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.

Hot Wheels Wall Trax Power Tower

Mattel's new Power Tower Wall Trax

You know we loved Hot Wheels Wall Trax line last year. It made our Platinum list. The line brilliantly combines 3M stripes to make one of my childhood dreams come true: putting Hot Wheels trax on the wall. A very cool use of a rather low-tech technology.  This year’s new entry is the Power Tower. It requires 2 D batteries to run the corkscrew tower that feeds the cars up to the top of the track. There’s also a car-chomping beast. We put our hands in the beast’s jaw…no harm done.  While this does more than most – it’s more about watching the car move than making something happen.  Of all the sets, not really our favorite.

 

Little Tikes Big Digger Sandbox

The smile on our tester’s face, pretty much says it all.  We love this new sandbox from Little Tikes. It comes with the excavator, the dump truck and tools–all ready for lots of pretend possibilities.  The ramp also adds to the fun! The removable cover is also a plus for keeping the sand clean and neighborhood animals out! You’ll note that it’s not super big–so it can fit on a deck as our testers are using it.

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.

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.

LEGO, Kid Galaxy, Playmobil…it was a good day!

Today at Javits we started at LEGO.  Always fun.

Our LEGO STAR WARS fans will be thrilled with the impressive number of new builds for this year!

LEGO STAR WARS NEW MILLENIUM FALCON

The line also includes new GAMES  (they rocked the game market last year -taking a 12% share of the market in their first year).

LEGO GAMES new PIRATE PLANK

Kid Galaxy–has a promising new line of vehicles that demonstrated more innovation than just about anywhere we visited this year–especially in the vehicle realm for preschoolers.

New Preschool Vehicle from Kid Galaxy

Playmobil - Pretty sure the new Zoo kits, the Spy Line and the Castles will be frontrunners with our testers this year.

PLAYMOBIL'S New ZOO Setting

This morning on the Today Show

It takes a village--right before we went on

I got there at 7:30 even though our segment isn’t until 9:38. There are a few teases that happen before the actual segment, but I like to be there so there’s plenty of time for hair and make-up! This morning was a great day to be in the Green Room.  I assumed that George Clooney and Hillary Swank would be in the upstairs Green Room–but much to the delight of the entire room they were both downstairs. When you hear George speak about humanitarian issues, you just get that he’s more than a great actor. He’s smart and uses his platform and celebrity in a way that should inspire all celebrities.  It’s just real.  Ok, so that’s my take on the thoughts and works of George Clooney …and now I can also say that the man is just incredibly handsome.   To top off the George Clooney experience–he was then hugged by Hillary Swank.  Stunning!  I don’t know either of these people, but they are polite and friendly to everyone that comes through the green room and the hallway.  Sam Rockwell was there as well to promote Conviction (Swank also stars)For trailer, click here. (I’m sure he was nice too–just didn’t get to see him but for a second).  It was a busy Green Room!

Cosmo's Bachelors getting ready to go on

Oh and I almost forget the Cosmo Bachelors! My niece (and assistant extraordinaire) Ali pointed out that they were there last year when we launched our list.  They all look so young to me!

We had so many kids this morning!

Two of my favorite testers (sister Kena & Dehlina) with their Dollie & Me dolls

Matthew and his mom Jessica

Lots of little boys running around the lower concourse before it was time to go up to the studio.  Some of our kids have been on the show before “when they were truly babies” as opposed to just active three and four year olds.

Harper, who did a good part of the my last segment with me, was joined by her little brother  Hannes today!  Alex (pictured with Al and me) was a pro on all things technical and did a great job demonstrating the Tron Zero Gravity RC.  A special thank you to Victor (Matthew’s Dad) for taking all the pictures during the segment!) and to James from Spinmaster –for expertly flying the Air Hogs RC Video Camera Helicopter (something that I would never try in a studio full of high-wattage lighting!).  All in all a good day!

Afterwards: Al Roker, Stephanie Oppenheim and toy tester Alex!

Hannes enjoying the Radio Flyer after we were done

Did you see Harper?

Toy testers Henry and Harper playing with the Water Table

This morning at the Today Show was great fun. You can watch the segment by clicking here. I was worried that I only had two kids coming on the show with me. I usually have between eight and ten kids demonstrating our picks on the set.  I always like the energy of having kids there–their reactions  say volumes more than my talking about the details!  So this morning I had 3 year old Henry and 3 year old Harper.  Both were enjoying the water table on the set–sharing well and doing what kids do at water tables–they explored all the buckets (many with holes) and they got a little wet while they spilled and filled the center post of the toy.

Harper with me, being very quiet while Ann did the news on the otherside of the wall!

Right as the segment started, Harper wanted to see the bug things I was showing to Ann.  And from that moment on — it was really Harper’s segment.  I loved it.  She was really into seeing the bugs and I’m not sure it came through but she wanted everyone to know about a grasshopper she had seen recently.  She then decided to play a little bit with the water table–and then she needed to visit her Dad, the wonderful Art/Set Director for the show…she got a hug and then came back to the set.  Henry continued to play at the water table with his Dad even when Ann crashed the big Titan Airplane right into the table!  No tears–he just kept on playing!

Harper checking out the bugs and magnifiers

While we didn’t get to all of the products I had brought, it was a fun segment thanks to Ann and two really cute three year olds!

For all of the details about the products from this morning, visit www.toyportfolio.com.

TODAY Show today…active and fun

Natalie and Stephanie discussing ride-on toysI headed up to the studio this morning with my intern Daniel — after putting toys together for us all semester, I thought it would be fun for him to see the studio and the end result of so many packages, emails and testing. I tried doing my hair this morning–and emerged from the building looking like a bad 1970s “before” picture.  Happily, the hair and make-up people at the show are so terrific, that I knew it was going to be ok.  I think they were even a little shocked by the sheer volume of hair.  Thanks to high def tv, I also think make up takes longer (not to mention that I’m a little older!) than it used to.  It really is amazing what professionals can do.  Everyone emerges from the hair and makeup area a better, more polished version of themselves.

This morning we had about ten kids.  One family has tested for us since their son was born five years ago.  They moved to Hong Kong in between and as I traveled up to the studio I realized that we had never met–so that was fun!  They now have two kids and I’m so happy they’re back from their adventure and can resume testing for us! Other kids were on with me about a year ago–so to see them now as full preschoolers was fun.  A new group joined us – I have to say this was the most well-behaved group of kids in the green room.  Their parents were really careful to hold off on the delicious donuts and cookies until after the segment. Smart move.

The challenge was to show toys and equipment for active play –indoors!  The YBIKES were a hit and disappeared when we went to talk about them–but I think they got camera time later on. The Kazam Balance Bike – also great was on the pedestal–and may have been blocked a little by the fire truck. You really couldn’t see how amazingly high the Sky Balls bounce in the air–or the 3D bubbles…but trust me – there are fun choices this season.

A very polite "excuse me" in the middle of the segment

Half way through the segment one of our testers very politely asked if she could go play in the playhouse…one of those great real live moments…priceless.

Natalie, Finley and Stephanie...at the end of the segment

Segment over, chocolate donut enjoyed on the car ride home…a good day!

Taking a look at the indoor Hopscotch Rug from Alex

To read the full article about the toys featured, visit www.toyportfolio.com.