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Cognosphere

Welcome to the Cogno Blog! Cogno is a brand of board games and books that are designed to get children thinking critically and using their imaginations. Check back often as we explore science, learning and blogging in the Cognosphere.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bite-Sized Learning

One of the biggest challenges in education today is providing knowledge in consumable amounts. This is especially true given the advancement of science and technology over the years.

I was born at the dawn of the Space Age. When I began school in the Sixties, science was entering a period of transformational growth that has provided us with wonders that are so thoroughly a part of our culture that we now take them for granted!

And yet behind all the cell phones, microchips, and Lasik procedures is a mountain of knowledge that has been created in only the last 40 to 50 years! How do you help your children and grandchildren consume all this knowledge?

The answer, of course, is that you give it to them one bite at a time. But you had better make sure that, like breakfast cereal, the knowledge is tasty and fun, or they won't keep after it.

That's "Edutainment"!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Edutainment" Works

It seems like we have to continually learn this, even though most of us acknowledge it as being true: Human beings learn better when they are having fun. Among other factors, this has to do with the effect fun has on focusing one's attention, the effect it has on memorability, and I think to an unrecognized degree, to the fact that it makes you want to come back for more.

I ran across a neat summary of this very broad subject at Marc Accetta's blog. Marc is the founder of the Unstoppable Foundation and wants to "pass on our uncommon knowledge to America's youth." As Marc notes, "...the goal of edutainment being to not only educate, but to stimulate as well." Without the stimulation part, learning can often chase people away before the fun starts.

I remember Michael Jordan once said that kids should be allowed to simply play and love the game of basketball until age fourteen or so. Then they can be taught all the details and experience the pressure of serious competition.

I think something similar happens to young students. Introducing them to a topic like science should lean more toward exploration and fun discovery than memorization of information. Once the passion is ignited, over time kids will accept--and some will enjoy--the "drier" parts of the subject. We need to help educators by reducing the sheer number of science requirements in elementary school and let them spend more creative time igniting student passion. We are losing too many students to other subjects. They don't stay in the curriculum long enough to experience the fun and wonder!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shopping For Cogno At Museum Gift Shops

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran an article today on shopping for special holiday gifts at museum gift shops. I think shopping for gifts at museum gift shops is a great idea, especially because some of the money goes back into supporting the museum. They say:
"For the mall-fatigued holiday shopper trying to find a gift for that hard-to-buy-for relative, a museum gift shop might be the way to go. Museum gifts tend to be quirky, unique and local, and they usually indicate a little extra thought and effort on the part of the giver."
Plus, the article mentioned our Cogno: The Alien Adventure Game because it is carried at The XPLOR Store at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. By the way, they say our game is "NASA- approved". NASA rarely, if ever, endorses commercial products. The content in our games and books was expert-reviewed by scientists at NASA and other institutes, but we've never asked that they formally endorse our products.

2006 Toys & Collectibles Wish List Features Codebreaker

The 2006 Toys & Collectibles Wish List featured Codebreaker yesterday. They described Codebreaker as:
"New from the makers of the award-winning Cogno board games, Codebreaker is a game built around the idea that you really don't want the other players to know what you're thinking - or drawing!"
Thanks for the review and we love the photo!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Nationwide Cogno Board Game Sampling With Teachers

In July we decided to try sampling our Deep Worlds space/science board game through the National Science Teachers Association. We asked for teachers around the country who would like to test our game in their classroom to email me their feedback. We had a great response and ended up sampling more than the 200 board games we had originally envisioned.

We got dozens of wonderful reviews from the teachers and their students. Ann Marie Jakubielski a science teacher at St. Joseph School in Norwich, CT had this to say about her Cogno experience:

"I have started to play Cogno with my 7th grade students and they LOVE it! When they get a question and answer it, wrong or right, we look it up in the Book of Y to read more about it. I am continually hearing 'Wow! I didn't know that!' We have set up an ongoing game in the classroom that we return to whenever there is time. If you give my students a choice between Cogno and recess, they will unanimously choose Cogno every time. As a teacher I love that fact that the students are learning something new and that it is done in such fun and enticing way. Thank you for a great game!"

Thanks to Ann Marie and other teachers who participated in our sampling program! More teacher testimonials are on the Press & Testimonials page on our web site.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Grammar Girl’s Quick And Dirty Tips For Better Writing

I read about Mignon Fogarty’s “Grammar Girl” in the Wall Street Journal on November 4th in an article by Candace Jackson.

I think it’s great that Mignon has found a way to bring something “educational” to the public in a really fun way…by launching a podcast and answering everyday people's pressing grammar questions. This podcast is a great, new, cutting-edge way to get people talking about grammar.

Way to go, Mignon…making grammar fun for all!

Plus, she co-hosts the Absolute Science Podcast! Science is a subject near and dear to my heart.

Meet More Cogno Characters-The Villains

And, since we have introduced you to the good guys, we have to introduce you to the bad guys. The characters below are notoriously the “bad guys.” But, who knows, they could decide to help out the Icari a bit in the future.


Komodo: A black market trader whose body is covered with optical bristles that transmit light. He can make himself resemble almost any other species…if it gives him an advantage.

Furtu: He is a computer criminal who tried to illegally stop starforming, a method of cooling down stars. Furtu is a computer and mathematics genius, but he’s a bit creepy.

Marauder: An unstable robot that uses antimatter as a weapon. The Beta Marauders are the most unstable of all and were supposedly destroyed years ago after they went berserk. Supposedly.


MindShifter: Antisocial and wary of outsiders, they can manipulate the minds of others. They are not violent but can be dangerous. They are desperately afraid of someone. Can you guess who?

What Is Cogno?

Cogno is a brand of games and books for ages 7-14 and their families. Our mission is “to inspire children to think critically and imaginatively.” Imagine character-driven fun like Harry Potter or Star Wars combined with endless opportunities for critical thinking, imagination and learning. That’s Cogno.

We have two types of games and a book series:
1. Board Games
2. Codebreaker game
3. Book Series

All of our products are award-winning. They have won a total of 20 national awards!

Meet More Cogno Characters-The Good Guys

There are other characters in Cogno products besides the Icari. The ones below are the good guys who occasionally help the team out.


Nonus: Cogno’s father, a leading artificial intelligence expert, was lost inside a black hole. Did he somehow survive?


Riki: This ship repair robot was found floating in space. Cogno saved Riki and now Riki never wants to be separated from him. Riki carries a great secret.


Cello: Held captive by Komodo, Cello was forced to serve his master. He was concealed for years under a tarp on a rickety old cart. Try to discover Cello’s true identity.



Walking Plant: The walking plants are telepathic friends of Cogno’s. They help Cogno to relax…he vacations on their planet.

Meet The Cogno Characters-Part 2

Here is a little bit of information about the rest of the Icari. The final four members are below.

Chrona: From a race of time travelers, Chrona spends most of his time in another time. He is quiet and a bit gruff, and does not like Volo’s jokes. He’s extremely strong but rarely fights. If he does, you will want him on your side.


Quaestor: The greatest known detective, he sees all. His hypnotic eyes force others to tell the truth. Only his top four eyes work. The ones on his hands are decoys to confuse and distract predators.

Undula: Thought to be the last of a race of braided space serpents, she is the youngest of the Icari team and is the fastest living this known.


Scribo: Part being and part machine, he is the keeper of data. He can capture and play back images of past events in the universe, and is extremely good with computers.

Teaching Astronomy At The University Of Virginia, For Teachers


Michael Bentley is a professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He is teaching an astronomy class this semester for teachers who teach grades 5-9. He has twelve teachers in his class this semester.


We decided to donate 13 Cogno: Deep Worlds games to his class. That would be enough for one game per teacher and one game for Michael. On November 2nd his class played their board games. It looks like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?



I hope they bring their games home to their own classrooms to play with their students!

Meet The Cogno Characters-Part 1

I thought it would be a good idea to tell you a little about our cast of Cogno characters. I have outlined four members of the Icari below. The Icari is a team of aliens who try to make the universe a safer and friendlier place. They are featured in all Cogno products.



Cogno: He combines telepathy and smarts to be the most intelligent being in the known universe. Cogno is the leader of the Icari, a dream team of detectives. He is always calm, cool and a few steps ahead of others.

Phonica: She has a photographic memory and speaks 544 languages fluently. Not only that, she can speak up to 16 languages at the same time! Phonica is the team’s communications officer.



Volo: Even though Volo is just a teenager, he is quite strong and is the greatest pilot in the known universe. He has never crashed a ship! Volo is impatient and sometimes acts a bit immature, but he is confident in his role as team pilot. He enjoys poking fun at just about everyone.


Gemini Twins: The Gemini Twins never grow old. They are unable to speak out loud, so they transmit thoughts to Cogno (and other telepaths) in order to communicate. They are able to sense the slightest movement from great distances and can manipulate light and sound waves.

Author Speaks About Cogno Book Series

Watch author, Stuart Montaldo, describe the Cogno book series. You can find this and two other Cogno videos at www.youtube.com.

Book Two Features A Foreword By Bill Nye The Science Guy®

We are proud that Bill Nye The Science Guy®, the nation's best-known children's science educator, wrote a foreword for Mindshifters, the second book in the Cogno® book series. In his foreword, he said:

"I couldn't put Mindshifters down. The charm of this book series is that you
learn as you read. You can't help it. You find yourself not only wanting to know
what happens to your new alien friends, but why and how it happens. Without
going out of your interstellar way, you'll learn about the nature of nature and
the workings of the Cosmos. These books are just fun. It's a journey you'll
enjoy with science you can keep."
Thank you, Bill Nye!

Award-Winning “Science Faction” Book Series

The characters from the Cogno games come to life in this unique book series that is a blend of real science and fiction. We call it “science faction.” Science and technology concepts are woven throughout each exciting fictional story. Then, a special section called "Fact, Future or Fantasy" separates fact from fiction for the reader.

The first book in the series is titled Synapse. The second is Mindshifters and features a foreword by Bill Nye The Science Guy®! The third book is a work in progress. We'll let you know when we have a release date.

Model Retailer Reviews Cogno Codebreaker Game

We just received a clipping from the July 2006 issue of Model Retailer magazine where Jim Faber reviews our Codebreaker game. He wrote a really nice review which you will not be able to view on their website unless you are a subscriber.

He said, "Part memory game, part drawing game and part game of deception, Codebreaker charges players with remembering where tiles with 17 characters from the Cogno games and book series are hidden. The twist is that players use dry-erase markers to write hints only they understand on the back of the cards. Aimed at younger players, the game allows them to use both creative and abstract thinking while having a good time playing a fun, intuitive game."

Thanks Jim! We appreciate the review.

Codebreaker Demonstration Video

Here is a video explaining our 7-time award-winning Codebreaker game. You can find this and two other Cogno videos on www.youtube.com.

Seven-Time Award-Winning Cogno: Codebreaker Game

Codebreaker is a fun, creative family game for ages 7 to adult. It starts with a simple matching game, but adds a HUGE twist--dry-erase markers that allow players to jot down secret clues on the back of the character tiles. These reminder clues can be pictures, words, people’s names, movie quotes, numbers or anything to help the player remember where each character is hidden but will, hopefully, not tip off the other players. Your favorite memories become your greatest advantage.

Codebreaker was launched earlier this year at the American International Toy Fair in New York. It has already won 7 national awards. It was most recently named one of the 10 BEST Games of 2006 by Dr. Toy.

Board Game Demonstration Video

Check out our new board game demonstration video. You can also find it (and two others) on www.youtube.com.

Sample Deep Worlds Board Game Question And Explanation

In an earlier post I described why our questions are so thought-provoking and you saw one of our Alien Adventure game questions. So, here is a Deep Worlds game question…you should find it slightly more difficult than the elephant question.

T or F: Imagine that all gravity in the Universe was magically turned off (except the gravity of Earth), and everything stopped moving. Earths’ gravity will now begin to pull everything in the Universe slowly toward it.

The answer is true. Why is the question true? Check out the explanation in the all-new Book of Y included in the game:

Book of Y explanation: While the force of a planet’s gravity decreases the farther away you go from the planet, in theory it never goes away—no matter how far you go! If there were only one source of gravity in the Universe, and no object was moving compared to the other objects, the source of gravity would draw everything else slowly toward it.

Isn’t that interesting!?

Challenge Version Cogno: Deep Worlds Board Game

Deep Worlds is the challenge version of the classic Alien Adventure game. It made its way onto the scene during the 2004 holiday season and has since won five national awards. It was also picked by the Washington Post as one of the top ten products at the American International Toy Fair in 2005. It was the only game and only educational product chosen! (The article is no longer on their website. It was written on March 15, 2005 by Tracy Grant and was titled "Top Ten Toys".)

Deep Worlds is much like The Alien Adventure Game but is set in a fantastic ocean on another planet. Cogno and his team are even wearing diving gear…so cute! You are still answering thought-provoking questions about how the Universe works but now they are slightly more challenging. Here is a sample question. Kids love the double game boards, cool characters, strategy, thought-provoking questions, and avoiding the Megaplume Whirlpool and the Trench.

Why Our Board Game Questions Are So Thought-Provoking

We pride ourselves on the questions in our board games. We are very careful to make sure they are not trivia-type questions and that everyone (7 and older) can at least make an educated guess as to what the answer is. Typical science trivia might ask how many earths can fit inside the sun. This is not really a question that you would be able to reason through to get the correct answer. Here is a sample of a Cogno question.

Also, we steer clear of technical words. We usually say “stuff” instead of “matter.” During our playtesting, we found this was important to our younger players. We even went so far as to give 7-8 year olds highlighters so they could highlight any words they didn’t understand. For instance, most younger kids have no idea what the word "process" means. After the highlighting exercise, we went through and re-wrote all the 261 questions in the game, avoiding use of those words.


Check out www.cogno.com for great holiday ideas.

A Guide For Parents And Teachers: Cogno’s Book Of Y (For The Curious)


Included in every Alien Adventure game is Cogno’s Book of Y. It explains the science behind every one of the 261 questions in the game. Here is a sample Cogno question.

And, here is the explanation: One of Isaac Newton’s "laws" of motion says "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Imagine that you and a friend, who weigh exactly the same (on Earth), were floating in space. You push him, and each of you moves away from the starting point at exactly the same speed. But if he were an elephant, with far more mass than you, you would drift away much more quickly, because the same force, applied to less mass, creates more acceleration.

Why should you believe what we say? We’re not scientists. You should have confidence in our explanations because all the science content in the game was reviewed by scientists at NASA or the SETI Institute. We make science fun and accessible, and our experts make sure it is correctly represented!

Sample Alien Adventure Board Game Question

Here is a sample of a Cogno question. Our questions are designed to get everyone thinking and can be multiple-choice (like the one below), true/false or a “no wrong answer” question.

Multiple-Choice Question: If you and an elephant were floating in space and you pushed on the elephant, which of you would move away from the starting point faster? a) you; b) the elephant; c) both would move the same speed; or d) the duck

The answer is a) you. Now, if you want to know why you would be the one to move away from the starting point faster, you can look up the explanation is Cogno’s Book of Y (for the curious). The Book of Y is included in the game.

6-Time Award-Winning Cogno: The Alien Adventure Game


Our first board game made its debut during the 2003 holiday test market in St. Louis, Boston and Fort Worth. It has since won six national awards for the way it combines fun and thinking.

Alien Adventure is for boys and girls, ages 7 and up. You pick your favorite character (from Cogno and his seven friends) and race it around outer space, collecting fuel cells by answering mind-bending questions about how the Universe works. A “Book of Y” explains all the answers for the curious. Kids love the dual game boards, cool characters, strategy, thought-provoking questions, and avoiding the black hole and parallel universe.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Leonid Meteor Shower This Weekend

I love shooting stars! And, Robert Roy Britt, a senior science writer at Space.com, say they are predicting that in North America at the peak of the meteor shower, we could see up to 150 shooting stars per hour! When is this peak? 10:45pm CST on Saturday, November 18th.

"The annual Leonid Meteor Shower could produce a strong outburst this weekend for residents of eastern North America and Western Europe."
Plus, you don't need any special equipment to view a meteor shower. But, I would recommend dressing warmly...it could be a chilly night.