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10 Brilliant Gifts for the Curious Kid in Your Life

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Encourage someone’s boundless curiosity this holiday season. Here are 11 gifts designed for your niece who’s going through her “why” phase, your little cousin who dreams of being an astronomer, or your favorite young-at-heart amateur inventor. 

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1. THE ALPHABET OF ANIMAL PROFESSIONS POSTER, $29

Help some little ones learn their ABCs through this cute, whimsical poster that imagines how animals might earn their living. Ducks are doctors, penguins are photographers, and zebras are zoologists. 

Find it: Pop Chart Lab

2. LAB TEST GAMES; $20

These four particle-inspired brainteasers can keep the whole family occupied over the holidays. Take the wooden puzzles apart and put them back together in the shape of an atom, a molecule, a particle, and a cell. Try not to peek at the solutions!

Find it: UncommonGoods

3. BIOLUMINESCENT DINO PET; $60

Satisfy someone’s need for thousands of pets by making them the caretaker of legions of dinoflaggelates, plankton that glow neon blue at night. The dinosaur-shaped tank will be a bright, low-maintenance addition to any family. 

Find it: UncommonGoods

4. LETTERS FOR KIDS;$6.50 PER MONTH OR $66 PER YEAR

Nothing’s more exciting than getting a letter in the mail—especially for kids who weren’t alive for the pre-email age. Every month, the literary website The Rumpus commissions young adult and middle-grade authors to write letters for kids 6 years and older. A monthly subscription gets your young bookworm two letters a month from authors like Lemony Snicket, the Newbery Medal-winning Susan Patron, and more. 

Find it: The Rumpus

5. EDIBLE CHEMISTRY SET; $18

If you give something to a child, chances are, it’s going to end up in their mouth. Why not just embrace it? This edible chemistry set teaches youngsters about reactions through safe-to-consume experiments involving carbonation, turning green jelly blue, and more. 

Find it: UncommonGoods

6. ROBOT TURTLES; $18

Robot Turtles is more than just a fun board game. The successful Kickstarter product is designed to teach children as young as 4 the basics of programming. Kids (and adults!) have to make silly noises to move their turtles around the game board in pursuit of jewels. 

Find it: Amazon

7. BUDDINGSTEM TRAIN DRESS, $39

This t-shirt dress from buddingSTEM—a company devoted to providing clothes for science-loving girls who don’t need another princess dress—is made for young transportation nerds and aspiring engineers. It’s perfect for masterminding model train routes and brainstorming locations for the family’s next travel adventure.

Find it: buddingSTEM

8. MUDWATT CLASSIC KIT, $58

MudWatt’s science kits turn dirt into a power plant. Each kit harnesses microbes growing naturally in soil to generate electricity. Just add dirt, and after a week, it can power a digital clock. In the process, kids learn about microbes, soil, and the science of electricity.

Find it: Amazon

9. LITTLEBITS GIZMOS AND GADGETS KIT; $200

Future inventors, tinkerers, and programmers will love these piecemeal building blocks. The kid-friendly circuit modules snap together to make tiny robots, with no previous programming knowledge required. The LittleBits kit comes with all the tools necessary to make 12 inventions, including a wireless doorbell and a spinning lamp, plus whatever else your favorite curious kid can come up with. 

Find it: Amazon  

10. DUNECRAFT CARNIVOROUS CREATURES SCIENCE KIT; $35

Young botanists and nature-lovers will delight in this terrarium grow kit for carnivorous plants. It comes with an LED light that’s powered by USB, so no need to worry about finding sunny window space. These insect-eating plants are sure to get any kid's attention. 

Find it: Dune Craft

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"American Mall," Bloomberg
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Unwinnable Video Game Challenges You to Keep a Shopping Mall in Business
"American Mall," Bloomberg
"American Mall," Bloomberg

Shopping malls, once the cultural hub of every suburb in America, have become a punchline in the e-commerce era. There are plenty of malls around today, but they tend to be money pits, considering the hundreds of "dead malls" haunting the landscape. Just how hard is it to keep a mall afloat in the current economy? American Mall, a new video game from Bloomberg, attempts to give an answer.

After choosing which tycoon character you want as your stand-in, you're thrown into a mall—rendered in 1980s-style graphics—already struggling to stay in business. The building is filled with rats and garbage you have to clean up if you want to keep shoppers happy. Every few seconds you're contacted by another store owner begging you to lower their rent, and you must either take the loss or risk them packing up for good. When stores are vacated, it's your job to fill them, but it turns out there aren't too many businesses interested in setting up shop in a dying mall.

You can try gimmicks like food trucks and indoor playgrounds to keep customers interested, but in the end your mall will bleed too much money to support itself. You can try playing the bleak game for yourself here—maybe it will put some of the retail casualties of the last decade into perspective.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Why the Soundtracks to Games Like 'Mario' or 'The Sims' Can Help You Work
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When I sat down to write this article, I was feeling a little distracted. My desk salad was calling me. I had new emails in my inbox to read. I had three different articles on my to-do list, and I couldn't decide which to start first. And then, I jumped over to Spotify and hit play on the theme to The Sims. As I listened to the upbeat, fast-paced, wordless music, my writing became faster and more fluid. I felt more “in the zone,” so to speak, than I had all morning. There's a perfectly good explanation: Video games provide the ideal productivity soundtrack. At Popular Science, Sara Chodosh explains why video game music can get you motivated and keep you focused while you work, especially if you're doing relatively menial tasks. It's baked into their composition.

There are several reasons to choose video game music over your favorite pop album. For one, they tend not to have lyrics. A 2012 study of more than 100 people found that playing background music with lyrics tended to distract participants while studying. The research suggested that lyric-less music would be more conducive to attention and performance in the workplace. Another study conducted in open-plan offices in Finland found that people were better at proofreading if there was some kind of continuous, speechless noise going on in the background. Video game music would fit that bill.

Plus, video game music is specifically made not to distract from the task at hand. The songs are meant to be listened to over and over again, fading into the background as you navigate Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom or help Link save Zelda. My friend Josie Brechner, a composer who has scored the music for video games like the recently released Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, says that game music is definitely written with this in mind.

"Basically, successful video game music straddles the balance between being engaging and exciting, but also not wanting to make you tear your ears off after the 10th or 100th listen," Brechner says. Game music often has a lot of repetition, along with variation on musical themes, to keep the player engaged but still focused on what they're playing, "and that translates well to doing other work that requires focus and concentration."

If you're a particularly high-strung worker, you might want to tune into some relaxing classical music or turn on a song specifically designed to calm you. But if you want to finish those expense reports on a Monday morning, you're better off choosing a fast-tempo ditty designed for seemingly pointless activities like making your Sims eat and go to the toilet regularly. (It can help you with more exciting work responsibilities, too: Other research has found that moderate background noise can increase performance on creative tasks.)

These types of songs work so well that there are entire playlists online devoted just to songs from video game soundtracks that work well for studying. One, for instance, includes songs written for The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Super Smash Bros., and other popular games.

The effect of certain theme songs on your productivity may, however, depend on your particular preferences. A 2010 study of elementary school students found that while calming music could improve performance on math and memory tests, music perceived as aggressive or unpleasant distracted them. I was distracted by the deep-voiced chanting of the "Dragonborn Theme" from Skyrim, but felt charged up by the theme from Street Fighter II. There's plenty of variety in video game scores—after all, a battle scene doesn't call for the same type of music as a puzzle game. Not all of them are going to work for you, but by their nature, you probably don't need a lot of variation in your work music if you're using video game soundtracks. If you can play a game for days on end, you can surely listen to the same game soundtrack over and over again.

[h/t Popular Science]

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