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Nanopad: A board game kit for magnet geeks

Micro-magnets! Board games! Together!

Nano Magnetics' Nanpad16, with Nanodots attached.
Nano Magnetics' Nanopad16, with Nanodots attached. Sarah Tew/CNET

This year's Toy Fair in New York City was a little lacking in big-ticket excitement, but there were a few surprises for office geeks such as myself. Nanodots are high-powered mini magnetic balls, perfect for whiling away fidgety minutes at a desk. They come in packs of 216, cost around $30-$40 a set, and are tremendously addictive (just keep them away from small children--they're quite dangerous if swallowed). The problem with them generally tends to be finding a place to put them. They roll, they damage sensitive electronics, and they're easy to misplace.

The $20 Nanopad is a mat woven with iron, heavy and dense like one of those aprons you wear for dental X-rays. Nanodots stick to it like glue, and won't slide around and glom on to each other. On one side is a printed chessboard, perfect for building your own chess/checker/made-up board game set, if your inner geek dares.

The other side is blank, which, according to Nano Magnetics, makes a perfect surface for building and shooting your own show-off YouTube clips. Little chains of Nanodots can be suspended to become little arches, which makes me wonder if I could build a tiny ant farm with enough maniacal effort. At the very least, I'm aiming to become the geekiest chess player on the block, once I can figure out how to Nanodot together a Knight.

Feel like scanning a magnetic field around the office?
Feel like scanning a magnetic field around the office? Scott Stein/CNET

Even more intriguing is a small plastic card, sold separately, intended to help split complicated magnet constructions. Sure, it's just a laminated card--but that's not what's cool about it.

On one side, an embedded layer of micro-bubble gel activates to dynamically show magnetic field patterns. On a grid of connected magnet balls, the fields can look different depending on how the bonds have been made. For instance, a cube made of nanodots has different fields on one side versus another. The card, ideally, will help obsessives figure out their construction plans ahead of time. Plus, it just looks neat.

The Nanopad16 also comes in a larger size, in case you've got the desk space--and that one doubles as a Go board.

It's time to build your magnetic sculpture garden.
It's time to build your magnetic sculpture garden. Sarah Tew/CNET