I have to say – I am yet again impressed with ThinkFun. They’re a company that produces these super fun games and puzzles, but they’re all designed to make you think. For about a year now, I’ve been periodically receiving sample to review from them – including Circuit Maze (solitaire puzzle great for STEM), Escape the Room (one of my favorite EVER tabletop games – super fun for the family), and Compose Yourself (deck of cards, internet enhanced, for creating musical compositions).
And, they’ve done it again with Balance Beans.
Before you get all misled (like I was)… this is no kiddie game. Oh, the littles can play, and they’ll enjoy the funny faces on the beans.
But this is a serious puzzle game for all ages. Even better, you can work in plenty of fun math (sneaky fun) while you’re busy taking turns, solving the puzzle challenges.
So, here are the basics: the game contains a balance board, beans in various colors and combinations (one, two, and three beans attached to each other), and a deck of cards with challenges.
The idea is to place the red beans on the balance board as indicated on a puzzle card, and then use specific beans to create a level, balanced board.
Easy? Well it is at first.
But then the challenges get more… challenging.
By the time you get to hard, you start to figure out a few strategies that help you solve the puzzles faster and more consistently.
And then you get to ADVANCED, and the puzzle designers change things on you a bit… just enough that you are back to square one, sorting out how to balance the board out.
Here’s the key: each bean, regardless of color weighs the same. However, where you place it on the board effects its relational weight to other beans. Beans placed in the center row have no bearing on the balance – no effective weight. It’s like adding nothing. Beans in the next row (marked 1) are kind of a baseline, because beans in the farthest row (marked 3) have the equivalent of three times any beans placed in row one.
what’s she talking about?
If you put three beans in row 1, the effect is equal to, or balanced by, one bean in row three.*
Or, the two red beans in row 1 (making 2 x 1) and one (yellow) bean in row 2 (making 1 x 2) . Balanced!
Hint #1: Up to a certain point, the solution will be symmetrical. That is, the configuration of beans on either side of the balance board will be a symmetrical shape.
Hint #2: Your solution may be valid, and not match the solution on the back of the card. (Great chance to sit down and think about why each is correct)
*Hint #3: Do the math. The beans on each side, if given a value based on the row in which they are located, will add up to the same quantity.
This: Let’s say you have three beans in row 1 on one side, and one bean in row 3 on the other side.
three beans times row 1 balance one bean time row 3
3 x 1 = 1 x 3
3 = 3
Or, you have two beans in row 2 on one side, one bean in row 1 and one bean in row 3 on the other side:
two beans in row 2 balance one bean in row 1 and one bean in row 3
2 x 2 = 1 x 1 + 1 x 3
4 = 1 + 3
Or, you have this:
1 bean in row 3 and three beans in row 2 and three beans in row 1 balance three beans in row 1 and zero beans in row 2 and three beans in row 3
1 x 3 + 3 x 2 + 3 x 1 = 3 x 1 + 0 x 2 + 3 x 3
3 + 6 + 3 = 3 + 0 + 9
12 = 12
Can you see the potential here for helping make algebra come to life? The thing is, I’m showing you the answers. To solve the puzzles, you work out the balances on your own.
And if this seems like “too much to figure out,” no worries. The included directions have explanations of how the puzzles relate to IMPORTANT STUFF FROM THE PAMPHLET. So, if you have a child who needs a little extra – whether that’s extra practice, extra insight, or just enrichment, no worries if you aren’t a math wizard. To be honest, my middle son (who possesses a lot of native math understanding) was (as I expected) drawn to this game. He kept begging for it (sigh) while I was trying to do some puzzles (hello! having fun here!). I turned it over to him when I started making dinner… and he finished out the entire advanced section of the deck before I served the meal. That said, just because he can do the puzzles doesn’t mean he’s made it into those higher levels of thinking (analysis, synthesis, and so on). Reading the pamphlet helped me be able to talk to him in “his language” about how the math works (and why maybe it’s not just about stupid algebra assignments “I’ll never use” or solving puzzles that are just for fun).
Psst: it’s totally okay to play Balance Beans for fun, too. I do.
I received a complimentary sample copy of Balance Beans from Think Fun, Inc., for testing and review purposes. Any opinion expressed in this post is mine alone. This post contains affiliate links.