My favorite toys tend to have an element of absurdity to them. Select merchandise at Spencers Gifts and the entire contents of the Accoutrements catalog are excellent examples of what I consider fun. When I was much younger, my preferred toys had a more educational slant to them. I couldn't put down my See & Say or this other low-tech device that showed the product of two numbers when you pushed the button down the column and across the row where those two numbers met. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that toys have changed since the simpler days of Lincoln Logs and Play-Doh.
Last week's NY Times suggests that the sky is quite literally the limit when it comes to the present of the $21.3 billion toy industry. Functional materials, like microprocessor chips and special foam, have become cheaper, fueling innovation. But can talking robots and radio-controlled flapping dragonflies compete with Xboxes, PSPs, and Wiis (oh my)?
I went to the 2007 American International Toy Fair to shake my cane at these kids today. Instead, I found a lot of the same stuff I remember squandering my youth on, like stuffed animals so cute I wanted to die (except now you can make your own in an astounding variety), miniature lifestyle products to pretend you are just like mommy and daddy (except now your parents use the phone to prepare meals), and tons of puzzles and board games (except now just about everybody makes a variation on Sudoku or an increasingly customized version of Monopoly).
A popular congregation spot on Sunday was at the booth for Be Amazing who did a live demonstration of what happens when Mentos meets Diet Coke. You have probably already caught the viral video by Eeepy Bird last year. In 2007, Be Amazing is selling you the tools to recreate the experiment at home. Most of their products are meant to inspire the mad scientist inside you, like Insta-Snow, a powder that instantly fluffs upon contact with water. I have a soft spot for inventions and chemistry sets, so I spent a little too much time playing with the snow and the Yuck jar, a variety pack of ways to make realistic looking bodily fluids. That's what I call interactive gaming.
I also chatted with an inventor for Portland's Hog Wild, Eric Hartman, who developed the "Temperature Controlled Faucet Light" for the company. I'm thinking about buying one for my landlord to teach him the difference between hot and cold water (Just kidding, Paul!).
What are your kids playing with? Can you get them to put down their joysticks (if that's even what they're called any more) and build a space rocket out of sticks? Are you more impressed with the more automated a toy can be? Or, are you like me and would rather impale yourself with a giggling Elmo than gift it to a child?