Skip the GoldieBlox. Get a Personalized Puzzle instead:

After a whirlwind couple of weeks, there are lots of questions surrounding GoldieBlox, which makes “toys for future inventors.” Do the toys really combat the princess-industrial complex, or do they contribute to it? Was it fair use to remake the Beastie Boys' “Girls” for the commercial, or were Mike D and Ad-Rock within their rights to complain? Are the blocks even any better than the other plastic junk we buy from China? All the brouhaha shows that one thing is certain: Parents really, really crave smart toys for their little geniuses.

So what is a parent to do, especially given the abbreviated shopping season this year? Never fear. We asked Slate staffers to recommend their favorite toys and games that provide a little intellectual stimulation, with the added benefit of actually being gender-neutral. Here's what they gave their seal of approval.

SpaceRail Marble Roller Coaster

Ages: 8 and up

More versatile than Legos, which are like a crossword puzzle — a lot less fun once complete — and more, well, real than RollerCoaster Tycoon, these roller-coaster kits, with steel balls standing in for the car in live tests, can be redesigned over and over. The quest for the perfect roller coaster goes on ...

Snap Circuits

Ages: 8 and up


Advertisement

For the budding electrical engineer. With one set of 30 pieces, you can try more than 100 different projects. Which means you should never again hear, “I'm booorrrred.” You will, but you shouldn't.

Build and Paint a Birdhouse

Ages: 5 and up

This construction project is fun while it lasts, but the real joy comes months later when you hang it in the yard and birds start nesting in it. Really, they will! For a fun birthday party craft project, buy a bunch of premade houses and paints and let kids paint their own to take home. Not the crafty type? Try this window birdfeeder instead.

Bugwatch

Ages: 5 and up

This set has tools to catch, keep, and examine bugs. Probably not a great gift if the dominant bug species in the kid's ecosystem are scorpions or cockroaches, but otherwise a great way to get kids interested in nature.

Magna-Tiles

Ages: 3 to 8

Multiple staffers recommend these interlocking tiles, claiming that they are “worth every penny” despite being “absurdly expensive.” The clear tiles snap together to make cool shapes and figures. Like Legos, they are expandable. Unlike Legos, you don't have to turn 1,000 pieces into a fire station and then watch the kids melt down when two pieces get lost.

Zoomy Handheld Digital Microscope

Ages: all

This microscope is just the right shape and size for curious kids' hands. Hold it over an object, then magnify it and take photos or video.

My First Mind Blowing Science Kit

Ages: 3 to 8

Despite the name, there is almost no chance of an explosion resulting from this gentle introduction to science. With the help of their parents, preschoolers and early graders can make squishy crystals and a small color-changing volcano, among other simple projects. Who knew there were so many practical uses for red cabbage juice powder?

Personalized Puzzles

Ages: 8 and up

Want to teach your kids how to read a map? Give them this challenging personalized puzzle that puts your street address smack dab in the middle of the map. Small caution: This may confirm their belief that they are indeed the center of the universe.