Forget GoldieBlox. Buy These Toys Instead.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Nov. 29 2013 8:51 AM

Better Than GoldieBlox

Eight smart gift ideas for your little geniuses.

Skip the GoldieBlox. Get a Personalized Puzzle instead.

Product shot

After a whirlwind couple of weeks, there are lots of questions surrounding GoldieBlox, which makes “toys for future inventors.” Do the toys really combat the princess-industrial complex, or do they contribute to it? Was it fair use to remake the Beastie Boys’ “Girls” for the commercial, or were Mike D and Ad-Rock within their rights to complain? Are the blocks even any better than the other plastic crap we buy from China? All the brouhaha shows that one thing is certain: Parents really, really crave smart toys for their little geniuses.

So what is a parent to do, especially given the abbreviated shopping season this year? Never fear. We asked Slate staffers to recommend their favorite toys and games that provide a little intellectual stimulation, with the added benefit of actually being gender-neutral. Here’s what they gave their seal of approval.

SpaceRail Marble Roller Coaster
Ages: 8 and up
More versatile than Legos, which are like a crossword puzzle—a lot less fun once complete—and more, well, real than RollerCoaster Tycoon, these roller-coaster kits, with steel balls standing in for the car in live tests, can be redesigned over and over. The quest for the perfect roller coaster goes on …


Snap Circuits
Ages: 8 and up
For the budding electrical engineer. With one set of 30 pieces, you can try more than 100 different projects. Which means you should never again hear, “I’m booorrrred.” You will, but you shouldn’t.

Build and Paint a Birdhouse
Ages: 5 and up
This construction project is fun while it lasts, but the real joy comes months later when you hang it in the yard and birds start nesting in it. Really, they will! For a fun birthday party craft project, buy a bunch of premade houses and paints and let kids paint their own to take home. Not the crafty type? Try this window birdfeeder instead.

Ages: 5 and up
This set has tools to catch, keep, and examine bugs. Probably not a great gift if the dominant bug species in the kid’s ecosystem are scorpions or cockroaches, but otherwise a great way to get kids interested in nature.

Ages: 3 to 8
Multiple staffers recommend these interlocking tiles, claiming that they are “worth every penny” despite being “absurdly expensive.” The clear tiles snap together to make cool shapes and figures. Like Legos, they are expandable. Unlike Legos, you don’t have to turn 1,000 pieces into a fire station and then watch the kids melt down when two pieces get lost.

Zoomy Handheld Digital Microscope
Ages: all
This microscope is just the right shape and size for curious kids’ hands. Hold it over an object, then magnify it and take photos or video.

My First Mind Blowing Science Kit
Ages: 3 to 8
Despite the name, there is almost no chance of an explosion resulting from this gentle introduction to science. With the help of their parents, preschoolers and early graders can make squishy crystals and a small color-changing volcano, among other simple projects. Who knew there were so many practical uses for red cabbage juice powder?

Personalized Puzzles
Ages: 8 and up
Want to teach your kids how to read a map? Give them this challenging personalized puzzle that puts your street address smack dab in the middle of the map. Small caution: This may confirm their belief that they are indeed the center of the universe.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 2:56 PM How Faithful Is David Fincher’s Gone Girl?
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.