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.

toyportfolio.com Best Toys of 2012 on NBC’s TODAY Show

We had a fun segment on the Today Show talking about some of our Platinum Award winners. It’s always painful selecting the 10 toys to show (turns out we actually had 11!). As we pulled up to the show, Martin Freeman was already at the door – surrounded by photographers and people looking for autographs. I prayed that as my mother and I climbed out of the very high SUV we would not fall with all of those cameras so near by. We exited the car gracefully. You can watch the segment below.

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Before hand….

While I was getting hair and makeup done, I tweeted that there was a hobbit in the building. Just as I finished, Martin Freeman walked out of his dressing room behind me. I smiled. He returned my smile.  My grandmother always used to tell me “it doesn’t cost anything to smile” – he got the same lesson along the way. He was very friendly to everyone. Until I see The Hobbit next week, to me he is still Watson from the BBC Sherlock series. I’m a huge fan.

Martin Freeman visits the Today Show

We had lots of kids for this particular segment. They all were terrific while they waited for our time in the studio. In fact, we were brought upstairs and then the schedule got moved around a bit. They were amazingly well-behaved and calm as they waited even longer out in the hallway.  Here are some of their pics.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the first time I was doing a segment with Willie Geist, the new host of the 9 o’clock hour. He’s great…and with two young kids, he’s in the toy zone.

Happily we got to talk about some of our favorite toys of the year from Fisher-Price, Wonderworld, Hasbro, North American Bear Co., LEGO, Playmobil, Marbles, The Brain Store, LeapFrog, Silverlit and Mattel. All of our Platinum Award winners are broken down by age with full reviews at www.toyportfolio.com.

After the segment, Willie took a picture with Joanne (who has been part of the WG fan club from his Morning Joe days).

It was a very good day…and I am forever grateful to my mother for taking a risk and starting the toyportfolio with me. She is the most generous mentor and business partner. Our adventure through toyland together is one of the great gifts of my life.

Willie Geist and Joanne Oppenheim at the TODAY Show

 

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.

 

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.

Behind the scenes at the Today Show

A quiet moment before the segment...

So I have to say that I didn’t realize I was in the Green Room with the stars of the Boston Bruins when we first arrived. They had a separate camera crew shadowing them as well–so in fairness I was trying to stay out of the way. It’s a very small room. I’m pretty up-to-speed with most sports…just not hockey, sorry.

It wasn’t until I was coming up the stairs from getting my hair and make-up done and saw the Stanley Cup (it’s kind of hard to miss)…that I got it.   When I went back to the Green Room and asked my son Adam if he knew they had been in the same room with the Bruins…I realized almost immediately that I had set myself up for one of those “really, Mom?” looks.

While we were waiting outside the Green Room (to avoid the above-mentioned Bruins and crew), Ann Curry was great to stop, give me a hug.  I will miss doing segments with her but so happy that she is now co-anchor! People always ask me if she is as nice as she appears on tv. I think the answer is really more so.   She has that special gift of connecting with people and has done such an important job to spotlight the less fortunate all over the globe.

Everyone at play!

This is the first segment I did with Tamron Hall.  I love Tamron…I watch her all the time on MSNBC. I think she was a little daunted by the ten kids running around the set–but we got through the segment without incident!  To read the article about the toys featured, visit our site, www.toyportfolio.com.

You can also watch the segment below.

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Feeling like Spring

Razor USA's new Graffiti Action Scooter

The rain this morning made me hopeful that Spring can’t be that far away.  And for some reason…when I think Spring…I think scooters.  As I’m writing this I realize that many people probably don’t go directly to scooters…but hey, I play with toys.

I’m looking forward to testing the newest scooter from Razor USA…this one has a piece of chalk in the back. Wondering how it will work…without the chalk breaking. Last year they had a “spark” off the back end…something our testers enjoyed as a novelty.  Even though this has been given an edgy name, it’s called the Graffiti Action Scooter, this is a kinder and gentler scooter that  will probably appeal to a different audience.  Stay tuned.

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

Pick of the Day: Radio Flyer Bumper Car

Ride on toys for toddlers is always one of the hardest categories we review.  Over the past few years we’ve noticed that one of the ways companies have cut back is to do away with steering mechanisms.  Now this bumper car also doesn’t steer but because it’s on casters – it does move easily in any direction your child would like to go. What really annoys me are ride-ons where your child has to stand up and move the toy and then sit down again- where’s the fun in that?   To read our full review and for shopping info — click here!

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