40 great escapes

Summer vacations bring road trips, but I worry about all of that “screen time” spent on iPods, DVDs, and iPhones in the backseat. With ThinkFun’s new, perfectly portable Houdini puzzle, I feel as though I’ve found a toy that prevents brain drain in the car. Inventors Nicholas Cravotta and Rebecca Bleau have created a game that evokes the fascinating Vaudeville-era illusionist, Harry Houdini, with a foot-long, artfully designed body and detachable legs, trap cage, two ropes, plastic padlock, two rings, deck of brain teasers, and a travel bag. The goal: Get Houdini free of all the ropes without undoing the clasps.

The learning is cumulative, with kids starting with the “beginner” challenges, learning from them, and working their way through the deck to get to “expert.” The best part: feeling your heart melt as Dad steps in to help his junior illusionist untangle a tricky situation.

The bag contains enough materials for the kid (ages 8 and older) to complete 40 challenges. And who knows? Maybe they’ll put on a show for the grandparents! If frustration threatens to dampen the fun, there are old-timey, projection-style “solution videos” on the website.

Houdini game by ThinkFun, $19.99, www.thinkfun.com.