Puzzles in Place of Skills Checks
Here are a few ideas to use in your game to replace standard dexterity and intelligence challenges. Those are really the only skills that can be taken into the real world. Handing your player a steel bar and telling them to bend it will be amusing, but result in certain failure for your player, unless you game with the Hulk. Likewise injecting your players with Anthrax as a means of switching up boring old Constitution checks will result in a decrease in players in your area.
This wooden puzzle would work great as a dexterity challenge. In place of rolling a dex check or using a dex-based skill (like open lock, balance, etc) you could have your player(s) pull blocks and set the difficulty in number of blocks removed as opposed to a simple DC/roll. The problem with this method is that Glinfor the elvish ranger has a 17 dex while, Joe the gamer does not. But it could be fun and present a new challenge at the table.
Remember those little plastic tilt games with silver balls inside them? They would also serve as an excellent replacement for a dexterity challenge. The tech-savor GM could use a tilt game on his/her smart phone also.
A Sudoku puzzle makes a perfect mental challenge. In a past game I used a Sudoku puzzle on a pc that wanted to read the mind of a person trained to resist mental probing. Rather than adding a couple of points to the DC of the roll, I gave the player a Sudoku puzzle to simulate the mental struggle and shifted the focus to another player to allow the mentalist time to work. It was a neat trick, but again you run into the problem of player skill vs. character skill, though with mental challenges you always draw on player knowledge so it isn’t as glaring. (For example, your wizard has a 24 int, that isn’t helping you solve that riddle). Sudoku comes in varying difficulties so they require little adaptation.
A printable maze serves as another physical representation of a mental challenge. They also work great as an alternate to rolling an int check when under the effects of a Maze spell. They can be found easily on the web in varying levels of difficulty. A maze may also work in place of a saving throw for mind-affecting spells or after a player has failed a spell and that die roll will prevent him/her from finishing the encounter.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas for changing things up at the game table and giving your visual and tactile players something to do. Using them all the time will get tedious and lose effect, but trying it once a campaign will be sure to impress your players. Remember, as the DM you’re the entertainer and you have to keep your act fresh to ensure your audience is having a good time and keeps coming back to drink your Dew and eat your Doritos.