having left negative electrons behind.

So, then, the steel nail has a net negative charge, and the ions of copper and iron in the vinegar solution have a net positive charge — and you know what they say! Opposites do attract.  The copper ions are more strongly attracted to the nail than are the iron ions, and so a film of copper is deposited onto the nail.  Neat!


  • Suggested ages: 7 years and up
  • Time required: approximately 1 hour
  • Experiment cost: less than $1 — and that includes the pennies!
  • Science knowledge required: minimal

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Love Letter: Deliver De Letter, De Sooner De Better

Here at Scalliwag Toys, we have a weekly Games Night, during which customers can come in and play the featured game, choose from one of our open or demo games, or bring in something from home that they’d like to play.  Next Friday night, given that it will be Valentine’s Day, we’ll be playing a couple of games that, in some fashion, have love as one of their themes.

The Princess

The Princess

One of the games scheduled for 14 February’s Games Night is Love Letter, from publisher Alderac Entertainment Group.  Love Letter is a brilliant little card game for 2 to 4, in which players compete to deliver their love letter into the hands of the Princess, while keeping those of the other players away.

This whole idea sounded very strange to me at first — was this a story-telling game like Once Upon a Time? Were we going to role-play (a game mechanic I’m not overly fond of), each trying to be a more persuasive suitor than the other?

Thankfully, no. Love Letter is a game of bluffing and deduction, played over a series of rounds (how many rounds is kind of up to you). The game mechanic is simplicity itself: draw a card, play a card, do what it says. The highest card or the last card remaining at the end of the round gains a victory point. Simple, no?

The Guard

The Guard

Well, yes. And no. The deck consists of only 16 cards, one of which is discarded face down after the shuffle (so that even proficient card counters can never be quite sure who holds what). The point value, name, distribution, and effect of each card is as follows:

8 – Princess (1): Lose if discarded

7 – Countess (1): Discard if caught with King or Prince

6 – King (1): Trade hands with an opponent

5 – Prince (2): One player discards his or her hand and draws again

4 – Handmaid (2): Protection until one’s next turn

3 – Baron (2): Compare hands with another player; lower hand is out of the round

2 – Priest (2): Look at an opponent’s hand

1 – Guard (5): Guess an opponent’s hand. A successful guess means the opponent is out of the round.

It seems clear to me that Love Letter is a game whose appeal lies largely in the bluffing and deduction required to play. Luck plays a large part — there are so few cards, and each round lasts at most until the draw pile is exhausted — but it’s in what some reviewers have termed its “above-the-table” mechanic that Love Letter shines. As in the Dixit family of games, knowing your opponents can be an invaluable aid to successful bluffing!

Each round takes only a very few minutes to play. AEG suggests that a 2-player game is won when a player accumulates 7 tokens; a 3-player, after 5 tokens; and a 4-player after 4 tokens are won by one player.

Highly recommended. Great little filler game with a surprising amount of crafty fun.

Love Letter, 2-4 players, ages 10+.  CAD$12.99. In stock now.

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