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.

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 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,

Lego tester Dante and his mom Jill

Brianna really loved the wooden mower from Manhattan Toy.

Spring showers bring…Spring Toys!

Seems like we’re getting all of “spring showers” today! New York City is chilly and wet.  Happy that our segment tomorrow on the Today Show will be indoors!  We have so many great new toys to share and there will be lots of kids on the set with me.  To get a sneak peek, read our article here on some of new favorite toys for spring 2012.  The focus tomorrow will be on active toys for older babies and toddlers, construction toys (for both girls and boys), games and science toys!

Pick of the Day: Strobotop Light Animator

Most science toys we look at are duds. They’re typically really expensive and they don’t work.  So we were thrilled when we tried the new Strobotop Lightphase Animator from Eye Think. It rocks. If you have a child interested in science and/or the movies – here’s a beginning lesson from the world of Physics (my high school interns who had just finished AP Physics explained why changing the light frequency changes what we see). Here’s what you do: put of the printed rings on the toy-you can clearly see the images.  Then make it spin, it alters what you see–then put the strob light on the spinning image and the static images now move  like an animated cartoon.  Really!   (It’s been a long time since I took Physics.  A shout out to Mr. Stewart–my favorite science teacher from Monticello High School for being consistently thrilled with sharing science with his class.  I’m pretty sure he would love this toy.)

For a complete description of how it works and shopping info, read our complete review.

One aspect that we love is that you can create your own images to make move (it comes with blank disks).  The company has made a great video showing how this works-you have to stick with the video to see it–the demo comes towards the end.  You can watch their video by clicking here.

In honor of the new planet Gliese 581g

With all the news about the new planet Gliese 581g so far far away, I thought this was the perfect moment to share a science toy with a more local bent.  I’m always looking for science projects that will appeal to the child  that may not be enamored with science but say, enjoys art…so here’s a possible way in.  The Crayola Glow Explosion allows kids to make their own solar system.  Thanks to the “magic” of the glow pens, the solar system will glow in the dark.  Our testers liked that the solar system moves on a motorized base.  The glow aspect does not last for very long though–so if you want to have it glow for longer you need to recolor.  That’s a bit of a bummer for the long term…but it’s still a neat science toy!  Watch our video.

Crayola's Glow Explosion

Fans of the show Mythbusters- here’s a great game

The new Mythbusters Game from Zimzala Games

Fans of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters will  love this new game based on the hit show that puts myths to the test by trying them whether it’s by catapluting a car or blowing something up.  I love that this show celebrates science and makes it fun.  It’s a great show to share with your kids (or in my case, a show that they shared with me!)

Many games from tv shows are a disappointment but this one from Zimzala Games delivers.  The concept is to get the trivia questions correct so that you get to launch Buster the dummy on the cataplut (how fun is that!).  At first we didn’t get many questions right–so there was no launching but we were enjoying the questions and often surprising answers so much that we didn’t really care.  For kids that are video gamers– this may be one of those few games that you can entice them away from their controller with — at least for a little while!

Watch our video demo!

Pick of the Day: Mattel's MindFlex


Mattel's MindFlex Game

The first time we saw this game was at toy fair.  Now in all fairness, when we go to toy fair, we’re a pretty silly group.  So when the demonstrator for MindFlex at the Mattel showroom was trying his best to show us this super cool toy, we kept distracting him.  At one point, he even seemed a little anxious about not being able to perform his toy demonstrator duties.

He wore a headgear that had two clips that he attached to his earlobes.  From there he told us that he could control the little blue ball with his mind-making it go up and down and through the obstacle course.  To be absolutely honest here, I was sure we were being punked.  I kept looking around to see if this was a joke.  They assured me that it was for real–and that normally when people allow the guy to do his thing it really works.

Ok, ok…sometimes we don’t behave well.  I wrote down the toy as  something we’d love to see but then I stopped thinking about it.  Last month while I was at the Today Show, Dave– one of the best stage managers ever– showed me a clip of his son working the MindFlex. ( What would we all do without our iphone video clips?)  Anyway…he could not say enough great things about this toy.  How it appealed to both of his boys and that it  helped with working on concentration as a skill.

With that great recommendation, we asked for one to be sent right away.  Sure enough this is one of the coolest toys we’ve tested, period. We’ve added it to this year’s Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award List.

The other amazing aspect of the toy is that it appeals to tweens, teens and adults.  My dad, a spry guy in his late 70s, also took a run at the toy.  He was surprised , as was every adult that has tried it, that he could make it work.  It really is so futuristic — makes me wonder what kind of toys I’ll be reviewing down the road.

So if you’ve seen an ad or a commercial – know that this is for real and loads of fun.  The platform has interchangeable parts so that you can challenge yourself and others to different obstacle courses.  Such a great design aspect–making this a more open-ended play experience. And if you’re looking for something to buy a video game addicted teen, here you go.
Click here to read our full review…and watch the video.


Encourage Curiosity about Nature with Discovery Box

worlddiscoverytreasuresMy grandfather used to take us rock hunting at a quarry in Franklin, New Jersey.  These adventures with my grandparents (my grandmother went along for the ride, but did not share my grandfather’s enthusiasm for the rocks)…were part of our childhood.  After finding our rocks, we would then go into the dark room with our black light (along with other rock folks) and see if we had found any with fluorescent substances.  Pretty cool right?  Kick in a guaranteed trip for ice cream cones–and you could see how much fun this would be.  My grandfather (an engineer by training) sold the first tv in their area (in upstate New York).  My mother recalls that when there was a big fight or important event on tv, that people would gather to watch it in front of their appliance store.  His backroom was always fun to visit because there was always something to look at including his great collection of rocks.  He always encouraged us to build our own collections.  One of my last road trips with him before he died was to a rock show.  He was still delighted that I was interested (I was 17).  Truth be told, I just really enjoyed being with him.


World Discovery Box with a sampling the treasures

So when I first came across World Discovery Box, it made me think of my Grandfather.  The focus of the company is to help build your child’s own collection of nature and science collectibles. Of course, you could do this yourself if you were so inclined but I really love the quality of the materials and boxes you can order. The wooden boxes and artifacts range in price from $69 to $199.  You can add to your child’s collection from their site – making this  a gift that you can add to as your child grows.

I also like the idea of using the box as a starting point.  Adding treasures you may find together-from a trip to the beach, on a walk in your own neighborhood.  Maybe because of my own experience, I think this is a great present for grandparents to give since it starts a dialogue. The only aspect of this product that could use some beefing up–the limited reading materials about the insects, minerals, shells, fossils that comes with the box.  (It’s just a folded guide). For the money,  I would have thought it would be paired with a book  about these topics and maybe some tools for your own rock, fossil and bug collecting adventures. In any case, it’s something you can add on your own.

Two great books:

Smithsonian Rock & Fossil Hunter

Smithsonian Bug Hunter

Bug tools:

Insect Lore Big Bug Magnifier

Creature Peeper