Cool Toys Archive

Cool Spy Gadgets for Kids to Make: Decoder Wheel

Posted April 20, 2016 By Puzzle Mom
Secret Decoder

Updated April 20, 2016 – I’ve been racking my brain trying to find a fun way to introduce cryptograms for kids.  Then I remembered why I got interested in cryptograms in the first place.  I wanted to be a Super-Spy when I grew up, of course!  And part of being a Super Spy is being able to read secret messages, just like cryptograms.  So I thought, why not combine the two and make decoder wheel a part of solving our cryptograms?  And of course, a secret decoder is one of the must-have cool spy gadgets for kids who are SERIOUS about being Super Spies themselves.



Introducing the Kids Puzzles Online Secret Decoder!


So, for Kids Puzzles Online’s beginner cryptograms for kids, we are introducing the concept of the Decoder Wheel.  The decoder wheel is based on the famous Caesar Cipher, named after Julius Caesar who used such a wheel to send secret messages to his many spies throughout the Roman Empire.  But here at Kids Puzzles Online,  we will also be using it as a tool to teach kids how to solve cryptograms by 1) starting to get the kids used to deciphering codes of course, and 2) by using simple recurring words and letter combinations in our puzzles (such as the, and, is, in, in the, is the, str, ie, etc.), we expose them to common word formats, sentence structure and grammatical patterns which will help to develop their skills in deciphering cryptograms – and all this without making it a long drawn out English lesson!  WHEW!


But even better, a Decoder Wheel is so easy to make and a fun activity to do with your child.  So, spend a nice afternoon to make decoder wheel, and then reward them with the fun puzzles they can solve using the wheel.


Plus, if your kids are into the spy thing like mine are, why not have them also custom-make decoder wheel to give to their BFF (or spy team), so they can write secret notes to each other.  Click Here for the Kids Puzzles Online Secret Decoder or enter your email below so I can send you a blank customizable template.


[contact-form-7 id=”689″ title=”Free Decoder Template”]



How to Make a Decoder Wheel


You will need:

  • Print out of the Decoder Wheel Template  on cardstock is best.  If not, you can glue on cardstock or leave as is)
  • Scissors
  • String (wool or thick string is best) – long enough so you can easily tie a knot (7”-10”)
  • Needle (with hole big enough to fit the string you are using)
  • 2 buttons (or beads)

Putting it together:


  1. Cut out the outside and inside wheels from the template.  (Note: if you are gluing to cardstock, do it first and wait for glue to dry before cutting)
  2. Thread needle and string.
  3. First sew in the back button.
  4. Then, going from the back of the outside wheel, poke the needle through the center (where the dot is).
  5. Next, from the back of the inside wheel, poke the needle through the center (where the dot is)
  6. Then sew in the front button.
  7. Now you go backwards.  If you have a button, poke the needle through the other hole first, then continue onto the next step.  Otherwise, if you have a bead, just skip this step.
  8. With the needle, poke back into the front hole of the inside wheel.  Then the front hole of the outside wheel.
  9. You’ll now end up with your needle and thread at the back of your wheel.
  10. Finally, poke it through the other button hole (if using a button), or simple tie a firm knot.  The front and back beads/buttons will stop the string from going through.

And that’s it!

You should now be able to spin the top wheel

and start solving cryptograms for kids.


Check out some other cool spy gear and activities for kids:



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Japanese Puzzle Box, wooden puzzle boxes


If you’re looking for a gift that’s fun to give, absolutely amusing to watch someone receive it, and then continue to be a talking (or show-off) piece even after the party’s over, then you have to take a look at this Japanese puzzle box.  It really is the ultimate gift for any kid (or adult for that matter) who just loves a challenge.

To be honest, I don’t even know how I came across these wooden puzzles boxes.  I do remember a couple of years ago when my brother-in-law gave my son a clear little plastic box that was completely sealed with a $50 note folded up inside.  The challenge of course was to get the coveted money without breaking the box.  The ultimate “escape room” toy.  Now my son is the ultimate puzzler and loves a challenge, so enter Brother-in-Law -> he who has made it his mission to find THE ultimate gift that will stump my son.  It hasn’t happened yet and to this day, brother-in-law searches high and low as he continues his quest.  Although, in the interim, he has satisfied himself that as long as the puzzle can last more than half an hour unsolved, then he has succeed…somewhat.

Anyway, that was then.  And in case you were curious, my son did get the $50 note and it did take him a few hours to work it out.  So minor victory for brother-in-law and…well, a double-win for the kid.  What can I say?  It’s all in the genes 😉

But back to this Japanese puzzle box.

My son received this from Santa last Christmas and I guess what brother-in-law couldn’t achieve, Santa definitely succeeded with flying colors.  My son was stumped!  And since Santa didn’t leave any instructions, my determined boy had to go online and do some digging.  Unfortunately, hubby and I were no help at all since we knew nothing about this strange looking box.

But he persevered and once he found out what this box was and how it worked, he was just beside himself!  He absolutely loved it and to this day, continues to show it off to his friends who all want one – no kidding!  Even the ones who aren’t into puzzles couldn’t resist this intriguing, mysterious looking box that holds who-knows-what secret.

The particular box referenced in the video is the Himitsu Bako Japanese Puzzle Box.  These boxes are beautifully handcrafted in the traditional Himitsu Bako style and they are described by size and number of steps to solve it.  For example, this one is “4 sun 12.”  So the “sun” is a rough measurement in inches, in this case, it is about 4.8″ and 12 steps to solve.  However, they can go as large as about 7 sun and 125 steps to solve.  Can you imagine?  125 steps!

Because the box isn’t see through like that money box I was talking about, I would suggest putting a little trinket inside just so it peaks the curiosity and interest of the recipient.  Think about it – a mysterious (almost ancient) looking box with no apparent opening and something strange rattling inside?  Who wouldn’t be intrigued?  Am I right?


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Puzzle Mom’s Top 5 Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids

Posted November 10, 2015 By Puzzle Mom
Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids

Are you stuck for Christmas gift ideas for kids? 

Or maybe you’re scrambling for some some last minute affordable stocking stuffers?

Stocking Stuffer Ideas Kids


Puzzle Mom to the rescue!  We’ve found some really fun and unique toys that your kids will be sure to enjoy – even MONTHS after you take down the Christmas tree.

All toys recommended at Kids Puzzles Online have been played with or suggested by real kids and have been given the stamp of “Cool.”  And, you won’t find these under the fad-section in your toy store so rest easy, you won’t have to run around town looking for these since most are available from Amazon and ship within days.  I also try to keep them reasonably priced, so they won’t break the budget.

Word of caution: These toys are so super cool, adults might try to steal them away from the kiddos!


#1 – Educational Insights Kanoodle

Educational Insights Kanoodle
This very cool toy came into our life quite by accident.  My son won a competition and he picked this out as the prize.  It’s a set of 12 puzzle pieces and it’s like Tetris but better.  It combines logic and spacial reasoning skills.

How it works: The clue starts you off with several pieces arranged on the board.  The task is to then fit the remaining pieces to fill in the blank spaces to complete the board.  I know it sounds easy, but believe me, it’s not.  And the strange thing about this is that older doesn’t mean wiser!  My 11-year-old son and I were struggling for some time on one of the puzzles, and along comes my 8-year-old daughter and completed it just like that!  I was amazed (and my son slightly miffed)!  It even includes 3D puzzles where you have to complete a pyramid.

See what other customers have to say about the Kanoodle

What we also love about this:

  • Pocket-sized with built in game board (5.6 x 3.2 x 1 inches) so it’s completely portable.
  • Includes over 100 puzzles so it will be awhile before you solve them all
  • Great distraction and kids will really spend hours doing this
  • It is a solitaire game so the kids can play with this on their own
  • Inexpensive.  Suggest buying an extra 2 or 3 of these so you can turn it into a game competing with others
  • Excellent rainy day game
  • Suitable for the whole family – truly, even teens to adults will get as much fun out of it
  • Recommended for Ages 7+


  • Small pieces so younger kids need to take care not to lose them
  • Unless you get an extra set, only one person can play at a time


#2 – ThinkFun Gordians Knot

ThinkFun Gordians Knot
I absolutely LOVE this puzzle!  It’s actually just as much fun to take apart as it is to try and put it back together again.  I do have to admit, there are so many steps that it’s probably more suited to the older kids.  The manufacturer recommends Ages 14+ and that sounds about right, but kids a couple of years younger who are really into these types of puzzles will enjoy it too.

See what others have to say about the Gordians Knot

What we also love about this:

  • Comes with an instruction book, so you’re not completely lost (hahaha)
  • Provides hours of fun – a definite boredom buster
  • Portable and lightweight
  • Suitable for the whole family.
  • Recommended for Ages 14+ (but I think younger kids who love challenging puzzles would enjoy this as well)


  • Level of difficulty may lead to frustration (but, difficulty is relative, isn’t it?)
  • Not for the faint-hearted (haha)


#3 – ThinkFun Adams Cube

Winner of the Parents Choice Gold Award

ThinkFun Adams CubeThis is such a fun puzzle that has actually been around for ages.  It looks pretty simple with only 5 pieces and 6 sides…but don’t be fooled.  Each side is challenging by it’s own rights.

How it works: Each side has a unique polygon shape.  The object is to arrange all 5 pieces within the polygon frame.  Each side gets more challenging.

See what other have to say about the Adams Cube


What we also love about this:

  • Small & portable (3.8 x 3.8 x 3.8 inches)
  • Perfect for long car trips, waiting in restaurants, or anywhere needed to keep the kids occupied
  • Suitable for the whole family, even younger kids
  • Even though it’s solitaire, great to share with friends
  • Recommended Ages 7+


  • This is a toy you keep coming back to, but at the end of the day, there are only 6 puzzles.
  • Fun for older kids but I don’t think it’s as challenging as some of the other puzzles I’m recommending.  (But then again, my kids do think I’m too tough :)  )


#4 – Perplexus Original

PerplexusA few years ago when the Perplexus first came out, it was going for over $20.  But after browsing on Amazon, I am SO glad to report that I have found it for $15.99!  Why am I excited?  Because even years later, my kids still love to play with this and at this price, I am going to be purchasing a few as well since we’ve got several birthdays and Christmas parties to go to.  I was struggling with whether to include the Perplexus on my list because I wouldn’t exactly call it “brain teaser” challenging…but, it is DEFINITELY challenging and it always gets double thumbs up from my kids’ friends, so I thought I had to share it with you and let this sneak onto my list.

See other customer reviews – they rave on about it too!

How it works: Remember those little maze games you get in the goodie bags with the little metal ball you have to maneuver from start to finish?  Well, this is similar but 100 TIMES more challenging!  Take a close look at the picture – you have to move the ball through all those twists and turns and not let it fall off – otherwise, back to the start!  It drives the kids crazy but they can’t put it down!

What we also love about this:

  • From 5-year-old to adults…you will have a blast trying to complete this.
  • Provides hours upon hours of fun
  • Number 1 boredom buster
  • Recommended Ages 5+


  • It’s not pocket sized, so can’t fit inside a purse.  But if you want to carry a hobo bag…?
  • Won’t really work in the car since it requires steady hands and careful precision – but non-moving locations would be fine


#5 – Rubik’s Cube

Rubiks CubeMy Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids list wouldn’t be complete without the Rubik’s Cube.  It’s the ultimate brain teaser puzzle that has become a “sport” in its own right, with Speedcubing competitions held all around the world by the World Cubing Association.  I have to say, we’ve attended a few of these events, and my son even entered one of the competitions and the experience was surreal but so much fun.  Do a Google Search on Speedcubing competitions in your area and pop in to see what I’m talking about.  These are kids with amazing talent, solving the cube at under 10 seconds!

See what others are saying about the Rubiks Cube


What we also love about this:

  • Portable and lightweight
  • Even if not solving, it’s actually a great “stress-reliever” and helps with fiddly fingers
  • Grab a few of these for cubing competitions
  • Maybe it’s the colors, but even my 3-year-old niece finds hours of amusement with it


  • If your child is serious about speedcubing, then the Rubiks Cube is “stiffer” compared to those used by the competitors and they won’t see any time improvements on this.  I would suggest purchasing a speedcube such as the Dayan ZhanChi to practice on instead.

If you love the cube but already have one, or want to add a bit of a WOW factor, try one of these:

[table id=16 /]


And there you have it.  My Top 5 Christmas gift ideas for kids – a little bit different, but a whole lot of fun.

I hope you have a VERY  

Merry Christmas



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