Gadgets: Puzzles that jump to life

By Phil the Gadget Guy
From the April 26, 2012 edition

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

If you do, you can go to the German version of the Ravensburger Puzzle online store (ravensburger.de) and buy their augmented reality puzzles. This unique product won’t be available in the U.S. (or on their U.S. website, ravensburger.com) until next fall.

The Ravensburger company has been around since 1883, but the firm started making jigsaw puzzles only about 50 years ago. Ravensburger recently released four 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles — a Paris city skyline, an underwater scene, an African safari scene and a Norwegian country scene — which reveal much more than a pretty picture when all the puzzle pieces are put together. Once you install the free AR Puzzle app for your iPhone or iPad, you’ll be able to point your device at the puzzle to create special animations and sound effects.

In the case of the Paris skyline puzzle, the augmented reality app will offer a panoramic of the city at night complete with fact bubbles identifying key tourist attractions.

The puzzles that bring all this “magic” to life are available now in Europe for 15 euros (just under $20).

For another toy that is out of the ordinary, check out Orbitwheels ($102, amazon.com). The manufacturer says that, if you’ve already mastered a skateboard or inline skates, this gadget should be a snap. The wheels in Orbitwheels whirl around your feet. The whole thing looks dangerous as hell to me, but then I haven’t had anything to do with skates since I was a small boy.

You’ll find plenty of YouTube videos of people on —or falling off of — their Orbitwheels. Almost all of them seem to be wearing helmets as they enjoy this gadget. That’s another sure tipoff for me to stay away from this product.

The next time you’re feeling sleepy at work and don’t want the buzz associated with a 5-hour energy drink, try the Ionic Purifier – USB ($30, skymall.com). Computers and fluorescent lights emit positive ions that are said to rob us of energy. The Ionic Purifier counteracts those bad ions by releasing 2 million negative (good) ions. Just plug this gadget into your computer’s USB port and see if you don’t feel refreshed and alert. If you don’t, please don’t blame me.