This Pittsburgh company is bringing computer programming to kids (Video) (TechFlash)

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The team at Digital Dream Labs set out with the goal of creating an educational tool that has the appeal of Super Mario Bros., but requires the thinking of chess.

After more than two years of development, testing, and a few name changes–switching the product's name from Ludos to Puzzlets as recently as yesterday–the Pittsburgh-based startup is getting ready to ship its first production run.

On Thursday, I stopped by the S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes in Squirrel Hill where the company is piloting its first Puzzlets display.

The Puzzlets system itself resembles a cloud-shaped plastic ice cube tray, but the simple design was intentional, said co-founder Justin Sabo.

"The electronics inside are complex, but we wanted it to look very approachable and simple," he said.

Players can connect the game board to their tablet, Mac or PC to play.

With its first game, Cork the Volcano, Digital Dream Labs provides a hands-on introduction to basic programming. As players arrange pieces, the game detects and responds to the physical relationships the player is creating with the puzzle pieces.

"We really wanted to do a lot with the subjects that aren't already being taught in children's games," Sabo said.

There are also games that teach chemistry, music, and engineering in development, he said. Eventually the company would like to sell blank Puzzlet pieces so that users could program and create their own games for the system.

Sabo said the game and system were also intentionally designed to be gender neutral in order to introduce science, technology, engineering and math concepts to both boys and girls, as research shows that there is a relative lack of women in STEM careers.

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