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?

soloandmrpotatohead

 

 

 

 

Cabbage Patch Kids or Britney Spears?

cabbagepatchwithbritney

 

 

 

President Obama or Operation?

PresidentObama-Operation

 

 

 

Miley Cyrus or Furby?

cabbagepatchwithbritney

 

 

 

 

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).

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!!

 

 

Behind the scenes at the Today Show

We arrived to find an extremely busy and crowded green room.  The boy band, The Wanted, was there getting ready. I was told that Colton from American Idol was also there. Rosie was upstairs getting ready for The Professionals segment. (Hey, I’m a former lawyer-doesn’t that count?)  And yes, there  was the 40 pound cat – that was unfortunately sharing the curtained off area where our toy testers were gathered. Only problem, I’m super allergic.  So I stayed clear of the cat– who was really, really big!

Our testers started arriving. We had many today including twins (I got to hold Grace throughout most of the segment), sisters, brothers and best friends…all testers for the toyportfolio.

Today's Ann Curry with some of toy testers before our segment.

We headed upstairs to the studio for a “tease”–the part where they say “and coming up”….and you see the guest.  We were waiting in the hallway outside of the studio when Ann Curry came by and was really wonderful with the kids.  I’m not sure they really took in all that she was saying to them–but it was great advice about being proud of who you are, standing tall.  After she left we played some games to make the time fly.  Remember how hard waiting was when you were 9?

When we got into the studio, the older kids got busy with the science kit we brought from Kiwicrate.com and the building sets we had from Lego, Magformers, and LaserPegs.

Savannah Guthrie and Grace take a look at the games we brought along!

Many of our older toddlers and preschoolers found the Little Tikes Garden Discovery Center very interesting–each climbed in at one point!  Leaving the babies on the outside.  One of the babies got away–and found her way under the science toys.  I looked down while Savannah was asking me a question and lo and behold there was baby Grace with a piece of paper in her mouth. I removed the paper and scooped her up– and thankfully she was happy doing the rest of the segment with us! It was the first time I did a segment with Savannah– two former lawyers having fun with toys!  She was great and handled the controlled chaos with good humor! I’m also happy I had on my relatively high Jimmy Choo shoes.

After the segment, there’s always a mad dash to get out of the studio quickly!  Here are two of our happy testers  right after we were done.

To read our reviews and ratings, visit, www.toyportfolio.com

Lego tester Dante and his mom Jill

Brianna really loved the wooden mower from Manhattan Toy.

Etch A Sketch more like Smith-Corona and VHS

One of the most challenging toys of my childhood took center stage yesterday with a gaff by one of Mitt Romney’s advisors.

I used to marvel at my older brother’s ability to really draw things with Etch A Sketch. He  could make those curves work for him. I was pretty good at….boxes.

The New York Times today tried to spin the Etch A Sketch moment in to one of second chances.

Even as someone who played with the Etch A Sketch in the backseat of our car (long before there were Gameboys and DVD players), I can’t see this characterization as anything but a stretch.

The Etch A Sketch is not a toy that has kept up with the times. Over the last two decades of covering toys, I’ve visited the showroom in hopes that there would be some radical new innovation that would give this beloved toy a true second chance.  There have been mini versions, glow-in-the-dark frames (sadly, the actual drawing part never glowed) and glitter versions….but no big breakthrough. My kids were willing to play with the keychain version I carried for years…but with all of the high tech hand held toys to play with, the little red frame just didn’t do it.

 

Classic Toys tomorrow on the Today Show: Take a Toy Inventory

While there is certainly room for novelty this time of year, it’s also important to bring home toys that have lasting play value. The toys that make the cut tend to be the classics–and often more open-ended. These toys place your child at the center of the play experience. So instead of dolls that do all the talking, dolls that say nothing will be enjoyed for a longer period of time because they will say whatever your child wants them to say!  (The doll to the left is from Corolle Doll’s Calin line). We’ll be talking balls,  blocks, trains, art supplies and games!

Take a toy inventory:

1. Does your child have a variety of playthings? Having a lot of one type of toy (whether it’s dolls or trucks) will often lead to a chorus of “I have nothing to play with.”

2. Gender Free- Is your child’s play experience only pink? only blue?  We want boys to know how to be nurturing parents–so dolls are an important part of role playing “dad”.  On the flip side, we want our daughters to excel in math– so blocks and construction toys should be part of their play world as well.

3. Art supplies - Encourage their creative side. With budgets being cut in many schools, kids have fewer opportunities for painting, using clay, and drawing. Whether it’s a juicy box of new Crayola crayons or an interesting set of watercolor pencils from Faber Castell or eeBoo– find a way to bring them back to the arts.

4. Games- One of the best ways to unplug your family is to play a game together. We have dozens of great suggestions on our list. Find a couple that become part of your family’s entertainment.  I’m personally really a fan of Connect Four Launchers and Joanne’s favorite is almost anything with letters. She’s a beast at Upwords.  (Never quite referred to my mother that way–but you know what I mean).

The Countdown to Disney Pixar’s Cars 2!

I can feel the anticipation for this weekend’s opening of Cars2 from Disney Pixar from our testers in the 3-7 age range. While we haven’t seen the movie yet, we have been busy for the last few weeks taking a look at many of the new Cars2 games and toys.   Videos of all CARS 2 products are also on our youtube channel.

Our testers loved the new LEGO DUPLO sets…The pieces are chunky and satisfying and can be integrated into your existing sets of LEGO DUPLO.

LEGO DUPLO Cars 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have also taken a look at all of the new games from HASBRO with the Cars 2 license – now attached to many classic board games.

Here’s what you need to know about each:

Cars 2 Connect 4 – In interest of full disclosure, I love Connect 4.  It’s one of my favorite games for the 6 & up crowd.  A beginning strategy game that kids really like (and their parents don’t mind playing). Sometimes the added license detracts from the game. A few years ago, there was a Sponge Bob Squarepants version that interfered with the utter elegance of this game (where you drop pieces into the grid with the goal of getting four in a row before your opponent). I would not recommend this game for pre-schoolers.  Even for 6s, it’s a game that they need to play several times before they make that leap to being able to think several steps ahead.

Cars2 Connect Four

In this new Cars 2 version, the game play still comes through. Rather than the classic game where the game pieces are red and yellow, you’ll need to place the decals on the play pieces. They become either Mater or Finn. The color scheme of Mater (brown against white) vs. Finn (blue) makes it easy to distinguish the pieces (a plus).  If you don’t have a Connect 4,  and your child is into Cars 2– this wouldn’t be a bad version to buy. In any case, we’d always recommend the classic Connect 4 as part of your game library.

Cars2 Monopoly

Cars 2 Monopoly

Also very well done.  Smartly identifying the younger audience for this movie, this version of Monopoly is closer to Monopoly Jr. — the money is much easier (only one dollar bills).  Our testers loved the way you spin…which you do by moving McQueen around the track that circles  the game board. Instead of Park Place and Boardwalk, the spaces are other characters from the movie.  A well-designed licensed game that integrates the license into classic board game play. This game is appropriately marked 5 & up.  Most younger kids will find the game play frustrating.

 

Cars 2 Guess Who?

Cars 2 Guess Who?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Guess Who? Here the game play is guessing by process of elimination which character from the movie your opponent has picked. I would say that if you have a super fan of the movie, they will love having all of the characters on the top of the board. It would also be a good travel toy for the car. Not sure I’d make the commitment to taking this one on a plane ride. I don’t think it will have that kind of lasting play value.  Instead of playing by picking out hair color, here you’re asking “Is your car blue?”  It is a game that calls for visual discrimination…it just never grabbed me as overly exciting.

 

Cars 2 Memory Game

Cars 2 Memory Game

If you have a 3 or 4 year old in the hunt for a Cars 2 game, this is best choice. If you’ve ever played a memory game with a preschooler or early school aged child, you know they have the ability to crush most adults at this type of game.  They’re really great at the short-term memory. I’m not sure why adults tend to lose at these games…are we distracted? Already on the decline in this department?  In any case, this is a particularly clever version of memory that incorporates the theme of Cars 2 into the game play. Once you make a “match”, the cars are placed into the grandstands to watch.  Kudos to the design crew at Hasbro for coming up with this added dimension.  There is also a score board where you are “racing” up to the finish line. Your play piece is a car.  Now our testers thought that the cars should have had working wheels… but it’s still a nice aspect of the game.

Cars 2 Operation is pretty much what you’d expect. Instead of the classic big guy, it’s the character Mater. The board features bed bugs…a sign of the times.

Cars 2 Sorry! Sliders

Cars2 Sorry! Sliders

This one takes a while to put together but once you have the track assembled it’s pretty large. The game play involves “sliding” your piece around the track five times, but watch out your opponents can sometimes slide you backwards. This Candyland aspect (even worse because it’s being done to you) makes this a potentially “heated” game.  Marked for kids 6 & up — but I suspect many of these games will be purchased for younger players. I’d really stay away from this one for 4s and 5s – the slide backwards will likely produce tears.  (Unless they are playing with a parent.) The other problem with this game from my point of view is that the pieces do not fit back in the box unless you take them apart again. If you’re the parent in charge of such tasks you know how annoying this can be…why no make the box that 1/2 inch taller and wider so that the pieces can fit in without taking them apart!

Car 2 Trouble

Car2 Pop-o-matic Trouble

If you liked playing Pop-o-matic Trouble as a kid, you’ll enjoy this version.  The character Mater is in the middle and you “pop” in the center of his vehicle.  I thought it would make a car sound when you popped…like last year’s R2D2 Star Wars Version (my all time favorite).  It was noisy (and more expensive) …so this one is less high tech. The game play remains the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as Forrest Gump would say…that is all I have to say about Cars2 games.

Now this is a serious HOT WHEELS Track

Mattel, marketing its Hot Wheels brand to “older boys”,  is pulling out all the stops this year. Take a look at the planned Hot Wheels track at the Indianapolis 500. (Someone is actually going to jump the 90 foot ramp).  I thought they were kidding at toy fair- but it turns out to be for real.

Having spent a good number of hours running Hot Wheels tracks down our staircase as a kid (technically they were my brother Tony’s track), I know there are many of us out there that can truly appreciate this stunt. The door will be ten stories high. Yikes. Of course my adult-self wonders what happens to the brand if someone gets injured. Is all pr good?

Cleverly, you’ll be able to buy a smaller version of this track for your door at home. The idea is to bring men back to the brand – so this type of real world event (with IZOD as a partner)  is meant not only to wow current Hot Wheel fans but to entice their dads as well.  I guess you’re supposed to play with your Hot Wheels  while wearing your Izod shirt.

With pre-event coverage already on espn.com, I’d say they’re on the right track. Sorry.

If you want to engage with Team Hot Wheels, you can follow them on their site or on Facebook (they already have over a quarter of a million fans).  I wonder what the average age is on this page.

 

 

 

Here’s a retro toy: Michael Jackson Dress-Up Set

Michael Jackson Dress-Up Set from Colorforms

We just received a re-issue of the Michael Jackson Dress-Up Set from Colorforms. The set was originally issued in 1984. Have to say, it makes me  a little sad.  Comes with four outfits.  Colorforms (now owned by University Games) is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. They have also issued a limited number of Anniversary Sets…now this makes me very happy!

Bubbles, Bubbles…

I probably love two categories of toys the best…bubbles and things that glow in the dark.  Good news for me, since toy fair was chock full of toys that promised to glow in the dark (sadly, many don’t really glow the way you think they should).

But today, the topic is bubbles.

A little back story.  A little more than twenty years ago when I decided that corporate litigation was not going to be my life’s work…I came up with two ideas. One, was a company called “Earth Bubbles”.  I sat at my desk at White & Case sketching designs for the globe-shaped container.  But I also knew that a product as classic as bubbles needed something unique to grab market share.  So I decided that colored bubbles would be amazing!  Armed with various forms of tints– I went outside with my nieces (happy to play in their brand- spanking new white sneakers and spring clothes)….and you can probably write the rest.

After completely staining everything, being in a far amount of trouble with my brother and sister-in-law…I convinced my mother, who had already written two books on the topic of play, toys and child development…to start another business with me…and that is how the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio came to be.

So, you can now understand my interest in the new Crayola Washable Colored Bubbles.  How did they do it?  I was a little wary of the extensive warning instructions about quality and staining.  (Of course, as someone who used to draft and review such warnings for a linoleum flooring company, I understand the conversation that probably went into this extensive list of disclaimers).

As much as I wanted to really love these colored bubbles, they just don’t do it.

What you really need to know…

They’re not kidding when they say they are strictly an outdoor toy. The bubbles can stain a whole host of surfaces (basically anything inside your house is fair game).

Now for me that doesn’t really take them out of the running. Some things are messy and are still great fun outside.  But the bubbles here don’t really have that same “bubble-ish” lightness.

When you blow these bubbles, you get a lot of color. That’s satisfying,  but they don’t really float the same way. It’s kind of like the difference between floaters and sinkers when it comes to matzo balls. It feels as if the color weighs them down too much.  Sadly, this makes this product a disappointment.

Crayola Washable Colored Bubbles

You can take a look at our video.  We tried it again on a  wind filled day–but they still didn’t act like bubbles.  You’ll see in the video that the  bubbles stayed well-formed on the snow for a very long time and the color remained for days.  It did wash off the concrete step but the warning label indicates that you should stay clear of wood (a la your deck!).  I assume this also would mean to keep it away from outdoor furniture, stones, etc.

We were told at Crayola that it will come out clothes, but I wonder from my own experience how to get it off sneakers!

Are all licensed toys junk? and the Partridge Family

We don’t think so- yet this is a question we’re asked all the time by reporters.  The truth is many licensed toys are more like merchandise–not meant to have more than a fleeting time in your child’s life.  Having a piece of the hottest movie or tv show can be really satisfying even if the toy itself may not be amazing. (I would have defended my Partridge Family lunchbox and trading cards to the death).

Partridge Family Trading Cards

Partridge Family Lunch Box--I had this one!

That said, to reject all licensed products just because they are “licensed” would mean missing out on a lot of really great toys. Read Joanne’s article that features many of this year’s top picks in this category.