<em>These classic playthings have passed the test of time.</em>
<strong>BY ROMMIE JOHNSON</strong>
<strong>The Tampa Tribune</strong>
Somewhere near the North Pole the defective denizens of the Island of Misfit Toys gear up for their traditional winter ritual: saving Santa’s butt.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the globe, a second group of unpopular playthings makes some preparations of its own. On this Antarctic outpost, a reception is in the offing to greet the year’s incoming class. Welcome to the Island of Quickly Forgotten, Completely Ridiculous Holiday Toy Crazes.
Furby, meet Elmo. Elmo, Furby.
Yep, it happens every year. As faddish, fickle tots turn their acquisitive attentions to the Next Big Thing, the former must-haves become has-beens, forgotten and tossed aside without so much as a pan to flash in.
And hordes of hapless, deranged parents hurry back to the mall, hoping to score the hot new toy before it becomes next year’s “collectible.”
Where does it end? When do we say enough is enough?
Here’s a suggestion: How about here. And now.
Cabbage Patch Kids? Thanks, but no thanks. Beanie Babies? Forget about it. Tamogatchi? Was that the Pet Rock of the ’90s, or what?
You can keep ’em all. We’ll just stick with the classics, thanks very much. You know, that “junk” your mom threw out decades ago? (Assuming it isn’t still stuck on your neighbor’s rooftop.)
These timeless toys might seem primitive compared to today’s high-tech gizmos (Super Poo-Chi the Interactive Dog? Oh, please), but they carry at least one important trait conspicuously missing from the futuristic baubles that pass for toys in the 21st century: They’re fun to play with.
What a concept.
Oh, and since they lack the cachet of the season’s favorites, there should be plenty of these time-tested toys on store shelves. Which means they’ll make perfect buys for frustrated, last-minute Santas in need of saving.
Some of our favorites:
• Wooly Willy: Mmmm, magnetic shards. Give Willy funny facial hair using the “magic” wand.
• Lego: Back then we had just six bricks that could be interlocked in over 100 million different combinations. The newer sets may not foster as much creativity, but they’re still great fun.
• Little plastic army men: A shoe box full of featureless green guys and an active imagination is all you need for hours of heroic, carnage-filled fantasy.
• Easy-Bake Oven: Today’s model resembles a microwave, but the cake mix still tastes the same.
• Nerf: Spongy-soft projectiles safe for indoor use – pure genius. Absorb pool water with the Nerf football for extra distance on your passes.
• Sit ‘n Spin: If you didn’t live close to a park with a swinging gate (since banned, thank heavens), this was the best toy around for making yourself nauseatingly dizzy.
• That big rubber ball with a handle on it: You know, that thing you’d sit on and bounce around for hours? We can’t remember what it used to be called (was it a Hippity-Hop?), but there are several versions still on the market.
• G.I. Joe: With or without the kung-fu grip, Joe was “the real American hero” for generations of boys. By the way, he’s an action figure – not a doll.
• Etch-A-Sketch: The world’s first laptop. Just don’t try to make circles.
• Electric Football: Hey, it vibrates. Need we say more?
• Raggedy Ann: This huggable cloth doll is the ultimate comfort toy for girls. Just make sure you get one that has a hidden little heart reading, “I love you.”
• Play-Doh: There’s no end to the fun when you’ve got a heaping helping of primary-colored Play-Doh to squish, mold, and sculpt. Oh, and remember the smell? Timeless.
• Lincoln Logs: The only thing more fun than building your own log cabins was knocking them over with a Tonka truck. Make sure you get the wooden ones, unless you’re worried a toy that’s built to last will just freak your kids out.
• Slinky: It’s a long metal spring. It walks down stairs. It scares the poop out of your cat.
• Spirograph: Apparently the new version only comes with one color of pen and doesn’t include the weirder-shaped gears – the ones that made the coolest designs. Bummer.
• Lite-Brite: Great fun for kids of all ages, excepting that middle-teen period where they might be tempted to create dirty pictures.
• Tinker Toys: Who knew rods and spools could be so much fun? Note: Despite their “classic” tag, current Tinker Toys are much larger than the ones you remember. Avoid the plastic ones.
• Magic 8-Ball: Endless answers for inquisitive kids, plus you can borrow it for your own fortune-telling needs. (Will Christmas just go away if I ignore it long enough? “Outlook not so good.” Sigh.)
• Silly Putty: Malleable goo of uncertain composition and unlimited allure, Silly Putty was useful for hilarious facial distortions before we had Photoshop filters.
• Sea Monkeys: Ahh, the joys of brine shrimp. Sea Monkeys are unbelievably cool and teach kids how to care for pets. Until you forget to feed them for a while and then they’re just dead.
• Erector Set: They come in kits these days, with all the parts and instructions needed to build a specific vehicle – no imagination required. We preferred the generic original set, but what can you do?
• Big Wheel: We actually drove Green Machines and Inchworms when we were kids, but the Big Wheel was by far the most popular form of transportation on the block. It still is.
• Operation: What could be better than a game that rewards kids for self-control? The challenge: It’s darn near impossible to steady your hand when you’re busy laughing at your patient’s nakedness. (No, he’s not anatomically correct.)
• Water Wiggle: A nation of children mourned when the Water Wiggle was recalled in 1978 because some dim-bulb kid lodged it in his mouth and drowned. But a new idiot-proof model has been introduced, and we couldn’t be more psyched.
• Mr. Potato Head: This versatile, spud-shaped hunk of plastic has been a favorite since the ’50s, and now that he’s a movie star (” Toy Story”) the timeless tater should appeal to today’s tots, too.
• Viewmaster: The new Viewmaster looks a bit different, but still uses those same round picture-reels for its 3-D stories. As seen on television’s “That ’70s Show” (mind-altering substances optional).
• Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars: Just like the real thing, only different. At least you don’t have to worry about fill-ups, oil changes and whatnot. And they don’t have those annoying alarms, either. Not yet, anyway.
• Candy Land: We’ll have to admit, Lord Licorice kind of scares us a little bit these days, but when you’re a kid there’s no cooler concept than a land made of candy.
• The Game of Life: This board game teaches some valuable life lessons: Success depends as much on luck as it does on your own efforts, college isn’t necessarily worthwhile and – just like in real life – the player with the most money wins.
• Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: Lever-controlled plastic robots duke it out in the ring. Surprisingly cathartic.
• Don’t Spill the Beans: Where else are your kids going to learn about the physics of bean spillage? This is important stuff.
• Battleship: The classic naval combat game loses its charm in the newer electronic versions. Thankfully, the original – with plastic ships and pegs – is still available.
• Cooties: Not the dreaded childhood disease, but the bug-building contest. All hail Milton Bradley.
• Twister: It’s actually more fun to watch than it is to play, which is one more reason to buy it for your kids. On the other hand, it requires that the little monsters have a few friends.
• Walkie Talkies: They may not excite kids used to cell phones and beepers, but somehow we managed to have countless hours of fun without voice mail.
Toys in the attic
This was a bittersweet assignment. While we were delighted to discover how many of our childhood diversions have stood the test of time, we were also a bit saddened to learn that a few of our old favorites have since faded from the scene.
Among the toys we miss:
• SSP Racers: These plastic cars and cycles had a big rubber tire that was activated with a toothed rip-cord. They absolutely flew and, better still, they left rubber burnout marks on mom’s tile floor and made dents in the baseboards. Little wonder they’ve since disappeared from the market.
• Jarts: Jarts and other “lawn darts” were banned ages ago because of dumb kids like ourselves. Instead of throwing them at the plastic ring, as intended, we’d aim at each other. (You don’t know pain until you’ve been impaled with a hurtling Jart.) Dangerous, yeah, but man was it fun.
• Klackers: Obnoxious noise was the whole point – you moved a pair of hard, plastic balls attached by a string so that they’d “clack” together quickly and repeatedly. Parental headaches ensued, as did Klackers’ demise.
• Stretch Armstrong: You could stretch the arms of this elastic-limbed action figure up to four times the width of his body and they’d snap right back into place. (For a few weeks, anyway.) Unfortunately, you could also wrap those stretched-out arms around your little brother’s throat, prompting the toy’s eventual removal from store shelves.
• Weebles: Why these aren’t still around, we’ll never know. In a playroom battle with Fisher Price’s little people, the Weebles would undoubtedly emerge victorious. After all, much like Jam Master Jay’s turntables, they might wobble but they don’t fall down.
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