Step away from the video game. While playing chess on an HD screen may be convenient, nothing beats the real thing — especially when it comes to growing minds. "Kids are learning about their world, and if they only learn through the limitations of a computer, they won't learn about themselves," says Jeffrey Ryan, designer for Naef U.S.A. The Swiss toy company launched in 1956 with a single building block as its flagship, and despite the wired ways of today, Naef has stuck to its message of simplicity. Its Bauhaus-designed chess set ($575) gives the centuries-old game a sleek look and even serves as a cheat sheet for beginners. A character's shape corresponds to its movement: The queen, which can travel anywhere, is a sphere; the king, which moves on the axes, is a cube. Made with hardwood maple, each piece is cut to carry a specific grain pattern to ensure that the wood doesn't warp or chip, creating a durable set that will last much longer than your first-generation iPad. naefspiele.ch
A version of this article appeared in the March 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.