What Parents Everywhere Can Learn From This Trailblazing Toy Maker

Zandraa Tumen-Ulzii spreads the gospel of the puzzle.

On a side street in the less-than-touristy eastern section of downtown Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, tucked behind a tent-shaped building half-gutted by fire, you might just manage to find a four-story pink building. Notched with knobby, knot-shaped decorations, it’s distinctive for the neighborhood, but invisible from the nearby main thoroughfare, Peace Avenue. Yet inside this hidden low-rise is one of the world’s most whimsical, engaging, and underappreciated cultural galleries, the misleadingly named International Intellectual Museum.

All those who enter expecting to find some dry, poster board exhibits on the great minds of Mongolia and the world will be delightfully disappointed. The museum is actually an homage to puzzles, stacked high with traditional Mongolian logic games, hundreds of chess sets made from every material imaginable (some of them made of puzzle boards and pieces), and hundreds of puppets and knickknacks from all over, including one of the world’s oldest dolls, several thousand years old and uncovered in a Peruvian tomb. The artifacts occupy every corner of every floor of the building, and the museum is always growing—they added a new exhibit on the top floor just this year. But the museum isn’t just some giant junk room. It has a philosophy.

Tumen Ulzii with a chess set of his own design

Toys are charged and powerful philosophical, mathematical, and technological learning tools. They can tell you something about the values of a nation—like how Mongol puzzles carry mythic images, religious symbols, and the basic guidelines for how to set up a nomadic tent, or ger. So according to this philosophy, toys ought to be made with care and thought, disseminated widely, and, shown the same respect as any other traditionally high-brow or artistic artifact.

Founded in 1990 by Zandraa Tumen-Ulzii, who started making his own puzzles at age 10, the IMM was the first privately owned museum in Mongolia. Tumen Ulzii’s puzzles are traditional Mongol toys made of interlocking, three-dimensional wood blocks, (like an even more complex Rubik’s cube). These puzzles, often involving precise sequences and spinning motions that access internal, carved locking mechanisms, were among the first items on display at the museum. But in the intervening years the museum has grown to include over 11,000 items from 130 nations. The collection is split into 15 distinct puzzle and game categories, each with its own room or alcove.

One of Ulzii's puzzle boxes

The guides leading tours of the museums have all been trained in puzzles, optical illusions, and mind games. Most can perform up to thirty magic tricks on cue, breaking down the physical and perceptual properties at work for their audience. They can also assemble the puzzles in the IMM at lightning speed, challenging visitors to have a hands-on try at solving one themselves. Tumen-Ulzii, just to prove the difficulty involved in cultivating a logical and spatial mind, has standing wagers for visitors: $100, $1,000, or $10,000 dollars if you can solve a puzzle within a set time limit. One of the most ornate, a tortoise made of 11 pounds of carved silver puzzle pieces, uses 33 distinct interlocking methods, while the most complex puzzle requires 56,831 moves to complete. Most of the most devilish puzzles were designed by the impish Tumen-Ulzii.

Tumen-Ulzii’s not just out to prove he’s smarter than you. He’s spent much of the past two decades traveling the world preaching the value of raising children on complex rather than soft, fuzzy games, touting the definitive developmental aid that puzzles offer. In Mongolia, he’s partnered with the prominent Khan Bank to distribute over 13,800 traditional and culturally significant Mongolian puzzle toys to dozens of schools across the country, challenging tens of thousands of children to find joy in complex, logical challenges. And through his toy company, Mu-Tu-Uv Co., he sells puzzle rings and chessboards and wood blocks worldwide, and offers his services as a toy design consultant. He’s even taken his show on the road, setting up Mongolian cultural displays incorporating puzzles in bizarre but attention-grabbing outlets, like a prominent outdoor and adventure gear shop in Berlin.

A monkey-shaped puzzle box

The IMM, as crafted by Tumen-Ulzii, isn’t a hub for innovation and futuristic thought. It’s not flashy or well-funded. But its engagement with physics and problem solving creates an engrossing challenge, forcing us to acknowledge the value of some of the oldest and simplest games and technologies in the world. It’s a straightforward, but worthwhile goal, and one that seems, from the size and constant growth of the museum, to be catching on.

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, announcing it had over 900 emails that White House aide Stephen Miller sent to former Breitbart writer and editor Katie McHugh.

According to the SPLC, in the emails, Miller aggressively "promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof's murderous rampage."

Keep Reading Show less
via Around the NFL / Twitter

After three years on the sidelines, Colin Kapernick will be working out for multiple NFL teams on Saturday, November 16 at the Atlanta Falcons facility.

The former 49er quarterback who inflamed the culture wars by peacefully protesting against social injustice during the national anthem made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday.

Kaepernick is scheduled for a 15-minute on-field workout and an interview that will be recorded and sent to all 32 teams. The Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions are expected to have representatives in attendance.

RELATED: Joe Namath Says Colin Kaepernick And Eric Reid Should Be Playing In The NFL

"We like our quarterback situation right now," Miami head coach, Brian Flores said. "We're going to do our due diligence."

NFL Insider Steve Wyche believes that the workout is the NFL's response to multiple teams inquiring about the 32-year-old quarterback. A league-wide workout would help to mitigate any potential political backlash that any one team may face for making an overture to the controversial figure.

Kapernick is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) so any team could have reached out to him. But it's believed that the interested teams are considering him for next season.

RELATED: Video of an Oakland train employee saving a man's life is so insane, it looks like CGI

Earlier this year, Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid reached a financial settlement with the league in a joint collusion complaint. The players alleged that the league conspired to keep them out after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

Before the 2019 season, Kaepernick posted a video of himself working out on twitter to show he was in great physical condition and ready to play.

Kaepnick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship game in 2013.

He has the 23rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second-best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. In 2016, his career to a sharp dive and he won only of 11 games as a starter.


Four black women, Engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan, worked as "human computers" at NASA during the Space Race, making space travel possible through their complex calculations. Jackson, Johnson, and Vaughn all played a vital role in helping John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth.

They worked behind the scenes, but now they're getting the credit they deserve as their accomplishments are brought to the forefront. Their amazing stories were detailed in the book "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race" by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was later turned into a movie. (Darden was not featured in the movie, but was in the book). Johnson has a building at NASA named after her, and a street in front of NASA's Washington D.C. headquarters was renamed "Hidden Figures Way."

Keep Reading Show less

Between Alexa, Siri, and Google, artificial intelligence is quickly changing us and the way we live. We no longer have to get up to turn on the lights or set the thermostat, we can find the fastest route to work with a click, and, most importantly, tag our friends in pictures. But interacting with the world isn't the only thing AI is making easier – now we can use it save the world, too.

Keep Reading Show less
Good News
Courtesy of John S. Hutton, MD

A report from Common Sense Media found the average child between the ages of 0 and 8 has 2 hours and 19 minutes of screen time a day, and 35% of their screen time is on a mobile device. A new study conducted by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital published in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, found exactly what all that screen time is doing to your kid, or more specifically, your kid's developing brain. It turns out, more screen time contributes to slower brain development.

First, researchers gave the kids a test to determine how much and what kind of screen time they were getting. Were they watching fighting or educational content? Were they using it alone or with parents? Then, researchers examined the brains of children aged 3 to 5 year olds by using MRI scans. Forty seven brain-healthy children who hadn't started kindergarten yet were used for the study.

They found that kids who had more than one hour of screen time a day without parental supervision had lower levels of development in their brain's white matter, which is important when it comes to developing cognitive skills, language, and literacy.

Keep Reading Show less