News of Otsego County

Kristian House

Treasure Hunter Claims $10K Prize
Richer, Morris Man Returns From Idaho

Treasure Hunter Claims $10K Prize


Puzzlemaster Kristian House of Oneonta throws ten thousand dollars in Monopoly money around the living room. House won the same amount of real dollars last week when he solved a national treasure hunt, following clues he decoded to a hidden spot in Nampa, Idaho. (Mike Forster Rothbart/

Kristian House, proprietor of Oneonta’s former Monkey Barrel Toys, loves puzzles.

In fact, he’s found a way to make a living by solving them. In the decade since he moved back to the county, he’s earned income as a toy store owner, math teacher and writer of crosswords and math problems.

(His crosswords show up in newspapers including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal; the math questions appear in textbooks).

Now House has a new claim to add to his list: treasure hunt winner.

All I Want For Christmas is Toys That Fascinate, Toys That Inspire

All I Want For Christmas is Toys That Fascinate, Toys That Inspire


Edition of Thursday-Friday, Nov. 27-28, 2014

Kristian House at Oneonta’s Monkey Barrel Toys isn’t interested in being just another toy store.

“We don’t carry the hot toys like one of the big box stores,” he said. “We carry the cool toys.”

“We don’t want to give the same experience as you get everywhere else,” said Todd Gibbons, owner of Riverwood in Cooperstown. “It’s about finding toys to fascinate, toys to inspire.”

As shoppers – and Santa! – start making their holiday shopping lists, House and Gibbons are stocking their shelves with toys to stimulate play and imagination. “We’re interested in kids being able to play and interact with their toys in a way they can’t with video games, we want to see more kids pretend playing along with the music on their TV and not on an Xbox,” said House. “We want to spark an interest in using their imaginations.”

On Saturday, Nov. 23, as Santa Claus himself was signing copies of “Santa’s Second Home” in Riverwood, Gibbons was already selling out of one the most popular toys he has in stock. “We’ve got this little desktop drum kit,” he said, banging out a rhythm on the demo set. “The rock ’n’ roll careers start with these drums.”

One customer bought three sets, and another, worried that they might sell out, picked up one for under her tree.

Also selling out were bubble guns, which Rick had picked up at the toy expo in New York City earlier this year. “We were filling the streets with bubbles on Induction Weekend,” said Gibbons. “Some people drum, some people bubble – we need both.”

For the young scientists in the family, House has plenty in stock to keep them experimenting and building. “I was a math and science teacher before I opened the store, so I’m really interested in science and building kits.”

He’s got catapults and Crazy Forts, but his favorite toys are the new Goldie Blox kits, aimed at getting girls interested in science and technology. “They’ve really taken off,” he said. “They come with a storybook that tells of a problem Goldie has and what she has to build to solve it, then you build that project using different engineering concepts.”

Some of the kits include a conveyor belt, a parade float and a 13-foot zipline with a Goldie Blox action figure.

And what both are finding is that toys that were popular when they were kids are coming back into favor with the next generation. “We’ve got Lite Brites, the original-issue Candy Land and Shrinky Dinks,” said House. “When I see those, it harkens back to when I was a kid.”

“We always carry the classic toys,” said Gibbons.

And classically styled, with a modern twist, is Gibbons new favorite, the Cubebot, a wooden action figure that also doubles as a puzzle. “You unfurl it into a robot, then you have to get it back into a cube,” he said. “You can give it to a six year old to play with, then the parents can try to figure out how to get it back into a square!”

And even Santa has a favorite toy, a mini snowman that kids can not only build out of the included putty, but watch melt. “It’s right in line with ‘Frozen’,” said the Jolly Old Elf.

“We’re always looking for wacky toys,” said Gibbons. “We’re just wacky kids ourselves.”

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