Toys that entertain (and teach)

  1. Build-your-own battery pack for your iPod and other devices

    Does someone on your holiday gift list just hate it when their iPod or cell phone dies? Why not give them a MintyBoost? This simple device from Adafruit Industries lets people make their own battery pack/portable charger for an iPod, iPhone, GPS, camera, cell phone, or any other gadget that plugs into a USB port. The kit includes all the parts necessary to build a MintyBoost. The circuitry and two AA batteries fit into an Altoids gum tin, and will run an iPod for hours, two-and-a-half times longer than a boost from a 9-V USB charger. The newest kit, MintyBoost Kit v2.0, comes with an improved chip and provides twice as much current — 400 mA. The kit must be assembled but is suitable for beginners. (Some soldering is necessary.) Check the company's web page ( to see if the charger will work with your device before purchasing. Batteries, tools, and Altoids tin not included. $19.50

  2. Wind turbine model powers imaginations

    A new wind-turbine kit from Maker Shed ( contains everything you need to build a working windmill, test it, and learn how wind power actually works. Users get to assemble a miniature wind turbine, complete with electric generator, adjustable rotors, and wind-speed indicator. Then they can conduct more than 20 experiments with it, such as evaluating different numbers of rotor blades, blade angles and profiles, wind speeds, and gear ratios. The turbine can also generate mechanical power to lift a weight or make electricity to light an LED and charge a rechargeable battery. During the experiments, users discover the physics of force and motion as it applies to wind power, including how to measure and calculate the different forces acting on the rotor blades by breaking them down into vectors. They also discover how the sun makes the wind, providing an endless source of energy. As a bonus, the kit includes information on different types of wind turbines and windmills. $49.95

  3. Special lighting effects for your sink

    Got a sink that needs spiffing up? Then the LED Faucet Light is the gadget for you. It turns any faucet's stream of water into a glowing red or blue high-tech display that can act as a night light or just entertain. The device can also keep you safe. When the water temperature is below 89°, the stream is lit a cool blue. But when the temperature rises above that, the color shifts to red. The brushed-chrome device has a universal adapter that should fit any faucet and comes complete with installed batteries plus spares (G13-A style watch batteries). There's also an LED Shower Light that lets shower heads emit cool blue or hot red water. They are available from,, and other websites. $20

  4. Solar car kit revs up driveway fun

    According to the folks at Silicon Solar Inc. (, the SolaCar is “a toy and learning tool all in one.” If you're searching for a special gift for someone who loves to experiment and build, the SolaCar Kit is a fun and affordable place to start. Once assembled, the car provides hours of fun as it races along the driveway or sidewalk using only the power of the sun. No batteries required. All parts are included, as well as easy-to-follow directions. Estimated assembly time is 45 minutes. $14.95

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