Behind the scenes at The Today Show

At the Today Show talking toys with Willie Geist and Steve Harvey

At the Today Show talking toys with Willie Geist and Steve Harvey

Last night I had odd dreams that were both a combination of Downton Abbey (I still feel so upset about the season’s ending)  and worrying that some of the prototypes (especially the last flying toy) wouldn’t work. By three in the morning I had Maggie Smith commenting on the series of spy toys we had on. Not the best night’s sleep.

Right before the segment with the Hot Wheel Car Maker

Right before the segment with the Hot Wheel Car Maker

This morning seemed very, very quiet. Maybe because it was soooo cold outside–it just seemed more laid back than usual. Since we were showing prototypes, there were no kids scheduled to be on the segment with me. That also made the green room less lively.  (Everyone did perk up when the Jeopardy teen champ came in.)  My mom, fresh back from her adventure through South America, was with me–which is always great. There was a guest there speaking about a 21 day cleanse. The whole idea made me hungry.

The segment was fun. You can watch it here. Willie Geist is fantastic and as a Dad with two young children, he’s totally in the toy zone. Steve Harvey was guest co-hosting today and was a total sport–trying out the Spy Net Lie Detector Toy from Jakks Pacific and flying one of the Atmospheres from Spin Master. Special thanks to Cara from LEGO and Rachel from Spin Master for coming in to make sure that they’re prototypes worked on camera. All the toys we showed today are featured on my blog posts from last week.

Love this picture because Steve is still playing with the toy!!

Love this picture because Steve is still playing with the toy!! Hasbro’s Monopoly News

Hasbro has a lot of Monopoly news this season. First they retired the iron play piece which feels right to me. I’ve never known anyone hollering to be the iron. So here’s the replacement…a cat. If you’re a cat person, I suppose, this will be a great addition. For me, I’ll stick with the doggie.

The new play piece for Monopoly...the cat.

The new play piece for Monopoly…the cat.

Also new for 2013, the Despicable Me 2 (click thru to watch the trailer-it’s really fun) version to coincide with the launch of the movie this July. Comes with off-the-chart cute minion pieces (they had to glue them down at toy fair so that they wouldn’t walk out of the showroom. In the good old days, they would have given us a sample, but I digress). Personally, I’d take any one of the minions over the cat! I like that both versions are classic Monopoly sets where a person, rather than a electronic device, is the banker.

Monopoly Despicable Me2 Version from Hasbro

Monopoly Despicable Me2 Version from Hasbro



A first world solution…the iPotty for the iPad

Today was the first day of Toy Fair at the Javits Center. Saw lots of terrific toys and games that I’ll be writing about during the course of the year. For some reason, there are certain “are you kidding?” toys that stand out. This one certainly got me to stop.

2-in-1 iiPotty with Activity Seat for iPad from CTA Digital

2-in-1 iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad from CTA Digital

It’s the new 2-in-1 iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad from CTA Digital. Kudos for the clever name. While the yuck factor comes to mind, I know a lot of people (well beyond toilet training) who take their electronics into the bathroom with them (you know who you are) — and at least this product has the benefit of a protective cover for the iPad. From my experience with such products, the splash guard in the actual seat looks inadequate for boys. There is also a pink version for girls.

I know there’s the argument that this will keep kids on the seat – there’s also something to be said for not always multi-tasking, don’t you think?

Calling George Jetson and Luke Skywalker: We have your toys

When I found out that Think Fun’s new Laser Maze comes with a real laser, I felt as if we were now truly in a new century of toys. There are many “laser-like” toys on the market.

Laser Maze from Think Fun

Laser Maze from Think Fun

Spin Master’s new super-cool looking Laser Defense System, for example, features a high intensity LED light, not a laser.  Laser Maze is similar to other classic brain teasers from Think Fun where the challenges become increasingly more complex (the game comes with 60). The game play is to move the pieces so that the laser bends off the mirrors and splitters on the game pieces to hit the target. We look forward to testing it.

My other futuristic favorite toy so far is the grapefruit-sized AtmoSPHERE from Spin Master. The orb-like flying toy promises to respond to motion. So once you activate it, you will be able to control where it goes by moving your hands around it. While not quite Luke Skywalker’s first lesson with his lightsaber, it is pretty amazing. We look forward to trying this one too.

Atmosphere from Spin Master

Atmosphere from Spin Master

They’re back….LEGO Mindstorms EV3

LEGO Mindstorms EV3

LEGO Mindstorms EV3

Hard to believe that LEGO Mindstorms were first on our Platinum Award list in 2007. This year LEGO is rolling out a revamped version of the robotics kit for a new generation of kids.  Knowing how essential smart phones have become, the new design enables them to operate their robots via their phones. The set comes with 17 suggested builds with three different levels of programming. Comes with a hefty price tag ($349.99) — but if you think of this as an after-school program in robotics, it seems more approachable. We look forward to testing this product.

Marbles and Bugs…just my kind of toys

I’m delighted to find that Hape has expanded the Quadrilla marble run line (a Platinum award winner from 2006). Here’s the new Xcellerator. These are pricey sets but the type of toy that will be handed down.

Xcellerator by Hape Toys

Xcellerator by Hape Toys will retail for $149

The design is so appealing. It looks like the track will provide for lots of speedy runs. We haven’t tested this particular set yet.

On the flip side of old-fashioned marble runs– take a look at Hexbugs Nano V2 from Innovation First. My mother thinks I’m obsessed with Hexbugs. I used to love capturing bugs as a kid–so that’s probably where the interest comes from. Now, instead of just having bugs on regular flat tracks, the new versions are designed so that they can move around tubed tracks that can be put in a vertical positions. How cool is that?  Hope it works!!  (As with most of my blog posting during Toy Fair, we are previewing the toys rather than reporting on toys we’ve tested yet.)

HEXBUG Nano V2 Set by Innovation First

HEXBUG Nano V2 Set by Innovation First

New Twist on a Classic: Make Your Own Hot Wheels Cars

Hot Wheels Toy Maker from Mattel

Hot Wheels Toy Maker from Mattel

Anyone who has enjoyed playing with Hot Wheels will appreciate the promise of this new activity toy from Mattel. We look forward to testing the Hot Wheel Toy Maker that will comes with two molds, 10 wax sticks and graphics for customizing the cars. The company says the cars will work on most tracks– we’ll be sure to try it out.

GoldieBlox’s Debra Sterling on a Mission

images-2Sometimes it feels like the toy industry has been overrun by less than highbrow ideas. For example, this year we received trash toys (where the play pattern is to collect simulated trash cans), fart producers (more on that later) and simulated animal dung. Which is why when I heard that a female Stanford engineering graduate started a toy company with the mission to encourage girls  to consider engineering and other math related careers,  I got very excited.  Read my interview at with Debra Sterling of GoldieBlox. Explosion in Building Sets for Girls


LEGO Friends Olivia’s Workshop

Last year LEGO discovered an untapped market…building sets for girls. While there was a great deal of controversy over such a gender specific category, girls across the country (and our testers) gave the LEGO FRIENDS line a huge thumbs up.  Girls that had not been enticed to try  existing “boy” sets, were embracing these new sets and asking for more. The themes: stables, vet, cafe, a house and my favorite, the inventor’s workshop. Our preference for gender-free toys still remains, but the benefit of having girls build (even if it means with pink bricks) far outweighs these concerns since we know that construction sets help develop important skills (math, visual perception, spatial relations). We want to encourage girls to consider engineering and architecture – this is where it begins.

Building sets for girls means big business. Most telling are the NPD Group statistics that while the overall US toy market suffered an overall downward slide of .6%, the construction category was up 20%.  Of course, success invites competition and 2013 is stacking up for a building war showdown.

Barbie's Fashion Boutique from Mega Bloks

Barbie’s Fashion Boutique from Mega Bloks

Mattel has licensed the Barbie brand to Mega Bloks for her own line of Barbie related builds. Sets include more Barbiesque construction, e.g., a Fashion Boutique and a Mansion. Today Mattel announced that Barbie has put her mansion on the market for $25 million dollars. If they were really clever, they’d have girls compete to “design” the next new house. We haven’t tried these kits yet with our testers. The success of LEGO as a brand has always been in the instructions and building experience – something most companies don’t spend enough time developing.

Also a new contender in the market is Lite Brix from Cra-Z-Art.  An interesting new line of construction sets (with both boy and girl themes) that have LED-powered bricks along with translucent bricks.  To be honest, this is a childhood dream come true. I always wanted my LEGO sets to light up.  We’ll be taking a careful look at these new kits as well.

LIte Brix Candy Lites (store) targeted as part of the girls line from Cra-Z-art

Lite Brix Candy Lites (store) targeted to girls from Cra-Z-art.

In my ideal world, boys and girls would not have separate toy aisles but that’s a bigger issue. James Bond would love these spy toys

There have been spy toys in the past, but this season’s batch will make you think that Q has quit his gig for MI5 and set up shop in toyland. With high-powered real audio and visual capturing capabilities, these “toys” pose real privacy issues. But just looking in terms of technology and design…they’re pretty amazing. (Of course, these are all prototypes and we have not tested any of them with kids yet.)

Spin Master has taken control of the Spy Gear line from Wild Planet and given it a real “spy like” make over.  We were intrigued by the Laser Defense Network ($19.99). Here you set up the devices to create a red beam of light.  If someone breaks the red line by passing through, an alarm will sound. Their Spike Mic Launcher includes an audio mic dart that you can shoot off onto a wall and grab 30 minutes of sound. (We don’t recommend projectile toys as a rule but we thought the design/function were worth a mention). The Panosphere 360 Spy Cam really got our attention.

Spin Master's Panosphere 360 Spy Camera

Spin Master’s Panosphere 360 Spy Camera

The small probe like device (close to the size of a tennis ball) can be rolled into any room and then allows you to capture video (and sound) with a full panoramic 360 degree view.  The software platform will enable users to access different perspectives each time they look at a video.  Amazing if it works.

Spy Net Let Detector from Jakks Pacific

Spy Net Let Detector from Jakks Pacific

Now once you’ve captured your spy…you’ll want to test whether the information he’s giving you is reliable.  To assist with your interrogation, you may want to consider Jakks Pacific’s new Spy Net Lie Detector.  (At first I thought this was the name of the evil company  in the Terminator movies–but that’s Sky Net). The three biometric sensors scan your body for temperature and brain activity – all meant to help determine the veracity of a statement. There is a free downloadable APP (of course there is) to help with the questions.

We will be testing these toys and posting our reviews to