A Guide to the Best of Southern California : DIVERSIONS : Mind Games

FOR THOSE OF US who don't have enough aggravation in our lives, Laguna Mountain Toys showcases manipulative puzzle packs (the Teaser, the Mind Bender) and original puzzles (the Temptation, the Creature). Handmade configurations of wood, rope, rings and beads, the inventions promise hours of fussing and twisting. Lee Kucera, a high school math teacher, began making and selling these puzzles at the local Sawdust Festival (now going on) to encourage "mental aerobics." Several years later, her husband, Don, joined her in business. One favorite, the party-pleaser People Puzzle ($8), consists of nothing more than nylon cord and wooden beads that intertwine and attach to the wrists of two people. The object is to separate the two cords without removing it from the wrists, and the result is instant entertainment for onlookers as well as participants.

Laguna Mountain Toys' puzzles stock is ever-evolving; some are phased out, while others are added. The most popular are the simpler brain twisters ($5 to $10), which take up to four moves to complete and come with solutions. Puzzle aficionados are more likely to go for the advanced models ("the more artsy, more heirloom-like pieces," says Don), which may require as many as 500 moves and come without even the slightest clue (for as much as $35). Laguna Mountain Toys also sells a few games and toys, and instead of the standard rocking horse, the Kuceras create giraffes, elephants and dinosaurs.

Laguna Mountain Toys, P.O. Box 850, Laguna Beach, Calif. 92652; (714) 499-3823.

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