With Christmas just around the corner again, shopping with the kids takes on a whole new festive dimension for working parents eager to make their Santa gift dreams come true without breaking the bank. It’s also a good opportunity to catch up on the latest trends in toy packaging: to see which toymakers are treating their product packaging with the due diligence and attention it deserves in this hotly contested marketplace. In my experience, toys with superior packaging are often the ones that are the most fun to play with by both the kids and their parents, which is what Christmas spirit is really all about.
Suitable for ages from six to 106, as proclaimed by the information label attached to the adorable whale-shaped canvas bag with a zipper enclosure, the award-winning Möbi Children’s Math Game is a natural computational companion to the universally revered Scrabble, except it uses the 162 Scrabblesque tiles inside the pouch to create crossword-style mathematical equations. Borrowing its name from the math world’s Möbius Strip surface geometry and its packaging look from Herman Melville’s literary masterpiece Moby Dick, this challenging math game makes playing with numbers a prime pursuit in an approachable, interactive way that removes the intimidation factor from learning math—thereby doubling as terrific teaching aid for teachers and parents steering their kids to learn their numbers and basic mathematical functions. With whimsical portable packaging that it is small enough to toss in a backpack or purse, putting fun into math is a remarkable feat for the game’s creators and their creation’s catchy brand slogan: “No matter what path you take in life, numbers will meet you at the door.”
Created by Popular Playthings, the ORBO Snap and Match Puzzle ball is a cleverly-designed spherical puzzle toy that challenges young kids and toddlers to guide its color-coded mini-spheres to their proper slots by snapping them into place to solve the puzzle. The general idea here is to push the colored mini-balls inside the foam surface and to use one’s fingers to manipulate and advance them into their color-matching holes until completing the desired pattern. Very reminiscent of the beloved Rubik’s Cube, the colorful ORBO ball is packaged inside a cube-shaped, see-through plastic clamshell held together by two large, bright product labels on opposite sides of the shell—each partially folded inside the bottom plastic base to keep the package intact until opening. The top of the plastic dome features a die-cut hole that allows one to touch the ball’s foam surface and one of the movable spheres—practically daring the consumer to start solving the package even before purchase. In the end, the urge to solve it is usually just too much to resist buying it outright to complete the challenge at home. With no loose pieces to worry about, the ORBO ball provides a handy, travel-friendly companion that can keep the kids amused for hours on end, while exercising their little hands and stimulating their developing brains all at once.
On the other end of the scale, the Perplexus labyrinth from Spin Master is a clear plastic sphere containing an intricate maze totaling 22 feet of twisted, multilayered plastic track running through it, whereby a user must carefully manipulate a marble to the top corner by flipping, twisting and spinning the sphere to move the ball along a numbered path through a series of obstacles—ultimately completing a total of 70 different problem-solving challenges. Partially encased in a form-fitting folded cardboard box to tempt consumers into giving it a try right in the store aisle, the Perplexus game sphere is certainly “easy to play, but hard to master,” as the carton proclaims on the side panel. While I appreciate the clever “difficulty meter” graphic in the top corner of the box, I really think that the box could provide a little more instruction on how to get started, even with the entry-level Perplexus Rookie model pictured here. What it does have, instead, is an advertisement for three other, more advanced versions of the toy with ascending levels of difficulty, which comes across as a tad self-serving.
Invented by the San Francisco, Ca.-based Tangle Toys, the Tangle Jr. Classic set of Tangle Brain Tools—a series of 90-degree plastic sections jointed together and able to pivot at each joint point to create a vast number of odd-shaped curved sculptures—can provide countless hours of keeping the little one’s idle hand busy. Marketed as a creative, therapeutic activity claimed to promote cognitive recognition and problem-solving capacity in young children under the age of 10 to 12, the self-described “fun twisty thing” is suitably packaged in a triangular, clear rigid-plastic prism that makes the product really pop out from the crowd on the store-shelves to grab the shopper’s attention. The inserted product label contains plenty of useful product information on how and why this product “makes you happy” on the bottom side of the label panel, aptly supported with pictures of happy children and parents who simply “can’t put it down.”
Shannon Kaupp is a licensed doctor of naturopathic medicine living and practicing in Toronto.