Monday, January 28, 2008


I was inspired to write this list when I saw Google's graphical tribute to my #1 toy (see the bottom of this post). This is my list, and therefore, it is inscrutable. Here we go:

10. Barbie dolls. Before recalling millions of Chinese produced toys because of dangerous amounts of lead paint (whoops!), MATTEL was responsible for the most iconic and popular dolls of all time. Introduced in 1957, Barbie is currently responsible for 80% of the company's profits. (And that's my sole nod to "toys for girls".)

9. Fisher Price Little People. I had the Main Street set when I was a kid, with the post office, barber shop, and fire house, and all sorts of people and vehicles to go with it (even a little wooden dog that chewed the plastic ears off of). I think I played with it until I was in 8th grade. (I wish I were lying.)

8. Slinky. Still made in the USA, this toy was invented by a Marine who, instead of focusing on the war effort, observed a torsion spring roll around on a ship's deck. I still cannot get the jingle out of my head: "It's Slinky, it's Slinky, for fun it's a wonderful toy. It's Slinky, it's Slinky, it's fun for a girl and a boy."

I could never get one of them to go down the stairs, let alone two of them. So I used to just dangle it from the top of the stairs and try to hit someone in the head with it. After about 3 days it would get all bent and tangled, and you'd have to go buy a new one.

7. Superball. A simple round piece of hard rubber, you couldn't wait to get it outside and try to bounce it over the roof . . . and then you promptly lost it. According to this commercial from the 50s, it had 50,000 pounds of compressed energy! How could an 8 year old kid possibly control that?

(I remember that Super Elastic Bubble Plastic. Man, it looked and smelled nasty.)

6. Play-Doh. Everyone claims to have eaten this as a kid, but I can definitely say that I just played with it. You could find little hardened bits of this crap everywhere.

5. Wiffle Ball. For those of us who couldn't really figure out the curveball using a traditional baseball, this was a godsend. From adolescence to college, I can't even tell you how many of the Wiffle Bat and Ball sets I've bought. Nothing beats a game of Wiffle ball.

4. Frisbee. Sure, it's just an inverted pie plate that someone at the WHAM-O company in 1957 reshaped to fly straight. But it's that kind of simple innovation that makes the frisbee a lasting toy. (Yes, those of you who take "Ultimate Frisbee" really seriously, it's just a toy.)

3. Atari 2600. Released in 1977, it ushered in the era of home videogame consoles, and made the word "joystick" an acceptable household word. From Combat, Space Invaders and Adventure, to the Activision classics Pitfall and River Raid, to the truly shitty home version of PAC-MAN, this system had an endless list of game cartridges, as well as an endless number of retro sites devoted to it today.

I could never figure out that stupid Raiders of the Lost Ark game.

2. NERF balls. I think it's safe to say that everyone has owned a NERF ball at some point in their lifetime. How classic is the NERF football, or the NERFoop? Both released in 1972, they are still sold in toy stores today. NERF even sells sports attachments for the Nintendo Wii.

1. LEGO. Celebrating its 50th birthday today, the modern plastic LEGO block is the ultimate universal customizable toy: easy for a child to learn, and it affords seemingly endless building combinations. I used to have a huge box of these that I played with for my entire childhood, and just visited the LEGO store in the mall the other day. Timeless and classic.

(Note: that LEGO Star Wars II: Original Trilogy game, which I bought for my nieces for the PS2, is incredibly fun.)