Top critical review
Great concept; excellent learning opportunity; significant flaw
April 21, 2018
Before I start, I want to say my three-star rating is not necessarily advice to avoid this product.
The concept is terrific. It presents challenges both in logic, and basic electronic circuitry, at the same time. The challenges become increasingly difficult. Do not think that this is easy kids' stuff. I have puzzled over at least one of them for 45 minutes or more. The challenges are not just about figuring out the circuitry--how to get electricity to flow to where it is needed, how to set up both parallel and series circuits--but also about spatial relationships. You must use all of the pieces specified, and you must not have any loose ends. So in many cases, it is possible to come up with a solution easily, but you don't use all of the pieces, or you have a loose end. Then you have to tinker and experiment and (if you're really smart, which I am not!) picture in your mind how it should be.
Conceptually, this is one of the best learning toys I've ever seen. I would have simply *died* to have this as a kid. You would have needed a crowbar to pry me away from it. I should add, though, that I think it needs a bit of adult guidance, particularly guidance that has some knowledge of basic electronics. I discovered that there is no way you can light up all three of the LED pieces in series, and that is by design. It forces you, in challenges when all three LEDs must be lit up, to use parallel circuits. The instructions explain (and how) what series versus parallel looks like, but at no point do they say that you can't light up all three in series. This leads to a subtopic, the fact that the LED pieces have resistors built in, and this is exactly why you can't have all three in series. No mention of this, and to genuinely understand even the basics of circuitry, you must understand resistance.
So, as good as the learning is, it is even better if an adult is around to explain these things, when and as needed.
Now on to the flaw. The execution of this toy is lacking. In many, I might even say most, cases, there is no problem. You put the pieces in as they should be, and things light up as they should. In too many cases, however, there are one or two basic problems:
1. Pieces pop out. Just as you are pushing that last piece in, one of the already-placed pieces pops out. You push it back in, and yet another (or two, or three) pops out. This is worst when you have many pieces all placed into a small area, with no open spaces between them.
2. The contacts can be frustratingly weak. The pieces are in place, as they should be, but one or more of the LEDs won't light up. You have to push and squeeze together various pieces to close the contacts between them. Sometimes you see barely a flicker; sometimes a weak glow; sometimes, just the right push will get all of them to light up brightly. But other times, you have to press firmly on two or three different places to get any light at all.
These are relatively minor frustrations for me as an adult. They can confuse and turn off a kid, who may look at the solution, find out that she or he did everything right, but the stupid thing won't work. My freakishly gigantic Frankenstein hands* make it easier to push and prod at several spots on the board at the same time than it would be for a kid.
I have tried to tinker with the pieces. On some of them, you can try to bend the contacts out a little, at the risk of damaging the piece. This seems to help temporarily. But the contacts on the LED pieces are installed in a way that you simply cannot adjust them, short of tearing the piece apart and breaking it.
So, with these limitations, I would advise yet again that an adult be available for help and advice if trouble like this crops up. If a kid is the determined type, s/he won't need or want any help, and will figure out how to deal with the product's limitations. And will probably chase you away from the table, "Mom, Dad, leave me alone! I'm doing science!" Otherwise, a little encouragement, and a little, "Don't be frustrated, you got it right" would go a long way toward making up for the missing two stars in my review.
*No really, they're like lobster claws from some sci fi movie where radiation makes the lobsters hideously huge, and they go bald and have spare tires and why don't these glasses work any more, what's that, speak up, why are you whispering, oh right, now I remember, I'm destroying Tokyo, has anybody seen my glasses, oh wait, I'm wearing them.