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.

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, 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.




Is your toddler addicted to your iPad & iPhone?

Today’s toddlers and preschoolers have a new addiction. Forget the boob tube and those pesky videos – now we’re talking about little fingers that are incredibly adept at navigating  APPS  on your pricey iPad and/or  iPhone.

What’s a toy maker to do? How can they compete with such amazing graphics?

Wasn’t it bad enough that video games have rob them of the tween market?

Here’s the industry response to date…

1. The “Can’t beat them, join them” approach.  It seems like everyone has an APP  for your child. Barbie, Leapfrog, Hot Wheels, Thinkfun….everywhere we went at Toy Fair…there was an APP we needed to “let our readers know about.” (Except of course for the dizzying number of embargo dates). And yes, we will have to start taking a closer look at all of these toy related APPs.  I haven’t gotten to play with it yet, but I do have to say that the Barbie Fashionista APP–looked really appealing (this coming from someone who really didn’t play with Barbies).

Barbie's Fashionista APP

2. “This is not your father’s iPad” – really. Toy makers are rolling out there own versions of iPad inspired tablets for your child.  LeapFrog and VTech will  go head to head with their platforms.  Are they cheaper? Yes.  Will your child be satisfied? Maybe.  As with any of these toys, they just don’t have the sizzle of the real thing (which is why toy companies are hedging their bets with approach #1.)  We will have to take a look at each of these products to review the content (remember that?) and whether the interface is pleasing.  I have a sense that if your toddler or preschooler is already schooled in your gadgets, this is going to be a hard transition.  On the other hand, if you start here–you may get to play with your gadget without the constant refrain of  “my turn!”

Vying for attention (all to be released later this year):

LeapFrog Explorer Tablet

LeapPad Explorer Tablet (LeapFrog)- Promises to come with a 5″ screen and leverages the library of games and content from this educational toy company.  It will also come with a built in camera. Suggested retail will be $99.99.


InnoPad (VTech) -Also features a 5″ touch screen, promises educational games, ebooks,  USB port, a headphone jack.  Suggested retail will be $79.99.

We’ll have to take a look. Sadly, both companies have moved away from partnerships with traditional publishers –leaving the ebook experience to the domain of mostly licensed materials. On this point alone, you may want to invest in a Color Nook–if you don’t want to go the bigger bucks on an iPad.  Technology only goes so far.  The CONTENT is still what should rule the day. We want our kids enjoy reading quality picture books no matter the format.  Disney Princesses and Scooby Doo are fun–but they shouldn’t replace children’s books as part of your child’s daily experience.

3. The “Ok, you can play,  but please don’t break it” approach. Handing  off  your  expensive toys to a toddler or preschooler is a balancing act between achieving calm (at the grocery store, at the restaurant, in the car, etc.) and the possible damage that came come to such gadgets from liquids (those pesky sippy cups) or a plain old “oops” moments. For those parents, Fisher-Price hopes to be of assistance with their new Laugh & Learn I Can Play Case that puts your smart phone into a bigger case with easy-to-grab handles. We look forward to trying this case–will little fingers find the case too intrusive? Of course your 3 year old will find this way too babyish.

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn I Can Play Case

Grave Digger for Kids…Why?

Grave Digger Truck from Hot Wheels

We are adding this one to our list of “what were they thinking toys”? I can’t really see an argument that supports making a toy truck for young children with the name Grave Digger.  And even if you were to say, hey many of them aren’t even old enough to read the name (it’s on the truck as well as the box)…how about that artwork?  Really? This seems more like a design school final project – intended as a spoof on a classic toy rather than an offering from the nation’s largest toy company intended for the six and under crowd. A major disappointment from the design department at Hot Wheels. 

Say it 3X fast: Criss Cross Crash Track

Hot Wheels Criss Cross Crash Track

Hot Wheels are always fun.  This year the big track of the season is the relaunch of a classic…the Hot Wheels Criss Cross Crash Track (Mattel).  This closed, clover leaf track is an opportunity to crash your favorite Hot Wheels. Watch our video from Toy Fair.  Now if you’re really old school, you’ll remember that the fun of Hot Wheels was making your track as long as possible…down the staircase was always the best.  There were a few loops – but making your own system was the point.  Closed tracks are a novelty – since there isn’t much to do besides watch the cars go.  This track is a little better in this department since you are always feeding the system with new cars.  Stay tuned.  We’ll have a complete review at once we receive a set

Hot Wheels Super Jump Raceway

The inital reaction to the kids that gave this raceway a test spin  was “this is going to be awesome” “I’m sure this is going to be Platinum”.   It is the latest in the one trick pony racing toys from Hot Wheels–closed tracks with a mechanism that sends cars speeding along.  My experience with these sets is that they are novelty toys–once you see the cars speeding along again and again…most kids are done with them in short order.  While some of them work really well and are fun…I grew up with more open ended Hot Wheels track sets…much like wooden train sets, they were open-ended puzzles that invited creativity through trial and error.  The goal in our house was always to make a really long track that would include the stair case.

As much as our testers were initially hyped, the excitement turned to frustration. The car (it comes with one…but will work with any Hot Wheel car) would not stay on the track.  I was also concerned that the pleasingly graphic cardboard city scape would not hold up. The instructions suggest you tape the cardboard together..but if you have to pack up the toy…you have to pull off the tape–that doesn’t usually end well. So sadly, we’ll have to pass on this one.

If you’re looking for a fun Hot Wheels set, we highly recommend the new Color Shifters Blaster set – featuring the color changing of the cars depending on what water (hot or cold) they are dipped in or sprayed with…either way LOTS of fun.

Best Outdoor Toys

I really love that we’re heading into summer with longer days – which means more time to be outside with our kids. Here are some of our new favorites for the season…we’ll be continuing to update this list in the coming weeks.


Nature Station Playhouse (Step 2)  I love this little playhouse that is designed for older toddlers and preschoolers – maybe because it looks like Pooh, Tigger and Piglet should be there too. Kids enjoy having small spaces that are designed just for them. This playhouse has a working periscope (really fun), a sink, a working shutter,  and a fenced in area so if you’re invited in- there’s a bigger space for adults. This product is pricey at $249.99 but will be used for a long stretch. (This playhouse  is marked 3 & up  due to all the extra things that come with it–but the structure itself will be enjoyed by younger children. There are larger play sets from Step 2 that have more height–our recommendation is take your kids along when you’re shopping for this type of equipment. If you decide to bring this product  home to older toddlers, put the goodies away until they’re older.)

Sandbox Vehicles Eco Trucks from Sprig Toys were a hit with our testers.  These are very lightweight – making them easy for kids to use and to take along to the park or backyard sand box. Made from recycled materials. Our favorite is the Dump Truck.

Dump Truck (Green Toys)  The new line of green trucks from Green Toys are heavier than the Sprig trucks. They feel more like a traditional plastic toy truck- with the upside here being that they are also made from recycled materials.   Handsomely designed – they got high marks from our testers.

Hot Wheels Color Shifters Blaster (Mattel) I’ve already blogged about this toy and I think I’m a little sad that I gave our sample away!  My mother doesn’t agree with my over the top enthusiasm for this play set–but I really think this is one of the best toys going.  I’m suggesting that it’s even better if you play with it outside–because truth be told-it does get alittle wet if you’re really playing with it full tilt.  The cars react to cold and hot water–and will turn a different color when put into either temperature (I KNOW!)  Best yet, it comes with a squirt bottle so you can change the cars by squirting them.  If you don’t want to buy the whole set–I’d suggest buying one of the cars–you can use any squirt bottle to have the same experience.  If you want to be the super cool grown up, bring this toy home to any three year old you know. I do think the car that turns from blue to yellow is much more dramatic than some of the other color changes (yellow/orange).


Drive, Chip and Putt Golf Trainer (Little Tikes) There are two different”ts’ to hit the golf ball from…making this a little different from your average plastic golf set.  Our testers really enjoyed the sport of this game and the sturdy design made it a solid choice for the 2-4 crowd.

d431ae4ea2e0258e5b58795242af18f9 Monster Badminton Set (International Playthings)  This set will be ready next month but I had to show it to you now.  These over-sized rackets and birdies are just what our family needed. They are fun for little kids–but truth be told, if you’re not the most athletic person–this is a set for you!  You’d be hard pressed to miss this birdie!  It does not come with a net–our toy testers just liked playing with it alone.


Maxi Scooter (Kickboard USA) Maybe because I’m not the most coordinated person, I loved the idea of this scooter.  It comes with three wheels and a wider platform for added stability but still  looks cool.  As I hoped, our new scooter testers had no trouble with this scooter and really enjoyed it. It comes with two handles–a traditional T-handle and a joystick.  We recommend the traditional handle as a starting point. It’s designed for kids 6-10.  The company now also makes a Mini Kick Scooter (smaller in scale for younger kids 2-5)…also with three wheels.  Helmets are a must!

Razor Spark Scooter (Razor) The granddaddy of scooters just got a very neat feature. When you break, it sparks out the back. Our testers thought this was pretty cool–although if you’re the one doing the braking, it is hard to see the spark–but your friends will!

Outdoor Treats

Freeze Pop Factory (Little Kids)  According to the company, more than 7 billion freeze pops are sold each year (makes you think we should all go into the freeze pop business!) ….in any case, this do-it-yourself kit is really fun. Comes with those pop sleeves (which magically close up and don’t leak) and plastic molds for making bigger pops.  You can experiment with making your own family recipes and limit the amount of sugar your kids use. Every grown-up I’ve mentioned this kit  to has asked the same question, “Could you make grown up freeze pop for a party?” and then they say…don’t say that out loud….but it’s true. Just don’t get them mixed up. It comes with 36 sleeves for making the pops…and the good news is that you can also order more ($4.95 for 50 including shipping) from the company’s site or by calling (800) 545-5437.

Pick of the Day: Hot Wheels Color Blaster


If you have ever loved playing with Hot Wheels and/or you know a child that loves Hot Wheels, you have to go buy this toy! I’ve put off testing  the Hot Wheels Color Blaster–in part because I didn’t want to be disappointed.  I’m happy to report that this toy  is as much fun as it promised to be when we saw it at toy fair.   You fill the containers with some ice water and then one with warm water — it has a built in track but that’s the least of it.  The really fun part is spraying the “warm” car with the spray bottle filled with ice water.  The car CHANGES color just as it said it would.  You then dunk the car back in the warm water and you’re good to go!  It’s that’s fast and magical.  Of course it’s really very wet when you get done and there’s a likelihood that the spray bottle will be used on other things (like siblings)…but still so cool!   You can buy more cars–frankly I would do that right away…one car just isn’t enough. (We are awaiting the safety verification form for this one.)


Pick of the Day: Tonka Wheel Pals Round-About Railway

099941418512_main200One of the hardest categories to fill each year are small vehicles that are safe for the 3 and under crowd.  Many parents just hope for the best and give their kids small Hot Wheels, Matchbox and wooden trains–the problem with them of course is that they do have small parts that are potentially dangerous.  Playskool’s new Wheel Pals line is meant to answer that issue.  The cars are  small in scale – with everything safely anchored.  Our testers loved the new Round About Railway. If you’re looking for a setting that your toddler will enjoy (and not sit on)…look no further.  You put the train at the top of the setting and then your child can either hit the plunger (which activates the train sound)…or just push the train down the track. The vehicle moves slowly enough so that your toddler can track the vehicle, a plus. We thought the Railway works much better than the Fold ‘n Go Garage (we found that some of the ramps did not lock in sufficiently well).