CABIN FEVER: Making Rice Puzzles!

DSC08735-300x225Several years ago, when I was sitting in an emergency room with one of my sons (not really sure which one, we’re frequent visitors to the local ER), I noticed a curious object sitting on the magazine table. It was a small plastic soda bottle, filled with rice.

Upon further investigation we discovered it was a game. The local Boy Scout troop had made several of them, to be used by children waiting their turn for stitches, casts and antibiotics. The premise was simple. On the front of each plastic bottle was a list of the tiny items that were hiding in the rice. By turning the bottle around in your hand, and displacing the rice, you could uncover a variety of small items, like plastic animals and colorful beads. It kept my son busy for hours, as we waited our turn.

I filed the idea in the back of my brain, knowing some day we were going to make some of our own. It was a simple idea, using simple objects I could come up with. Right up my alley.

I have to admit I kind of forgot about the idea for awhile. Then a co-worker brought in some plastic containers and wondered if anyone had a use for them. They were small, and round (former packaging for Crystal Light Drink Mix) –  the perfect shape for my rice project. Even better than using rinsed out 20 oz. soda bottles, like our Boy Scout friends.

As if fate were following me, the next day a different co-worker brought in a factory made game she’d received for Christmas. It was from a company called Find It, and it was the professional version of my rice idea. I knew it was time to try this project on for size.

The basic supplies

So a few weeks ago, when the snow just kept coming, and my geek kids were very close to running out of sanity preserving activities, I pulled out the rice and we dove in. We decided to make several, and give them as gifts to some young nephews and nieces who have birthdays in the next few months.

The supplies needed are very basic. A plastic container (or cleaned out soda bottle), rice, an assortment of beads or mini figures, a bit of super glue and tape, and a simple print out of the items to find.

My son, sorting out the ABC beads to spell his cousin’s names.

We purchased our beads from Wal-Mart and JoAnn’s Craft Store. I wanted a variety of items, with a few letters and numbers thrown in for good measure. If you’re a crafty family, you might have plenty of beads to work with already in your home. Small plastic toys work well too.

I chose some transportation oriented beads (train, boat, car, plane) and some sports beads (baseball, football, soccer ball and basketball). To make it more interesting, we sorted out specific colors of the transportation beads, listing the items to find by color (example: A blue train or a pink boat). This allows you to put more than one of each bead in the mix, since the seeker has to find a blue and a red train.

Then we had some fun with the lettered beads. For each child’s game we put in only the letters in his or her name. This takes some organization, if you’re making more than one game, but it’s worth it for personalization fun.We made one extra game with all of the letters, A-Z.  Each game also got one each of all the numbers, 0-10.

The next step, after you’ve made your piles and have each plastic bottle filled with its beads, is to add the rice. This is a bit messy, but easy to clean up. We tried using a funnel but found it was just easier to pour the rice straight from the bag. The trick is to not fill the bottle. You have to leave some head room, so there’s room to roll the rice around and find the beads.

All the beads, sorted and ready to go.
Messy = Fun, right?

The neat and pretty way to finish the game is to run a line of super glue around the top, then press it on. I knew our games would be used by energetic young children, and wanted to spare their parents any anguish that an unsecure top might bring, so we super glued, then ran some clear packing tape around the top.

The finished product, non-personalized edition

This project is a good gift idea for adults and children. The variety of beads that would interest children is vast. Each craft store has it’s own version of themed beads and trinkets. You could make a pirates treasure version for the goodie bag of a pirate themed birthday party. A horse loving child would love a version full of different types of horse mini figures. Use your imagination and personal interests and custom build your game.

For adults you could pick beads and trinkets associated with a favorite sports team, college, or hobby. You’d be surprised how many adults have fun playing with our kid version when it’s left on the coffee table. It’s a great toy for long car rides and fits easily into an airplane carry on. There are no small pieces to lose (if you secure the top well!) and the act of rolling the rice around, and around, and around, is actually quite peaceful.

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