Gamified activities incentivize students to work harder to achieve goals and catch up in the subjects they were falling behind in. Photo via Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented difficulty for teachers. Students adjusting from in-person to remote back to in-person learning have struggled immensely.

Research demonstrates that during the COVID-19 pandemic, high school students lost on average “the equivalent of 3.4 months of instruction in reading, 3.3 months in math, 3.1 months in science, and 2.3 months in English” — even through remote learning.

This learning gap, or COVID slide, as it is more commonly referred to, needs to be addressed. Already, we are seeing the consequences of this learning loss. According to data from the ACT, the standardized college entrance exam taken by high school juniors and seniors, the “average high school junior who took the college entrance exam in spring 2021 fell from the 50th to 46th percentile.”

Even as in-person instruction resumes again, test scores continue to stagnate and fall. The question remains: how do we recoup this learning loss caused by COVID-19?

What is ed tech?

Education technology, or edtech, refers to the practice of using educational hardware and software to enhance teaching in the classroom. Edtech can make learning more accessible and fun for students. With the rise in learning gaps in the classrooms, edtech can solve this growing issue.

While edtech has taken over the field of education quite rapidly due to the onset of COVID-19, there are certain aspects of educational technology that are still unexplored by many. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and machine learning have become more prominent in the field. Learning becomes much more exciting when the idea of games is added to it.

The concept that students end up learning more while having fun has been given a new name: gamification in education. Game-based elements are integrated with learning to enhance students’ knowledge and information. Technology has broken down various barriers to becoming an integral part of our day-to-day lives and changing how we live. However, despite becoming a part of education, there is limited research as to how gamification affects students.

Benefits of gamification in education

Do you remember that feeling back in school when you received a gold star on your worksheet? Or the time when your name went up on the classroom wall of fame? That feeling of being excited and even proud of our achievement is what we need to harness in order to make our students excited about their learning. By providing badging and credentialing in their day-to-day learning, we can provide gamification aspects of that classroom wall of fame!

Even though it is evident that students are significantly more enthusiastic when gamification in education is involved, there are certain behavioral changes caused by gamification that are also observed by various studies.

A study shows that gamification has a positive yet moderate effect on students. However, it tends to have a greater impact on school students than college students. Nonetheless, this cannot be generalized to all students since many character traits differ across students resulting in various outcomes.

According to Science Direct, students who experienced challenge-based gamification faced an increase in their performance levels by 89.45 percent as compared to those who only received lectures. This study once again proves that gamification piques the interest of students in their education and leads them to do better.

This point is further supported by Intuition which found that 67 percent of students found gamified learning to be more engaging and encouraging as compared to traditional learning courses.

The learning environment created with the availability of gamification seems promising to the extent that students are capable of achieving more and absorbing more as compared to traditional learning methods. E-learning has made different channels of education accessible to students who seem more eager to learn in a virtual social network. This behavior gives room to healthy competition among students who then wish to perform better than others.

​Incorporating gamification in education

There isn’t a set standard of gamified learning involved and depending on the lesson, different features of gamification can be used to make education fun and unique for all. Some useful ways of incorporating gamification within the classroom include:

  • Creating avatars. Allowing students to have personalized experiences and developing their skill sets in a competitive environment with their classmates prepares them for practical life.
  • Awarding badges. Rather than receiving grades, students can be awarded online badges that mark their progress in class.
  • Knowledge checks. Testing subject skills through quizzes and leaderboards increases the performance levels of students while strengthening their concepts within the class.

The addition of simple gamification in education makes the learning process unique to each teacher or classroom while enhancing the competitiveness of students to perform better and achieve more.

Considering that children have faced a detrimental setback in their education, we need to get their attention back on track. COVID-19 has made students heavily reliant on their tablets and smartphones which makes using gamification a good technique to get them to engage with their academics once again. These conceptual gamified activities incentivize students to work harder to achieve goals and catch up in the subjects they were lacking behind in. It is time that we try these engaging activities and unique methods to boost student engagement and provide an avenue for them to get excited about their education.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

These are the Houston women named to this year's Women of Influence list by Entrepreneur Magazine. Photo via Getty Images

Houston founders recognized as influential women

who runs the world?

A handful of Houston women have been named to Entrepreneur Magazine's 2022 Women of Influence list, which recognizes women making an impact in their respective industries.

Ghazal Qureshi and Vernee Hines, co-founders of The Woodlands-based UpBrainery Technologies, and Houston-based Carolyn Rodz, along with her California-based co-founder, Elizabeth Gore, of Hello Alice, made the 2022 list. Additionally, representing the bar and restaurant world, Alba Huerta, founder of Julep, joins her fellow Houstonians for the honor.

UpBrainery is an AI-driven technology platform that helps middle and high school students align their interests with career development. The company has worked with Whataburger, Girl Scouts, The Houston Rockets, NASDAQ and others. It was also named by the Department of Defense Education Activity as the premiere provider of Career Technology Education for 52 military middle schools across the world this summer. The app uses its proprietary BrainLab platform that presents TikTok-style videos, gamified learning and augmented reality to relate to its young users.

"Our careful plan to launch a disruptive education technology in 2020, just as schools shut down, did not go well!," the duo told Entrepreneur. "But today we're engaging students through gamified content and immersive experiences. We've been hyperfocused on career development in middle and high school with new tools that allow students to better understand their interests and aptitudes. Technology is the only way to scale change. And although changing the status quo in education is daunting, it's doable."

Qureshi, Qureshi serves as the CEO of Upbrainery, and Hines were also named to Forbes' Next 1000 list in 2021, which featured inspiring entrepreneurs and small-business leaders “who are redefining what it means to build and run a business amid the new normal.” The company recently participated in the gBETA Houston accelerator in 2021.

Hello Alice is a data-driven platform that provides over 1 million small business owners with free advice, resources, and access to funding. Most recently, the Houston-based tech company announced a new founder-focused credit card.

"As a Latina- and women-founded company, we focus on New Majority small business owners facing persistent and glaring disparities in access to capital," the two founders told the magazine. "We have raised and distributed over $37 million in grants — mostly to women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, those with a military connection, and entrepreneurs with disabilities. And we've brought on partners like Mastercard and NAACP to help."

Edtech is expected to continue to make learning more interactive, fun, and inclusive for people around the world. Photo via Pexels

Here's what types of technology is going to disrupt the education sector, says this Houston founder

guest column

Technology has always maneuvered education in a certain direction but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced it to shift towards a new direction entirely.

What started off as a basic video lecture turned into a more hybrid and innovative form of education, enabling student engagement and interactivity like never before. Social media forums allow teachers to pay one-on-one attention to students boosting their learning process.

With an edtech boom on the rise, there is a question of what further expansion in educational technology is expected. Here are some technology breakthroughs currently underway in the education sector:

Biometric signals

A technology that picks up human behavior and traits to display individual needs and requirements has become an important part of the education system. Biometrics within the classroom can disclose every student’s disposition, physical and emotional, making it possible to tailor the course to their personal needs.

Augmented reality glasses

Thomas Edison once said “Books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye.” AR glasses layer data on what students see naturally giving a real-life learning experience. A student using AR glasses in the class could sit on his desk and have a geographical map laid out in front of him in the geography lesson.

Multi-touch surfaces

Even though multi-touch surfaces are present in smartphones and tablets, enabling them in the education system will be a game changer. With multitouch desks, students can access the virtual world of learning and connect with other students globally.

According to FMI, the Edtech Market will reach a whopping $288.4 billion by 2031. Analysts suggest this growth is due to sway towards digital learning which has allowed users to view content anywhere, anytime. The Learning Management Software has gained global acceptance since innovative tools are launched to help users adapt to the upcoming technology.

Companies and institutions are using LMS to enhance learning capabilities to further an edtech boom.

Between 2021 and 2031 the academic institution segment in the Edtech market is expected to increase by 16.7 percent. McKinsey suggests that these technologies have filled the void left by conventional teaching methods. Technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have made classroom interactions and in-person experiences effective in the education system.

At the same time, Edtech investment is growing as well. HolonIQ reported a $21 billion venture of capital investment in edtech startups globally, in 2021. This was a growth 3 times higher before the pandemic hit the world. During the global pandemic, the education sector was revolutionized and learning moved online. This opened up an avenue for edtech startups globally creating room for an edtech boom.

Growth opportunities created by educational institutes 

Moving on from the global pandemic, education institutes have moved on from traditional learning, encouraging students to use ebooks. This has created opportunities for companies to share their e-learning solutions in the market.

Microlearning has been introduced as a concept where learners are provided knowledge at the rate they can absorb the information efficiently. This is helpful for learners with a short attention span. Microlearning improves learning transfer by 71 percent, and engagement by 50 percent while reducing development cost by 50 percent and increasing the development speed.

The pandemic has left its impact on the education system with educators and learners being comfortable with adaptive edtech. According to research by Purdue University, technological advances have changed the perspectives of both educators and learners. Being more aware of the fact that there is no standard way of learning for all students, teachers prefer educational technology for interactive learning sessions.

Innovation in edtech continues to grow since there are no limits to growth, especially in technology. After receiving positive feedback from parents, teachers, and students, further advances in edtech are expected to make learning more interactive, fun, and inclusive for people around the world.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Adam Putterman of OURS, and Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from edtech to mental health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce was a panelist on The Ion's Pride in Tech event. Photo via LinkedIn

There are a few days left in Pride Month, and Houston's tech community came together last week to celebrate — but also discuss some of the challenges within the ecosystem for LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs.

In a Q&A with InnovationMap, Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, shared her advice for LGBTQIA+ innovators and allies.

"Get involved with the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce," she says. "Since 2016, the chamber has been working to build a strong community to support LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and get them access to resources to help their businesses grow and thrive." Click here to read more.

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS, shares how he jumped on the opportunity that is innovating the future of relationship health. Photo courtesy of OURS

More than ever before, people are warming up to the idea of seeking professional health care for more than just their bodies, Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We've seen a massive shift in the perception of counseling and therapy — and, more importantly, all the aspects of health that are not just your body," he explains. "It's no longer just going to the gym, it's meditating, coaching for a professional field. We've found that people are taking that mindset and applying it to their relationship as well."

After launching its beta in 2020, OURS worked in stealth to develop its product, which officially launched in May. The platform costs $400 for a four-week program that includes six personalized interactive sessions with an OURS guide at the helm of the experience. These one-hour technology-powered sessions are based around an innovative new technology, called Loveware, and include dynamic and meaningful conversations between a couple that are built around the magic that comes from being in the room with an expert. Click here to listen to the full episode and read more.

Ghazal Qureshi, founder and CEO of UpBrainery

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo courtesy

The education community is facing big changes thanks to technology and new innovations. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ghazal Qureshi — founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform — shares how things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more have the potential to impact the sector.

"AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated," she writes. "Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly." Click here to read more.

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Houston founder: Innovating education in an evolving world

guest column

Once upon a time, gaining knowledge was relatively a simpler task. Going to school, being taught through books, the joy of taking notes on a neat blank page, and the use of bright, colorful stationery had another level of excitement.

Now, the overwhelming innovations in the educational sector has changed the entire landscape and left educators, students, and parents wondering whether they will be able to adapt to the changing times.

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector.

What are AI, AR, and machine learning?

It is common to see these acronyms flash around in product innovations, news, and the educational sector. Artificial intelligence is the capability of a robot that is managed or controlled by a computer to do tasks that are carried out by humans, such as analyzing and making decisions.

Whereas augmented reality is the experience of a real world where the objects belonging to the real world are enhanced by the computer. Machine learning is a part of artificial intelligence that allows computers to act without being explicitly programmed.

According to the report published in Statista, “the global artificial intelligence market is projected to grow rapidly in the future years, reaching around $126 billion by 2025."

The Business Research Company has stated in their article that “the global augmented reality in training and education market size is expected to grow from $6.27 billion in 2021 to $10.37 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 65.4 percent.”

Will the education industry be able to survive in these rapidly evolving times?

One thing which the pandemic has proved is that e-learning and e-teaching became easily accessible, adaptable, and preferred by the majority of the working class. Not only that but post-pandemic, both students and educators preferred online education over traditional methods since over time we have recognized the upside of e-learning.

Some of these include studying at your own pace and convenience, you get to design your schedule, and improved time management because you get to skip on travel-time and it leads to enhanced learning through innovative educational tools such as AI, AR, and machine learning.

As explained by Communications of the Association for Information System (CAIS), a study was conducted regarding what were the factors of receiving distance education despite the normal circumstances. A model was developed based on social cognitive theory and social cognitive career theory. It was then tested by using data from 525 college students surveyed after enrolling in distance learning classes. Per the report, "results indicate that personal and environmental factors drive intentions to continue with distance learning through their impact on distance learning perceived performance, and satisfaction.“

Augmented Reality in the educational sector has enabled teachers to engage their students through virtual examples of various concepts, by utilizing gaming-like strategists to help students understand the textbook materials easily.

As a result, students have shown keen interest, high engagement, faster learning, and easy memorizing capabilities.

A recent example of augmented reality in the educational sector is Google Expedition, which enables students to see 3D objects in the classroom like volcanoes, the human brain, DNA, etc., which helps them to understand, visualize and experience the learning process. It goes beyond the traditional imaginative process of learning and experiencing.

According to Assembler Blog, “statistics have revealed that 80 percent of more students are likely to attend a class that incorporates augmented reality experiences.” Moreover, “70 percent of students also say that they could grasp the material faster and improve their learning experience” through AR technology used in teaching.

Similarly, machine learning and AI have also taken the educational industry by storm.

A blog written in The Journal has stated that: “According to the eLearning Industry, 47 percent of learning management tools will be enabled with AI capabilities in the next three years.”

Artificial intelligence has helped students in tutoring when students face problems and are not able to reach their teachers at that moment, making virtual tutors, artificially intelligent software, and chatbots perfect solutions in these situations.

Moreover, personalization is something that every student prefers to have in their education. Through machine learning, AI has enabled its students to choose their program based on their capability, pace, and desire. We must recognize that each person has learning preferences, most of us only memorize through visual means. Similarly, another person might be an auditory learner or a kinesthetic learner. Hence, it is imperative to identify these cognitive traits to deliver personalized and successful learning experiences to our students.

AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated.

Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly.

But by looking at all the facts and figures, the benefits and students teachers' high engagement evidence shows that indeed the educational sector will transform and cope with the speedy changes gradually.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

Reda Hicks (left) of GotSpot Inc, Ghazal Qureshi (center) of Idea Lab Kids, and Abbey Donnell of Work & Mother are this week's innovators to know. Courtesy photos

3 Houston female entrepreneurs to know this week

Who's who

Another Monday means another set of innovators to know. This one focuses on a few female startup leaders changing the game in the commercial real estate and education industries.

Reda Hicks, founder and CEO of GotSpot Inc.

Reda Hicks create GotSpot — a digital tool that helps connect people with commercial space with people who need it. Courtesy of GotSpot

Turns out, Hurricane Harvey was the big push Reda Hicks needed to create her startup, GotSpot Inc., the Airbnb of commercial real estate.

"It was really Harvey and having so many people desperate to find space for emergency purposes that made me realize there are so many contexts in which people need space right away for something specific," she says. "Certainly the primary user is the entrepreneur trying to grow their business, but there are so many other reasons why a community would need better access to the space it already has."

Hicks, a lawyer by trade, now juggles startup life, being a wife and mom, and her full-time legal career. Read the rest of the story here.

Ghazal Qureshi, founder of Idea Lab Kids

Ghazal Qureshi wanted to engage her own kids in educational activities. Now, her programing has expanded worldwide. Courtesy of Idea Lab Kids

At first, Ghazal Qureshi just wanted to find her kids a quality after school educational program. When she couldn't, she decided to make something herself. Now, it's a franchised company with locations worldwide.

"From the beginning, we were never restricted by trying to make money. It was a passion project only," Qureshi says.

IDEA Lab Kids, an education program focused on STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, has 18 locations in Houston, and, two years ago, she expanded the brand into a franchise business — the Idea Lab International Franchise Company. Read the rest of the story here.

Abbey Donnell, founder of Work & Mother

Abbey Donnell's startup, Work & Mother, provides a new way for new moms to pump breast milk during the workday. Courtesy of Work & Mother

When Abbey Donnell heard horror stories from some friends who recently returned to work after giving birth, she had an idea. What if new moms had a stylish, spa-like lactation experience during the workday that was less inconvenient and, well, awkward.

"There were constant stories about [women] being told the use the IT closet, or the conference room, or the bathroom or their cars," Donnell says. "Some of them were pretty big oil and gas firms companies that should've had the resources and space to do better than that."

Donnell founded Work & Mother, a boutique pumping and wellness center, and opened the first location in downtown Houston in 2017 and is planning its second downtown location. Read the rest of the story here.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.