At the Today Show

Right before we went on--I'm not sure what we were looking at!

Yesterday we did our last holiday piece of the season.  The assignment was to feature toys for every budget. With so many toys on our award list, making the selection for this one was really hard. We had just four minutes to highlight toys that we really love. If left to our toy-geek selves, my mother and I could talk about each of these toys for at least that! Since this was more of a gift segment than a piece focusing on the developmental advantages of each toys, we did more toys than usual.

Two best friends getting ready for the segment!

Can you say cutie-pie?

When we got there at 7:30 the green room was already very full. We always want the kids to be there early but it is a really long, long time to wait.  There are donuts — kids eat donuts–kids get a little hyper. It’s all part of the pre-segment experience!  (I on the other hand wait to eat my chocolate donut until after the segment is over). Dustin Hoffman was also there.  Unlike many stars that come through the green room…Dustin smiles at every one.  He’s beloved at the Today Show for being such a nice guy–and you can see it. He looks great–and I guess the word is…happy.  While the Meet the Fockers series just makes me uncomfortable (I guess it’s supposed to) I realize that he is one of those touchstone people that I have grown up with.  Remember Little Big Man?  I remember probably because my folks took us all to see it at the underground theater at Columbus Circle.  As a kid, I thought that was amazingly cool.

Before the segment actual airs there are often teases – which promote what will be coming up on the show in the next half hour.  So the girls did one tease with the dolls from Manhattan Toy and the Nursery Carriage from Corolle.  I then did one with Jay–we played with the 3-D Flash Art from Hasbro.

Jay and I are using the 3-D Flash Art

You can see what the camera is getting from the 3-D Flash Art

After the tease! We did it!

I love this toy–we didn’t do it justice since we couldn’t turn down the lights…but it’s the best spin art toy you’ll ever find.  The blue light changes the images as they spin on the black paper…and in the dark, it’s really special. I also like that you can wipe off the black papers and start over. The process of making the spin art is the thing here–not really the finished product.

The segment went well. The kids had a good time. Al and I were so worried about not getting through to the end that we rushed…and ended up with time to spare. I hate when that happens–but it’s worse not to finish.

The boys playing with the Citiblocs and Planimals

When the segment was over the set gets taken down super quickly to make room for the next segment that involves product. It’s a whirlwind…but definitely fun! (A special thanks to Donna for taking all the pics! Next time I’ll have a zoom!)

After the segment with Al and the boys!

Pick of the Day: Learning Curve's Thomas and Friends New Talking Train Set

I’m pretty old school when it comes to wooden trains.  Having watch kids play with trains sets for a long time, they usually don’t need a lot of bells and whistles.  Several years ago (before all the lead issues), train makers were looking for ways to compete with all the electronic toys–so there were lots of  trains with lights and sounds.  They were ok, but truth be told if you have a child really in the train zone they provide their own scenarios and excitement.  So I was pretty skeptical when Learning Curve announced voice recognition technology for their new set, Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway-The Great Discovery Set.  I have to say–it is pretty amazing.  Sir Topham Hatt greets the trains by name as they go through the station…how does he know?  While one of our testers was amused (not amazed) with this aspect of the toy, what I loved was that he continued to play with the setting in a very traditional manner.  The technology did not take over the play experience–it enhanced the play possibilities.

Trains are a wonderful puzzle–which is why I do not recommend gluing down tracks or being wed to a train table.  Train tracks can take all different turns — I’ve also observed that 4 year olds are better at making train tracks work than most adults.  Watch your child as they work out how to make the tracks connect–it’s really one of those moments to enjoy.

This 35 piece set comes with enough for making a figure eight, the Great Waterton Station, Morgan’s Mine, Thomas and Stanley.  The trains and accessories are sold separately so you can them to your existing trains.  The sound levels are set very high when you demo them in the box–the good news, you can turn down the volume.   With BRIO all but gone from the US market–it’s nice to see Thomas the Tank back with all engines a go.

A perfect puzzle for Spring: Mudpuppy's Busy Bugs

fp_busy_bugsThe actual Busy Bugs puzzle from Mudpuppy is really stunning…for some reason the artwork on the box doesn’t really convey how attractive this puzzle really is even though it’s the same image.  Kids will enjoy working on this oversized (2′ by 3′) floor puzzle that illustrates how busy all the bugs are in the garden. Comes with 24 large, sturdy pieces–lots’ to talk about as you work on this one.  Suggested retail $17 (3 & up–but of course 3s and 4s will need help to begin).

Pick of the Day: Creature Floor Puzzle (Andrew Zuckerman)

9780811867856_normStunning…there are two (double-sided) 16 piece puzzles–featuring bold photographs of an elephant, a chimpanzee, a lion and tigers…taken by New York based photographer and filmmaker, Andrew Zuckerman. The puzzle is made by Chronicle Books $24.95).

What I love about these puzzles is that they are so different from what’s on the market–they’re fun (and very challenging to work on)…and extremely satisfying when you put them together. Each puzzle is a pleasing 2′ x 2′. The pieces can fit together even when they’re not right graphically–adding a layer of difficulty and requiring great visual discrimination than most puzzles for kids.

The only drawback–the age label is 3 & up—most 3s will leave you to figure these out on your own–these are really a parent child puzzle for 5s & up.  This is a perfect example of where you will want to give your kids a game plan for putting them together.  Take out one set at a time–(the pieces come  packed separately) and then I always go for building the sides first…looking for the corner pieces.  And while many puzzle makers say I’m cheating…I always look at the box!   I just noticed that this won’t be released until June…but you can pre-order.  I hope this is the first of many!

Pick of the Day: Briarpatch's Simms Taback Puzzles

One of the best parts of my job…checking out puzzles with my mother.


Today we were both very quiet as we were working on this new Simms Taback 7 foot long Animal Puzzle.  We were so hard at work and enjoying putting the puzzle together before we just started laughing (another nice aspect of our work).

Briarpatch has really stepped back into the puzzle market with great flair!  We love the entire collection of Simms Taback puzzles. There’s the 7′ foot long Animal Parade with 48 pieces, the 4 Safari Puzzles (four safari animals with varying numbers of pieces for each making them increasingly challenging), and also great, Jumbo Floor Puzzle, that features farm animals.  My young friend Simon, fan of all things farm related, would love this one!   328_jumbo_floor_puzzle

This might be cool: Rubik's Touch Cube

rubiks-cube-touch_mediumFor a new generation, the Rubik Cube will be electronic this holiday season. Rather than turning the cube, you’ll touch the grid to change the colors.  Do you think this will make it easier?  I doubt it–but you probably will think twice before you throw this one across the room in frustration!  The maker, Techno Source, plans on retailing the updated version for under $149.