When I was a boy, my parents were always spoiling my summer vacation by making me go outside. Kids today have it easier: As long as you can sneak your iPad out of the house, you can stay entertained until the battery runs dry. Who needs the wonders of nature when all you need is a few bucks and a connection to the App Store?
"Knights of the Round Cable" (Chillingo, 99 cents): The publisher of the original "Angry Birds" -- as well as such colorful concoctions as "Cut the Rope" and "Feed Me Oil" -- is back with another wacky arcade challenge. Your character is a knight who bounces around in the sky while avoiding dragons, witches and other flying threats. You have one tool, a grappling hook that attaches to airborne anchor points, allowing you to switch directions, grab treasures or hurl yourself toward distressed damsels in need of rescue.
There's not much variety among the levels, but the designers have thrown in enough incentives -- like the ability to spend your loot to upgrade your knights -- to keep you coming back. "Round Cable" hits the iPad sweet spot: You can learn it in seconds and then find you've spent hours twirling through its castles.
"The Act" (Chillingo, 99 cents): Edgar is a shy window washer who nearly falls off his scaffold when he spies a lovely nurse making her rounds. "The Act" follows Edgar's attempts to woo the nurse, both in his own imagination and in his more slapstick reality. Your control is limited: Swiping right on the iPad screen makes Edgar act with more confidence, while swiping left makes him back off.
With its charming, hand-drawn animation and simple left-right choices, "The Act" will remind arcade veterans of the classic "Dragon's Lair" -- although it doesn't ask you to drop another quarter each time you fail. And since your mistakes are easily corrected, it only takes about an hour to make it through the story. Still, that's not bad for a buck.
"Amazing Alex" (Rovio Entertainment, 99 cents): "Angry Birds" addicts have been wondering what its developer, Rovio, would do for an encore. They're bound to be a little disappointed with "Amazing Alex," a high-resolution adaptation of a physics puzzler ("Casey's Contraptions"), which first appeared in the App Store a year ago. Still, it's an addictive collection of more than 100 puzzles in which you're challenged to assemble Rube Goldberg-like machines out of shelves, pipes, springs, balloons, balls and other household objects. And since players can create and share their own levels, the possibilities are infinite.
"Pocket Planes" (NimbleBit, free): The creators of the real estate simulator "Tiny Tower" take to the skies, inviting you to start a small regional airline. You begin by flying short routes in one-seat puddle jumpers, then spend your earnings on bigger aircraft. The more planes you have in the air, the more money you make, allowing you to buy access to more distant airports until, eventually, you're circling the globe. "Pocket Planes" isn't challenging -- heck, it's hardly even a game, but even though you spend most of your time waiting for your aircraft to land, it's weirdly addictive.
"Lumicon" (UglyApps, $1.99): If you enjoy spelling games like "Words With Friends" or "W.E.L.D.E.R." but just have a few minutes to spare, this app should satisfy you. You have seven empty rows in which to place letters, one at a time; each time you spell a word, you can remove it. Scoring multiple words at once earns a power-up -- perhaps that elusive vowel you've been seeking. If you clog up the bottom "gutter" with unused tiles, it's game over. "Lumicon" moves a little too quickly -- "Scrabble" players who like to take their time will find it frustrating -- but it's a fast, fun fix.