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Pocket full of fun

Peter Ransom discovers a highly enjoyable recreation puzzle that will help children develop a range of skills and keep them entertained for hours

Lonpos 101 Pyramid and Rectangle Game is a fun and stimulating pocket-sized puzzle. It involves placing 12 differently coloured pieces either into an 11x5 rectangle or a 5x5 square-based pyramid. The pieces consist of three, four, or five small spheres joined together, and the box in which they come can be opened out to reveal an 11x5 grid of indented hemispheres. It can also be used in its closed form since the base has a 5x5 grid of similarly indented hemispheres to hold the base of the pyramid securely.

The instruction booklet comes with 101 puzzles, ranging from easy (I would say trivial, since 11 pieces are shown in place and you have to place the last piece correctly) to difficult. In all cases the positions of some pieces are shown and the object is to complete the rectangle or pyramid as quickly as possible. With two or more sets players can compete against each other in a race to see who solves the puzzle first. No solutions are given, probably because in a number of cases there are several solutions. It is not recommended that this puzzle be given to unsupervised children below the age of eight, because of the small parts involved. It appears that a classroom demonstration version is also available.

I enjoyed the puzzle immensely - the tactile sensation of the pieces and the ease with which they fit together help to make this an attractive recreation. It should help develop motor skills and spatial ability, as well as patience. I did not have the patience to find all the claimed 363,566 solutions to both rectangle and pyramid puzzles! However, I did return to it a number of times and reckon that it would be a popular pastime if it was included as part of the maths club equipment. Like any puzzle though, the problem is getting it all back into its case at the end of any session in time for the next lesson (the secret here is to use one of the simplest puzzles to show you where all but one of the pieces fit into the rectangle).

The plastic box is pocket-sized and the secure catch holds it firmly shut with the instruction booklet inside. This means that it is an excellent entertainment to take on holiday as it doesn't take up much space and, with plenty of puzzles, it can keep you busy for quite some time. It's not cheap however, and the postage and packing seems rather exorbitant.

The distributor, Spark of Inspiration, writes: "We advise that to gain maximum benefit from Lonpos 101, young children are supervised and guided by adults or more able children. Children benefit the most when the problem set is at the right level for them, so perhaps work through the puzzles from the first level and provide support, and a lot of encouragement, when they reach the harder levels. It is known that children working in mixed-ability groups can benefit if encouraged to share problem-solving ideas and techniques. Those that are more able provide the scaffolding that generates confidence and understanding in their peers.

"The great thing about Lonpos is that it can turn the abstract concepts of maths into something more hands-on and concrete. Once a child develops their understanding of the concrete, physical pieces that they can touch, feel and actually manipulate into positions of their choice, they will be better able to understand the more abstract concepts of space and geometry.

Confidence builds confidence."

Spark of Inspiration distributes the puzzle and its website leads visitors to the Lonpos site, where free puzzles can be downloaded and more advanced puzzles are available.

* Spark of Inspiration Stand T61

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