GROSS TOYS of 2013

One of the BIG  trends of 2013 is the return of gross in toyland. These toys are purposefully full of snot, gas, and overflowing toilets.  Here are the notable winners  in this dubious category.

Gooey Louie (Goliath Games) – He’s back.  The game play remains the same -  to “pick” a winner. If you pick the wrong piece out of his nose, his brain will pop out.

He's back - Gooey Louie

He’s back – Gooey Louie


2.  Doctor Dreadful Organ Grinder (Umagine/Spin Master)game play is to make zombie organs, infuse them with goop and bugs — and then eat them. Yum.

Doctor Dreadful Organ Grinder

Doctor Dreadful Organ Grinder


3. The Ugglys Electronic Pup Pet (Moose Toys) – A toy that lives up to its name. Purposefully ugly and even though this toy is mainly a head, this pup sounds like he swallowed a whoopee cushion.

The Ugglys Electronic Pup Pet has a serious gas problem

The Ugglys Electronic Pup Pet has a serious gas problem













4. Gross Science Lab (SmartLab) -Among the activities- create a mixture to make the included toy toilet (with flushing sound) overflow. Just hope it doesn’t spark an idea to do it for real!

Gross Science from SmartLab

Gross Science from SmartLab

For reviews of other (less gross) toys, visit

Does anyone still need a teddy bear or baby doll?

The short answer is: of course they do.

So yesterday before our Today Show segment I went to say hi to the 20 plus kids that agreed to be “elves” in our toy test on the plaza. They were all really well behaved…and many totally tuned into their phones and ipads. If you have kids you know the drill and

Wobbly Carmel by Bunnies by the Bay

Wobbly Carmel by Bunnies by the Bay

even if you don’t…if you go out to a restaurant and look around…you see kids engaged with their screens. Makes you wonder about more traditional types of play and the toys that will engage this digital generation. While everyone is totally abuzz about today’s kids monopolizing their parents’ smartphones and tablets, the last generation was equally sucked into their handheld players. The notable difference is that while most kids did not get their first Gameboy until they hit the early school years, infants are now part of the swipe-generation.

From a developmental point of view, the answer to my question is a resounding yes. Especially for younger children, we know that they learn best from real life interactions. Language development comes from talking (not just swiping or zapping a fruit ninja). When kids play with their stuffed animals, dolls, castles, dollhouses and other pretend settings – they are at

Calin Naima by Corolle

Calin Naima by Corolle

the center of their play experience. Things happen at their command and as a result of their own imagination not something created or dictated by a toy designer.  Elmo and his friends are fine for novelty appeal…but they do not offer the same open-ended type of pretend play.

Mon Premier Calin by Corolle

Here’s what else you should know about yesterday. The teddy bears and dolls that we brought to the show (but sadly ran out of time to talk about) were loved by the kids. We planned on talking about the wonderful collection of multicultural Calin baby dolls from Corolle (there is also a boy in the collection), the delicious Teddy Bear and Dog from Bunnies by the Bay and the always popular Calico Critters from International Playthings.

Calico Critters by International Playthings

Calico Critters by International Playthings

These toys may seem old-fashioned or boring compared to their high-tech counterparts, but to kids all of these toys are new and able props to their pretend world. And we certainly need our kids to pretend, to dream, to imagine and not just watch a screen.

To read reviews about all  of these wonderful toys, please visit our site.

TODAY Show Toy Test with winners

Today Show Toy Test "Elves" with Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

Today Show Toy Test “Elves” with Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

We had a blast yesterday at the Today Show. The show asked that we put many of our Platinum Award winners of 2013 to the test with “elves” on the plaza. With huge candy canes and the Rockefeller Christmas Tree in the background (not to mention the North Pole like temperature!), it was the perfect backdrop for this holiday tradition.P1010476To read about all the toys featured, click here. To see all of our award winners in all categories visit

To see the segment, click here.




Toys for Future Shipping Magnates or Fedex Executives

IMG_0026Not sure we really talked about Playmobil’s Cargo setting sufficiently. The plane is super big and the cargo ship is amazing, but it’s the actual shipping containers and crane that deliver the complete  experience. The sets are not inexpensive, but they really do combine to make a wonderful pretend setting.    For more details on the specific sets, visit

5 Toy Safety Facts You Need to Know

As attention turns to the toy aisles this time of year,  there is an understandable concern for toy safety – especially when news reports focus on dangerous and toxic toy lists.  So the question remains, are toys safe?

1. Toys are Safer than they were prior to 2008. In reaction to the discovery of lead in a frighteningly large number of toys, the federal government passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. All phase-in aspects of the law have been enacted. Toys are now regulated for lead, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, mercury and other toxic metals. It also sets limits on a number of phthalates – they make toys softer, but have also been linked to serious health issues including reproductive defects.

2. Toys are not checked before they hit the shelves in toy stores. Nothing in the new law provides for government inspection prior to a toy being introduced into the market. The toy industry remains self-regulatory. While most toy makers and retailers take toy testing seriously,  it means that dangerous and toxic toys can still end up in your playroom.

3. If it smells like a duck, it’s probably a duck. The same is true with toys. If you open a toy and it smells bad, or it’s really loud, or it has small parts trust your instincts. Don’t assume it must be okay. You are your child’s personal consumer advocate.

4. A Toilet Paper Roll is Your First Line of Defense. Most families don’t have a “choke tube” that checks for small parts under the current regulations.  You can use a toilet paper tube – it’s slightly larger, but it’s a good benchmark for toys that should not be given to kids under 3 or kids that still mouth their toys. One of the trends that we are most concerned with (and is also noted in the Ohio PIRG Report) are small toy parts that just stick out of the choke tube so they’re legal but oh so close. [There is no developmental advantage to such small parts for young children and, in our opinion, pose an unnecessary chance for kids to either choke or gag.]

5. Leave the Noisy Toys at Grandma’s. Well this is one solution. Take the batteries out is another. Many toys come with volume controls, that’s a plus. Yet there remain toys each year that are just too loud and exceed the legal limit. Really alarming is that many of them are intended for very young children to put near their ears. How can you check? The good news, is that there are free APPs to measure sound levels. Here’s what you should look for. (This would actually make for a fun science experiment for older children). Toys that are intended to be hand-held as well as crib toys, table toys and floor toys should not produce continuous sounds that are greater than 85 dB from 25 centimeters (or appr. 10 inches away). Toys, like toy phones, intended to be placed near your child’s ear -  should not be more than 65 dB from 2.5 centimeters (appr. 1 inch).  If you’re wondering about toys that have blasts of sound the law sets the limit to 125 dB from 25 centimeters.

One more…and it’s a big one. Balloons, balloons, balloons…yes, they’re fun…but latex balloons pose a serious danger for children under the age of 8. Yes, we all grew up with them, but did you know that according to the CPSC, 47% of child fatalities from toys in 2010 were from balloons and small balls?  The problem is that a big happy balloon one moment can pop and the pieces can seal your child’s airway closed.

We recommend taking a look at the full Trouble in Toyland report from Ohio PIRG. We have not independently tested the toys in their report, but they underscore that there is more to be done to assure that toys are safer.


Let’s Play…who’s older?

Some toys feel like they’ve been around for ever.  Test your knowledge of these classics. (The answers at the very bottom.)


Harrison Ford or Mr. Potato Head?






Cabbage Patch Kids or Britney Spears?





President Obama or Operation?





Miley Cyrus or Furby?






Answers: Harrison Ford  (b. 1942) is older than Mr. Potato Head (1952 -1st US distribution); Britney Spears (b. 1981) beats Cabbage Patch Kids out by a year (1982); President Obama (1961)  beats out Operation (1965) and Miley Cyrus (1992)  is six years older than the original  Furby (1998). Trends in Toyland for 2013

2013 has been a much better year in toyland.  We’re finally emerging from the effects of the economic downturn of the last several years when the industry played it safe in terms of what they were willing to bring to market. Many of our favorite toys were downsized to get to a magic price point (which keeps rising by the way). And, If there was a toy that was doing well before the recession, chances are there would be countless iterations of the same toy or concept. As a reviewer, this was more than depressing.

This year we were greeted by a new generation of toy inventors.  This new band of smart (many from MIT and Stanford) merry toy makers are seeking to change the industry and how we engage kids in play. This makes us extremely happy.   Not everything will work or be a big hit, but it shows a renewed interest and brain trust that can only benefit our kids in the long run. We’re also delighted with the explosion of new construction toys – everything from robotics, marble mazes (both wood and plastic), sets geared to engaging girls, to toys that you build and then demolish. Games and crafts continue to be a strong category and remains a great way to get everyone to disconnect from their technology for 30 minutes.

Tomorrow I’ll be on the Today Show to share just a few of our award winners. Trust me it’s so hard to talk only about 8 products when we have so many favorites!

As always, we thank our network of family testers all over the country. Without their feedback our list wouldn’t be the same. We love hearing from kids and their folks about what works and equally important- what doesn’t deliver.

As we now enter holiday toy season, we’ll be posting lots of videos and features about products we think you should know about.

So be sure to visit our website for daily features.