Gift Guides

Kinetic Sand: Sculpt it, Spread it, Move it

May 31, 2013

The moment I saw Kinetic Sand, I was addicted. At first, I played with it and felt like I was a kid at the beach again, playing with sand castle molds. I couldn’t wait to bring it into our assortment. I brought it to the office to pass around to my coworkers – my teammates absent-mindedly played with it during meetings and at their desks. It’s fun for kids and also the perfect stress ball or thinking toy. I love sharing this item with friends, because as soon as people understand what it is and what it does, they can’t get enough.

Here are a few examples of what happened when I introduced some unsuspecting members of our team and artist family to this workable, sandy substance.

First, customer service specialists Valerie and Lauren gave this not-quite-putty a try.

They mushed it, squished it, and watched it flow.

Then they practiced their sculpting skills by reproducing some of their favorite uncommon goods.

Tabletop Buyer Candace brought her sand on a visit to Twig Terrariums, and Michelle and Katy’s reaction was priceless.

I’m sure keeping a few piles of Kinetic Sand around the office will result in many more impromptu product testing sessions. After all, it’s proof that you can have fun in the sand without spending a day at the beach.

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Melissa Bishop

April 17, 2013
Melissa Bishop, UncommonGoods Senior Buyer–Children’s, Leisure & Desktop

My hometown is…
Los Angeles, CA

My favorite product that I’ve brought into the assortment at UncommonGoods is…
Kinetic Sand.

I’m inspired by…
The amazing friends, family, and colleagues I am surrounded by. Also I’m a huge tech geek so I’m inspired by Kickstarter and TechCrunch.

My guilty pleasure is…
Goldfish crackers, sour candy, and young adult fiction novels.

An uncommon fact about me…
I play on two nationally competitive kickball teams. (Yes, really.)

My favorite place to eat in New York City is…
I’m a sucker for restaurants with twinkle lights and candles – and great wine lists.

My style is…
Completely mood-based – I’m a chameleon. California casual, if I had to pick a lane. Learning how to dress for my first winter has been a comedy…

Working at UncommonGoods, I’ve learned…
How to navigate the subway & survive in New York City. (I started at UG the day after I moved to NYC!)

Would you rather… Have a front row spot at any sporting event you choose for the rest of your life OR get free stuff from your favorite clothing store for the rest of your life?
Definitely front row at any sporting event! (!!!) – I’m a football and baseball fanatic. Hopefully this choice comes with transportation to get me there, too, since I’m far away from my Cali teams now!

Gift Guides

Melissa’s Game Night: DysFUNction

March 29, 2013

Welcome to another installment of Melissa’s Game Night. Recently, I had the comical pleasure of playing Dysfunction with two of my good friends – Rachel and Bennett. These two are close to my heart, as we lived 2 blocks from each other when we all lived in San Francisco, and then I followed them out to NYC (as they like to tell everyone) and now live 2 blocks away from them here. Needless to say, I enjoy their company.

When they invited me over a couple of weeks ago to third wheel their dinner (Rachel is an amazing cook and was the star member of my SF cooking club which we are trying to restart out here), I couldn’t help but bring a game along. Once the lasagna was done and the martinis were poured, we broke out DysFUNction. Warning: this game is not for the light of heart, or for children (actually!). Here is how you play:
“Find the fun in your dysfunction! The object of the game is to be the player with the most Baggage. Baggage is claimed by having and sharing your dysfunctional family stories. The first player to claim 15 Bags and fill their Baggage Cart wins the game.”

The board had a classic, winding look – along the lines of childhood favorites – and you rolled dice to move along the spaces. Some spaces had prompts on them – for example, the one I kept landing on was “Your family joins a cult, but the food is way better there. Lose 3 Bags.” Most of the spaces have either “Dig Deep” or “Family Fun” on them, and if you land on either of these, you pull a card. The Family Fun cards are mostly cards that say something sassy (again, warning, some of these were hard hitting – hilarious, but hard hitting) like “Your roll is a disappointment to your mother and me. Roll again. Get it right this time.” The Dig Deep cards were the most intense slash hilarious slash interesting slash fun. These cards prompt you to tell a story in theme of family or childhood dysfunction, and then appoint a judge for your story from the table. The Judge of the story would give you 1 to 3 bags based on the quality of your story – the better the story, the more Bags the Judge awards. Some of our funnier stories were told in response to these cards:

All in all, we definitely enjoyed this game and were rolling in laughter the whole time, with high scoring anecdotes ranging from “my dad’s fiancée is younger than I am” (three bags) to “I monogram all my clothes so my family members can’t steal them” (one bag). That said, even with just three of us and all of us knowing each other well, the questions were still comically and awkwardly probing – the beauty and the curse of the questions is that they “dig deep” into questions and memories that you don’t typically address – which is great because you remember stories that you don’t usually tell, but awkward because they ask you to tell stories that you wouldn’t typically share.

I definitely recommend this game as a way to get to know good friends better – it might be more challenging with a group that is more on the acquaintance side.

If you revel in a little bit of awkwardness and love reclaiming old memories, this game is for you. The three of us actually ended up enjoying the game so much that we brought the cards with us on a ski road trip the next weekend and continued the bumbling hilarity.

Gift Guides

Melissa’s Game Night: Rollick!

February 18, 2013

Welcome back! This edition of Game Night actually features a get-together I had a while back. (As you can see from the shorts. One plus, though, now I’m in the mood for some warmer weather!)

I was looking through old photos, and realized that I had a hilarious photo shoot of my friends and myself trying out the game Rollick! that we brought into the assortment this past summer.

This game is like a backwards version of charades – instead of one person acting out each clue, you divide up into teams and act out the clue as a group. Being the rebels we are, we didn’t actually follow the rules, and instead nominated 2 people per card to get up in front of the group and make fools of themselves (the boys were particularly good at this).

My sister and I had a particularly special moment where we tried (relatively unsuccessfully) to act out what a magic carpet ride would look like – we eventually got people to guess it when we cheated and hummed the song from Disney’s Aladdin, and then she jumped into my arms at the end.

The gameplay was definitely hilarious and highly interactive – we were giggling (ok, more like rolling with laughter on the ground) the entire time, and even though we didn’t play by the rules or even keep score, we still managed to get competitive over who was the best actor. Hint: it was not me.

I think this is a great game for a span of ages – it is something that the young and the old can get involved in together, and I can see this being great for a family game night.

I’ve had a few game nights since, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to share this one with you, so stay tuned for those posts to come! I am always playing the games that I’m considering bringing into the assortment, as well as sometimes grabbing the ones we already have on site, so please feel free to leave a comment below and let me know if there is any particular game you want to see played.

Till next time, kids!

Check out more of Melissa’s Game Nights to see her play Kwizniac and ZinZig!

Gift Guides

Melissa’s Game Night: Kwizniac Trivia Countdown Game

January 15, 2013

Welcome to the second installment of “Melissa’s Game Night,” the blog post series where I fill you in on the behind-the-scenes product testing I conduct on new uncommon games. Basically, I force all of my friends to play games with me, then I write about it.

This time around, we played Kwizniac, “The Trivia Countdown Game.”

Kwizniac is the kind of game that is the perfect time-filler. As people trickled in for the game get-together (I have some punctual friends, and some not-so-punctual friends) I had the box sitting on top of my counter. I was whipping up some dinner for everyone–boiling pasta, and heating up canned pasta sauce. I know, I’m a culinary genius–and people kept grabbing cards out of the deck, reading through them, chuckling, and then reading out the clues to me and the others while I “cooked.” This informal play was just as much fun as when I got the whole group to sit down with their dinners and we actually played the game for real.

The way the game works is simple. There’s “a set of 10 clues provided in decreasing order of difficulty, where each clue is easier to decipher than the previous clue in the sequence.”

The scoring system is also easy to follow. If you guess the answer on the first clue that is read you get 10 points, and “the number of points a player receives for a correct answer decreases as he or she progresses through the sequence of clues. The player with the highest score wins the game.” To be honest, though, I have never even paid attention to the score while playing the game – what’s great about Kwizniac is that the score isn’t really necessary or isn’t even the most fun part of the game. It’s highly interactive, and seems to spiral off into fun conversational tangents every time I play. It’s the kind of thing that you can pick up and read through only one card and it still has that moment of competitive trivia fun, or play for an entire span of time. You can use it for a true game night with a bunch of friends, as a conversation starter among two friends or on a date, or as a fun moment of learning alone. (Yes I have done all 3, don’t judge.)

The variety of clues is also great. There were a bunch of clues about everyday objects and creatures that were great in the “wow, I had no idea!” kind of way (i.e. Did you know that giraffes have the highest blood pressure of any animal? Or that garlic belongs to the onion family?), and then clues that are a little harder to capture at first but become obvious as you go through. For example, for Barbie, the first clue is “She made her debut in 1959” (no idea), the 5th clue is “She has over 40 pets, including a horse named Dancer” (still fairly open), the 3rd is “Every second, two of her are sold somewhere in the world” (getting warmer), the 2nd is “Her boyfriend’s name is Ken” (got it!), and the last is “If she was a real person her measurements would be 36-18-38” (yikes).

I love this deck. We had a ball at game night, and my copy of Kwizniac now lives next to my couch, where houseguests pick it up all the time and flip through it. It’s a fun, easy piece to keep around – perfect for kids and adults alike. Kwizniac is destined to teach you something new!

Thanks for joining me for Game Night. See you next time!

P.s. Our community moderator just told me that she should have read through and memorized all of these before she tried out for Jeopardy! recently. I agree.

*Editor’s Note: The quiz game fun doesn’t have to come to an end after the first deck. Kwizniac 2nd Edition is also available, so your friends can guess the answers to those countdown clues for many game nights to come! And, there’s a version for younger trivia fans, too: Kwizniac Kidz!

Gift Guides

Melissa’s Game Night: ZinZig

September 10, 2012

Hello! My name is Melissa and I am a new buyer over here at UncommonGoods. I look for product for a number of categories, including and especially games and toys. Obviously, for these types of items, the question “is it fun?” comes up every time in our decision-making process. The thing about games is that the ideal way to determine how fun a game is going to be is not in reading instructions and checking it out alone at my desk at work – but rather with friends at home. Shocking and insightful observation, I know.

So, in an effort to do my job better (take note, boss!), make new friends (I just moved out to New York City to join UncommonGoods from sunny California – or, in my case, foggy San Francisco), and generally have fun, I decided to start hosting game nights to test the new product that I’m considering. When we were chatting about this in one of our sample review meetings, someone threw out the idea of sharing the experience with our UncommonGoods community, and Melissa’s Game Night was born.

Up first was ZinZig ™:
“ZinZig is the wine tasting and trivia game that will challenge your mind and palate. So sit back, relax, and sip your wine. You’re in for a Zin-ful good time ™!”

I bribed my friends over with offers of pasta & sautéed Brussels sprouts, convinced them that yes, it is a great idea to play a wine tasting board game on a weekday, and raced out of the office to get set up.
[Disclaimer: since I just moved to NY, my living room looks pretty sparse, I know — hopefully it will continue to get more interesting as these blog posts continue!]

Once I cooked dinner for the boys (note to self: make more female friends), I asked/told one of my friends to read out the instructions and help us get set up. Luckily for him, it was fairly straight-forward and user-friendly: the beginning of the game opens with drinking and testing all of the wines. We also each picked a winery as well as a figure to represent us on the board. We each started on the space of the Winery that we chose – since the board is circular, the location that you are on is not really important (until the end) – it is all about the squares that you land on. On each turn, you get a trivia card and have to try to answer correctly – once you answer, the square you are on determines whether you “Swap”, “Trade”, etc. There are a few wild squares (ie: Corked: Wine spoilage detected. Answer wrong and lose one bottle card), as well as my personal favorite – Sip and Savor – in which you “Sit back, relax, and enjoy your wine” while earning a free card.

Each trivia card has a ‘resource’ printed on the back; the point of the game is to collect one of each resource (barrel, grape, bottle, cork) to start production. Once you do that, you move to the middle of the board and go through the stages of production (crushing, fermenting, aging, bottling) by answering a trivia Card. The first player to complete production is the winner of the game. Even though I am overly competitive, I did not manage to win. The shout-out of victory goes to my friend Mike who came in from last to crush us all.

In terms of game play, I thought the range of the level of difficulty of the trivia questions was well-balanced and on the intelligent side. I am a fairly big wine geek, my friend Alex claimed to know nothing, and everyone else fell somewhere in between. All of us got answers right and wrong, which made it a fun learning experience as well. The game lasted roughly 2 hours, and a good time was had by all. This game was approved and is available now HERE.

Thanks to Barry, Matt, Alex, Gabe, Colin, Erik, and Mike for playing!

Gift Guides

Top 10 Baby Gifts from our Buyer

July 30, 2012

My name is Melissa, and I am the buyer for Children’s & Leisure product here at UncommonGoods. Basically, I am constantly on the hunt for new, cool, and – of course – uncommon items for our assortment. We scout trade shows, blogs, craft fairs, and more to find the best and most special product for our site and catalog. Kids is all about personality and I try to find awesome (and educational!) pieces that both kids and moms will love. Also, one of my favorite things about working at UncommonGoods is that we are really all focused on the inspiration, story, and artistry of our items – all of the vendors and artists I work with are so interesting and inspiring, and care so much about the quality and specialness of their product.

There is so much on the site that I am excited about, but I was asked to put together a Top 10 Baby Gifts list, and so here is my best shot (in no particular order):

2012 Birth Year Box – Kerri Lee’s amazing Birth Year Box is such a special gift for parents because it allows them to have a safe and beautiful place to store early memories. I love the sweetness of the dragon – I also just got a sneak peek of the 2013 Snake, and I really look forward to seeing what you all think! We also have birth year shadowboxes (similar to these keepsake shadowboxes) that are coming in for Holiday – get excited!

Birth Announcement Pillows – I love Lori Blum’s subway-inspired Birth Announcement Pillows – they are fresh and modern, yet timeless as a record of a parent’s special moment in time.

Baby Fortune Cookie Slippers – Della Slowik has some of my favorite quirky items – her Toddler Sushi Booties and Adult Sushi Slippers are a riot as well.

Organic Cotton Teethers Veggie Crate – These 100% Egyptian cotton veggies are so cute, and a perfect aww-worthy toy set. The carrot and mushroom both crack me up.

‘So My Story Begins’ Babysuit – I love this graphic – it always makes me smile. It also has one of my favorite customer reviews: “This baby outfit garners sounds of delight at baby showers. It brings a smile to everyone’s face as they immediately discuss how unusual it is. So My Story Begins has the potential to be an heirloom for the family.” (Cheryl from Capistrano Beach, CA)

Upcycled Sweater Moose Head – Josh Title’s cool Moose Head is a great decorative piece for a nursery made from discarded sweaters. These are eye-catching and quirky – we loved it so much we hung one up in the office!

Farmer’s Market Babysuit Collection – These Farmer’s Market Babysuits are truly all American, with 100% Texas cotton manufactured in Pennsylvania and printed in North Carolina. Make sure to check out the packaging, that is the selling point for me – what a perfect gift!

President Block Set – My favorite products are those that have both play and educational value – these are that, and handmade to boot. Other favorites along these lines are our Periodic Table Blocks and Nursery Rhyme Blocks. Stay tuned – we also just added some Egyptian Hieroglyphics Blocks and ABC Sign Language + Braille Blocks that I think are amazing.

Babiators Sunglasses – These are just cool, and a perfect mini-me moment. As one customer says, her baby “looks like his Daddy’s twin when they wear their sunglasses together” (Nana from Bryson City, NC)

Baby Shower Baskets: Take Me Home Outfit and Toy, Hat, and Bootie Set – These are brand-new to the site, and a couple of my favorite items, so I had to sneak in two for my last spot in the top 10! The toys are wonderfully soft and cuddly, and the hat, booties, and wrap sets are all of a beautiful and durable quality. I think these make the absolutely perfect baby shower gift!

There are so many more items that I love, but I hope this quick list helped you find the perfect items for you and your (or your friend’s or family’s) baby. I would love to hear if there any other items from our site that you all think are a particularly good baby gift – please share!

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