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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

MaKey MaKey Meets Frogger – An UncommonGoods DIY

March 6, 2013

The MaKey MaKey is a unique invention aiming to change the way we connect with the internet. Banana pianos, cat controlled cameras and high five orchestras are some of the recent contraptions spawning from this odd new technology which was initially funded from a KickStarter project with over 10,000 backers.

Frogger is a classic arcade game developed by Konami in 1981. Guiding a frog across the road and the river, the player is lost in a mental state of amphibian survival. It’s a simple game, with an addictive quality rivaling that of Angry Birds.

After playing around with the MaKey MaKey for a few weeks, I realized that I could use the MaKey MaKey to improve upon Frogger. For those who have played the game, you may ask yourself, is it even possible to improve on Frogger? Konami might say no, but I say yes. My plan was to put the player in the physical realm of the frog, where your legs are the difference between life and death.

I developed this in two test phases:

Test #1 – Touch Pad
Test #2 – Floor Pad

Out of the box, the MaKey MaKey comes with a circuit board, a USB connect and several wires pinched off with alligator clips.

Frogger frogs move in four directions. Up, Down, Left and Right. (Just like normal frogs). Conveniently, the MaKey MaKey comes with the same four directions. I hooked an alligator clip to each one:

The MaKey MaKey is basically an open source touchpad. You can hack any type of controller. All you need is electrically conductive material. Paper clips, people, spoons, water, apples, paint, etc… They are all compatible. I decided to use the most complex conductive substance known to man:


I made four balls of Play-Doh, squished them to a notepad, and plugged in to the other end of the alligator clips. Almost live, all I needed was a grounding wire. At the bottom of the Makey Makey there is long silver grounding strip. In order for MaKey MaKey to work you need to “ground” yourself, which essentially completes the circuit loop. For the last step, I grounded myself to the strip with a bracelet made from heavy wire.

Alternatively, you could just hold the wire, or attach the alligator clip to a metal ring or other piece of conductive jewelry.

*Note – If you are on a laptop, unplug it while using the Makey Makey. Otherwise you may lose your grounding.

I opened Frogger and started to play. I immediately got ran over by a car. Then I drowned. I forgot how intense this game is.

My Frogger skills were way off since my days as a 7 year old, but Test #1 was a success nonetheless. Obviously, Test #2 got delayed by a half hour as I tried over and over again to beat the level. Mustering all of my willpower, I stopped playing the game and moved everything to the floor so I could play with my feet. Oops! The grounding wire is only 1 foot long. I made an extension with a 6 foot piece of hookup wire.

Test #2 – Great success!

As I considered the possibilities, I realized that by expanding the distance between the foot pads, I could create a physical difficulty level much more in line with the frog’s predicament. It also became apparent that this was going to be quite an awesome gaming experience.

To take this to the next level, I needed a big room, more Play-Doh, a projector and Swedish House Mafia. Luckily I work at UncommonGoods, an office where it’s okay to ask your boss for such things with a serious look on your face.

I grabbed a few friends from the office and we found a nice big open space to lay down foot pads. We hooked up a projector for Frogger, connected it to my laptop, and hooked the laptop to the MaKey MaKey with the USB connect. For foot pads, we used aluminum foil, a little strip of Play-Doh to help keep the wire in place and painter’s tape to seal the deal.

Once the floor pads were tested, we fired up Frogger, killed the lights in the building and blasted Swedish House Mafia. Why Swedish House Mafia? Watch this video and it will all make sense:

As you can see, we took Frogger to a whole new dimension. The next morning my legs hurt.

MaKey MaKey is an amazing invention with endless applications. If you want to try it out for yourself, you can buy one here.

If you already have one and you’re looking for ideas you should start with YouTube. There are already hundreds of videos out there. Here are my personal favorites:

Top 10 MaKey MaKey Ideas:

1. Banana Piano
2. High Five Orchestra
3. Robot Boy
4. Musical Paintings
5. Birthday Flowers
6. Cheese Controlled Race Car
7. Kissing Karaoke
8. Electric Wind Chimes
9. Horse Simulator
10. Veggie DJ

For more ideas, you can check out the MaKey MaKey forum here.

If you have used MaKey MaKey to invent something we’d love to hear about it. Email us at

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