Toying With Kids

There was a simple toy I used to love. It featured a bald man with big eyes and a red nose, who was shielded behind a plastic case. There was a red-handled stick, or ‘wand’ as it was called on the package, that had a magnet on one end.

Inside the plastic case were metal shavings. If I placed the toy flat, I could use the magnetic wand to drag the shavings over the man’s face, giving him hair on his head, a mustache, beard, or even hairy ears if I wanted.

The toy, which debuted in the mid-50s, is called, “Wooly Willy,” and like many of the toys of youth, you can still buy it today.

What made me think of this was a new toy that, according to Fortune Magazine, recently accounted for 17 percent of all online toy sales: The Fidget Spinner.

By the time I became aware that the Fidget Spinner (a triangular-shaped device you hold and spin between your finger and thumbs) was all the rage, I was told by some younger people that it I’d missed the peak of its popularity. No matter. This wasn’t the first fad toy that passed me by.

There have been a number of toys that have been quite popular. But, often, they vanished as quickly as they arrived. The frenzy that they created seems silly and even somewhat baffling in hindsight.

I can’t speak to most toy fads of the last 20 years, but I can address the ones of my kid’s childhoods.

The Rubik’s Cube is a great example. A square of smaller, movable squares of different colors, the Rubik’s Cube was actually a puzzle. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, where it came unassembled and your job was to put it together, the cube came with all of the colors in the correct places, and you had to mess it up yourself and then try and fix it.

In the 1980s, stores sold out of the thing and people would line up on shipment day to get one. My kids and their friends would have contests to see who could fix theirs the quickest.

I still have one in a drawer somewhere that has a dent in it where it may have been accidentally thrown across the room.

Cabbage Patch Dolls were also a huge toy fad. I didn’t understand them then and I still don’t, but they were the must have toy for a couple of Christmases.

Supposedly, these babies were born in said cabbage patch, then boxed up, complete with a birth certificate, shipped to a store and then sold. I always found that whole concept creepy, but that didn’t stop millions of moms from wrestling in the aisles of stores across America over one of these dolls to make sure that their kid had one come Christmas morning.

Ho, Ho, Ho.

Even my generation had its own share of fad toys. In middle school, we had a toy we called “Click Clacks,” but their actual name was “Clackers.” Clackers had a metal ring connected to two pieces of heavy twine. At the end of each piece of twine was a hard ball. I’m not sure what the ball was made of, but it was quite hard. The object of the toy was to swing the balls up and down so that they smacked each other in mid-air. My father said that the true object of the toy was to send kids to the emergency room.

Mood rings were also quite popular when I was young. When you put the ring on, the stone in it allegedly turned the color that matched the mood you were in at that moment. The ring came with a card that listed all of the colors and the moods they represented. Mine stayed black a lot. I’m guessing that since most teens are in a perpetually fowl mood that the rings really did work.

The standout fad toy of my childhood to me was The Pet Rock. I never owned one, but lots of friends did. Kudos to the guy who came up with the idea to take a box, poke air holes in it, label it, “Pet Rock,” and actually find people dumb enough to give him money for it. I hope he got really, really rich for pulling that one off.

It is worth noting that most of the toys that have retained their popularity with multiple generations and are still around are the basic ones.

Lincoln Logs, Play-Doh, Silly Putty, Battleship, Monopoly, Viewmaster, the Hula Hoop, and others have stood the test of time and are still available for kids and adults alike.

Now, if they can just come up with an updated Wooly Willy that puts real hair on the balding guys who played with that toy during their youth, they’ll have another hit.

©2017 John Moore
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