Conquer seasonal boredom with some wholesome and engaging recreational pursuits, courtesy of Vermont’s most beloved stores and companies.
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
Is the restless ennui of the winter season bringing you down? Fear not! As the icy winds howl outside, the warm hearth beckons us to enjoy priceless moments of blissful nostalgia. With all of the marvelous games and activities available from Vermont’s independently-owned businesses and shops, there’s never been a better time to disconnect from the burdensome stress of modern life. Leave your cares behind with these treasured classic pastimes, and rediscover your inborn sense of imaginative wonder.
The Vermont Country Store
With two locations across the Green Mountain State – including their famous original store in Weston – The Vermont Country Store is a perfect one-stop-shop for fun and family-friendly games and activities!
Fans of elimination-based mystery challenge games will surely savor a spirited round of Guess Who? or Clue, while those in search of a revitalizing aerobic interlude can test their flexibility with a lighthearted round of Twister. Quick-minded guessers can put their intuitive powers to the test with Password, and seasoned dice shakers will feel right at home with Yahtzee. Classic board game diehards will adore Nostalgia Edition Monopoly, which pays tribute to the original 1936 version of the treasured family game. Featuring vintage play elements and a built-in banker’s tray, it’s sure to be an instant hit with both established board-game barons and novice playtime magnates. Fast talkers with quick reflexes and bounteous reservoirs of trivia knowledge will no doubt find victorious satisfaction in the aptly-named Smart Ass, and acutely perceptive visual savants can put their pattern recognition skills to the test with a game of Set.
While swift-thinking wordsmiths will relish the cerebral challenges presented by Super Big Boggle, That’s It! and Quiddler, aspiring interstate tycoons can hone their entrepreneurial skills with Game of States. Those in search of a hand-crafted compendium of timeless games should look no further than Six In One. This beautifully-finished wooden set features full setups for Backgammon, Chess, Pick-Up-Sticks, Checkers, Draughts, and Dominoes. Looking to refine your chess skills? The Bobby Fischer Learn to Play Chess set features a booklet that provides players with a comprehensive history of the game, as well as thorough analysis of classic chess strategies – such as the famous “Queen’s Gambit.”
Skilled stackers will no doubt fancy a game of Quaggle, which puts players’ balancing skills to the test with an innovative game structure that rewards quick and instinctive spatial thinking. Strategy and chance go hand-in-hand with classic games like Sorry! and Chutes and Ladders, where players spin the wheel or draw cards while attempting to progress towards their final destinations. Fast-witted card flippers will find gleeful fulfillment in Rack-O, where players strive to organize cards into a perfect numerical sequence as they are successively overturned. Angling for an entertaining diversion? Family Fishing Game provides a fast-paced and energized romp that’s certain to have gamers of all ages “hooked” and wanting for more.
The Vermont Country Store’s wide selection of vintage toys and curiosities from bygone eras offer ample opportunities for fun and frolic. Stretch out your inner sense of whimsicality and wonder with a Slinky Dog, and take a gratifying glimpse at your future fortune with a Magic 8-Ball. While ambling down memory lane, allow your mind to wander off of its linear path while you scribble on an Etch A Sketch, and wrap your fingers – and your brain – around the notoriously enigmatic Rubik’s Cube.
In the mood for some friendly competition? Cement your status as the household heavyweight champion with a rousing match of Rock Em’ Sock Em’ Robots, and then try your hand at some classic skill-based parlor games. Test your aim and accuracy with perennial favorites such as Magno Darts, Hook It, Skill Ball, and Shuffle Shot, and enjoy a riveting screen-free handheld gaming experience with Waterfuls.
Budding illusionists will be spellbound by the dazzling array of enchanting secrets in the Classic Mysteries of Master Magicians and Amazing Card Tricks box sets, and developing weavers and embroiders can sharpen their textile skills with Latch Kits or a Potholder Loom. Emergent creatives can express their artistic impulses through Lite Brite, Imagination Patterns, Colorforms, and Painting By Numbers, while prospective paleontologists and theme park engineers can follow their passions with the Dig It Up archaeological set and the Mini Coaster Maker Kit. Instruments such as the Schoenhut Piano, All Wood Soprano Ukelele, Wooden Xylophone, Woodstock Kid’s Accordion, and Melody Harp are sure to strike a chord with the musically inclined. For an added layer of nostalgic harmony, complete your home ensemble with a Snoopy’s Harp Harmonica, and play a happy tune to ward off your wintertime blues.
Puzzle connoisseurs will glory in the vast array of options available from White Mountain Puzzles and Cavallini Puzzles. With dozens of themed box sets that span a wide range of difficulty levels, it’s easy to find the perfect “missing piece” to round out your home entertainment arsenal.
Jigsaw fanatics, rejoice! Your moment of glory awaits. Headquartered in Norwich, Vermont, Stave Puzzles founder Steve Richardson prides himself on creating the most beautiful and perplexing puzzles available for public sale. Each one-of-a-kind masterpiece puzzle is lovingly crafted in the Stave facility by a dedicated artisan carpenter. Using thin-blade saws, they hand-carve each curve in the puzzle pieces with meticulous precision. From the painstaking sanding and polishing on the cherry wood backing of every piece, to the artfully-handmade box that all Stave puzzles are placed in upon their completion, no expense is spared at any step in the process. The hallmark signature of every heirloom-quality puzzle is the trademark Stave Clown. For those brave enough to venture into Stave’s uncharted realms of puzzle trickery, the rewards are plentiful. Countless testimonials from loyal and returning customers attest to the incomparable satisfaction that comes from completing one of their brain-teasing creations. Through years of customer outreach and client cultivation, Stave has created a remarkable community of devoted hobbyists from around the globe. Stave’s continued success in the puzzle industry can be summed up through a simple truth that is exemplified by their visionary and iconoclastic products: sometimes you have to think “outside of the box” to truly understand how everything fits together in the big picture.
Founded by passionate woodworker and eighth-generation Vermonter Mike Rainville in 1984, Maple Landmark boasts a voluminous lineup of American-made wooden toys and games. Blending state-of-the-art technology with tried-and-true Vermont craft traditions at their Middlebury-based facility, they produce consistently high-quality products while abiding by ethically-mindful manufacturing standards. Their celebrated Schoolhouse Naturals collection features toys made from sustainably and locally harvested maple hardwood – such as their Engraved ABC Blocks and Natural Shape Stacker – with no finish or added chemicals. As long as their children are playing with Schoolhouse Naturals toys, parents can rest assured that they will not be exposed to any harmful artificial compounds.
Maple Landmark’s celebrated NameTrains line provides children with the opportunity to form a deep sense of personalized tactile connection with their surrounding environment. Each train is custom-made to spell out the letters of a child’s name, offering a perfect chance for early educational development through the natural introduction of alphabetical symbols. Trains are available in lengths of three to ten letters, and available with a clear finish, as well as bright and pastel colors. With a broad variety of track sets, accessories, and themed bridges – including an Arlington Covered Bridge piece that pays homage to one of Southern Vermont’s most cherished landmarks – there are countless options for open-ended customization.
Maple Landmark also offers a number of family-oriented games for adults and children of all ages, such as Mancala, Cribbage, Chinese Checkers, and Tic Tac Toe. Independently-minded gamers will favor Marble Solitaire – which is available with both Cherry and Maple wood boards – as well as their Mental Aerobics brain teasers and Soma Cube three-dimensional puzzle. For fun on-the-go, be sure to pick up a Custom Engraved Yo-yo. The only thing more dazzling than the tricks you perform with it will be the timeless gleam from the surface of the freshly-polished hardwood.
Nothing beats curling up on a comfortable couch on a cold winter’s day with a good book. At the Northshire Bookstore, voracious readers will find a painstakingly selected assortment of literary treasures beyond their wildest dreams. Founded in Manchester, Vermont in 1976, the Northshire Bookstore quickly left a powerful impression on Southern Vermont’s literary community. After a decade of continuous expansion, owners Ed & Barbara Morrow moved the operation across the street from its original Main Street location into the historically prestigious Colburn House, where it has continued to grow and improve upon its eclectic and discerning collection of literary offerings to this day.
The Northshire Bookstore is now widely regarded as one of the greatest independent bookstores in the country. According to Events and Outreach Coordinator Dafydd Wood, shopping in-person at Northshire offers an unparalleled literary retail experience. “Our carefully curated shelves of over 10,000 titles afford what online shopping can never do – finding your next book or gift through a felicitous happenstance rather than through an algorithm. Our booksellers have lined the shelves with personal recommendations of their favorite books, and we have a second floor devoted to an extensive collection of books, games, toys, and clothes for children. I personally like to think that no other media offers as immersive an experience as reading. Full of delight and instruction, books give us more life than we can possibly experience on our own.”
Dafydd adds that regardless of distance or circumstance, devoted readers from all corners of the globe can tune into Northshire’s online streaming programs to participate in a world-class literary experience. “Northshire Bookstore launched its virtual event program, ‘Northshire Live’, in the first week of April 2020. Since then, we have hosted John Grisham, James Patterson, former governor Madeleine Kunin, the New Yorker’s ‘Comma Queen’ Mary Norris, Vermont Mystery author Archer Mayor, Chris Bohjalian, Marlo Thomas, Phil Donahue, Megha Majumdar, Maaza Mengiste, Neil Gaiman, Daniel Silva, JR Ward, Deepak Chopra, Sharon Salzberg, Naomi Novik, PJ O’Rourke, Bobbie Ann Mason, Jane Smiley and many more. We host an average of two to three events a week, and are looking forward to continuing the program in the New Year. We all miss our in-store author events, but Northshire Live is a thriving virtual approximation.”
The success of Northshire Bookstore’s streaming program serves as a perfect metaphor for the power of positive and adaptive thinking: all you need to turn a grey and gloomy day into a joyful opportunity for connection and fulfillment is a little bit of imagination.
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THE VERMONT COUNTRY STORE