Lonpos 505 Review

I originally obtained a set of Lonpos 505 Puzzle (505)
to use in the classroom to use for lessons and investigations based on pentominos to go with this IWB resource.  While pentominos are easily made from card I felt the more tactile engineered look of these pieces would add something to the lesson.  

On receiving the package I enjoyed the amusing, not quite right translations on the box.  This is a “great companion of loneliness”  it seems.  I was a little surprised to see the long list of patents for this puzzle though.  Pentominos as a concept are far too old to be patented and I’d be surprised that just changing the shape of the individual units from square to spherical would be enough to claim a patent. 

Taking the unit out of the box I found that the puzzle is contained in a nice white plastic, clip shut, case.  It is reasonable made with an almost full length plastic hinge which shouldn’t break too quickly as these things often can.  The case has indentations to hold the pieces in position for the various puzzles. 

Inside are the pieces.  These are little plastic spheres connected to each other.  They are decent enough and I suppose I was expecting too much but the product photos suggest a higher quality finish.  For the price they are what you would expect but those photos had suggested a more executive toy style finish. 

While looking at them in their indentations tiling the 11×5 layout something didn’t seem quite right.  It seemed to be the wrong dimensions.  And it is.  There are 12 traditional pentominos each of 5 units so they tile a rectangle of an area of 60 units.  Not 55 as here.  On closer inspection I realised this was not a pentomino set.  The pieces don’t seem to be formed according to any rigid rule as the pentominos are.  This has some pentomines but also some quadrominos and one trionimo.  I suspect this is what allows the patent as it is a unique combination of pieces that allow the rectangle to be covered but also to form a pyramid for the 3d puzzles.  So I suspect the rule to which they are formed is to meet the sum of 55 units and be able to form these two shapes.  As an aside this left me wondering how unique this combination of pieces  must be to allow them to fit together to fulfil both of these aims.  This will take a more gifted mathematician than I am to answer so if anybody does have an idea please leave a comment.

The manufacturer cannot be blamed for this incorrect expectation although I have noticed a couple of online retailers do describe the peices as pentominos.  I made the assumption that it was pentominos and there were no misleading claims.  But I think it is a mistake that others could make so worth mentioning.

Despite this it is still fit for much of the purpose for which I brought it; to encourage thinking skills and persistence with problems.  It comes with a colour booklet containing many problems that scale up in difficulty.   The increase in difficulty is nicely graduated and very useful when working with children.  From using other puzzles in the classroom I have noticed that starting from too easy and building up is better than starting at a doable, but more difficult level.  Children like to have some success behind them to buoy up their confidence before they reach puzzles that require persistence.  I think the omission of answers is a mistake.  I was pleased not to see them in the main book as they can prove far too tempting for children to not take a peak.  For use by a teacher, though, the answers are essential.  Not because we couldn’t work them out, of course, but because we don’t have time to.  For use as a self guided learning tool this is fine but if you want to use a set to provide a whole class lesson it is a bit off putting for teachers to have to spend the evening before working out and recording solutions for fifteen or so of the puzzles. 

I wouldn’t necessarily set them the task of doing all of the easy puzzles but one per page (there are four on each) allows that feeling of progress made.

The main way I have used them is with a group of very able children who relish the chance to exercise their mental dexterity in a competitive way.   I call out a puzzle number and the first group who has a member show me the solution gets the point.  The students have become interested in the pyramid building puzzles that they also saw in the booklet and have enjoyed working through them at a more sedate pace in their break time.  When children want to carry on with puzzles rather than go and play I think that can be seen as a big endorsement.

The children have enjoyed using them and as with many puzzles you do see a development in thinking skills.  Like with the Soma Cube the children begin to see ahead further with practise.   The children begin to spot when they are painting themselves into a corner before they go too far as they begin to think about the problem as a whole and not just about fitting in the next piece.  The booklet irritates a little when it makes some over the top pseudoscientific claims about its benefits for the brain.  “It stimulates 95% of our underused brain potential”.  This usual marketing hubris can be ignored but as with any puzzle that children focus on and engage with it does observably help develop broader learning skills.

For me the only let down was my own mistake about them being pentominoos.  Not because I can’t use them the way I intended with the children but because I had hoped to provide some supporting software for use on the IWB that other teachers could use with these puzzles and their class.  Due to the patent this is something I am now not able to do.  For the price though this is a useful object to have in a classroom as a single piece for when children choose their own activities or with a set as a whole class thinking skills development lesson.  In particular it could work as a follow up or precursor to the lessons using a Soma Cube detailed in this article.  Recommended.