by Katy Killilea
In the beginning, the hot item in my bag of tricks was a container of Cheerios. Then along came a small spiral notebook and an Altoids box filled with crayons. Later it was an envelope of family photos and some stickers. Suddenly it seems only Andy Samberg SNL clips, played on my phone, will do for emergency entertainment. Yet we have not slid down the slippery slope into electronics completely. Books, for example, are still possible. And so are unelectrified games. Activities that are easy to bring along, without little pieces, and that will absorb a child’s attention while waiting at a restaurant are musts for a parent’s bag of tricks.
Dice are easy to keep in your bag or a coat pocket and are somehow magically entertaining. “First person to roll a ten” evolves into “first person to roll ten sevens” becomes limitless rolling toward goals as complicated, suspenseful, and random as time allows. The caveat here is that dice are easy to lose–stolen by a dog or camouflaged among crumpled dinner napkins. Luckily, they are inexpensive to replace and can often be found in large quantities–by the bagful–at Savers stores.
The portable game we’ve beenÂ playing lately is Slamwich. It is simply a deck of cards that look like bread slices covered in assorted fillings: bacon, lettuce, melted cheese, tuna, gummy bears. There are a few special cards–Munchers and Thieves–to watch out for. This game is very easy to learn and combines luck with quick reaction time–like slapjack, but with a tiny bit more attention required and fun illustrations. Best of all, it is one of those great games where adults can try their hardest to win and still lose, a delightful situation for any family waiting around for something to happen. New this spring from the same maker is Dweebies, a fast and twisty matching game with silly characters in smashing colors. Both of these games come in sturdy tin boxes, so cards are easy to corral when dinner arrives.Â (Both from Gamewright: Slamwich $10, recommended for ages 6 and up; Dweebies $11, recommended for ages 8 and up.)
For something totally old-fashioned that feels fresh, how about aÂ round of modern bingo? KnockKnock now offers bingo cards for families out on the town and on road trips. The Kids’ Night Out bingo cards include a child in one of those ubiquitous wooden high chairs, sugar packets, and a drinking straw. (How did KnockKnock know we’re going to Newport Creamery?) Sold in packs of 12 perforated cards, these are sturdy enough to use repeatedly. The items to spot are common enough that the game moves along at a happy clip. (From KnockKnock, $8. Also available with Baby Shower, Bar, Airplane, and Cafe themes.)
The best low-tech travel game may be a partnered hand-clapping game like Miss Mary Mack or One Potato Two Potato. All you need are hands. Or better yet: Rock, Paper, Scissors. Only one hand is needed.
What do you keep in your bag of tricks? Share your ideas with us by posting comments.
Editor’s note: Game publishers provided review copies. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for product recommendations.