Pick of the Day: K'nex Motorized Madness Ball Machine

For the ADVANCED builder, this Rube Goldberg inspired ball run is really amazing. Having watched one of our most trusted teen builders work on this project for over a month, this is not for a beginner. In fact, on several occasions I kept assuring our builder 51af2ausmel_ss400_2Daniel that he could throw in the towel–but he remained committed to getting it done. While he thought the directions could have used some clarity (and he ended up with some extra pieces), we were all delighted that he finished. The over-sized plastic balls (comes with five) travel up the 4 foot machine on a conveyor belt–and then they take one of two paths down…one is down a circular path of ramps and the other is on two swiveling ball catchers (our favorite part!). The suggested retail is $119–comes with over 2,000 pieces.

If you have younger kids at home, you’ll want to protect your builder’s project by putting this in a room that’s safe. We had one close encounter with a visiting toddler tester who though he should be able to climb on the structure….luckily his mother reacted quickly!

(As with any construction toy, the key for beginners is to start with smaller sets so that your child builds her sense of confidence before going to the next level. Here’ s a perfect example of less being more.) For all of our top-rated construction sets, please visit www.toyportfolio.com.

Trends in Toyland: K'NEX and Sesame Street

K’NEX is going to launch a new line of preschool sets that feature Sesame Street characters. Unlike traditional K’nex sets, these include more building “bricks” (you know like the other guys) – that will make the sets easier for young builders. They look like fun–we’ll look forward to trying them with our testers.

Diary of a Toy Tester

Truth be told I really didn’t play with too many toys as a kid. I much preferred playing in the bottomless sandbox outside of our house. I was big on flooding — mud being one of my ultimate play mediums. My older brothers had also left years of treasures behind (mostly spoons) but sometimes there were Hot Wheels cars and plastic animals to unearth. I also spent a lot of time chasing frogs and salamanders…and bugs. (Probably why I’m always fascinated with the bug and butterfly kits that arrive every spring.)

So as an adult it wasn’t lost on me that my “job” was now to test toys. I’m always amazed by the number of toys that don’t do what they say they’re going to do. How could someone spend so much time making and marketing a product that doesn’t deliver?  So many of the products we see each year never get beyond this point.  We’re also big on directions. If the directions aren’t clear to us, how can anyone expect an 8 year old to follow along?

So when we started, I decided to take on a building set. Could I follow the directions for a Lego kit that had hundreds and hundreds of pieces? Well it took me until 1 o’clock in the morning the first time–but I did it! And I loved the experience. In fact I recommend trying a building set as an adult. It’s fun and very satisfying. I know lots of people feel that way about cooking something (I didn’t get that gene). I’ve always wanted to have a Lego building party for grown ups–and see what people would come up with. Kids have no problem getting started–they just build. I have a sense that a group of grownups would be more guarded if they were given no set plans to follow.  The sets we have on our Platinum List this year–really do require two sets of hands. Both Ferris Wheels from Lego and K’nex make great projects for two–but I’m suggesting a smaller set that you can do on your own. So next time you’re walking down that aisle, try a set.

Today Show/ toyportfolio.com Platinum Award Toy Segment

Right before we went on air, our 4 minute segment became 3.5 minutes–that’s right–to talk about over 15 great Platinum Award winning products! We also had kids on the plaza (bundled up) that were really into playing with the Castle of Courage from Step 2, the Arena from Playmobil, and the Candy Land Castle Game from Hasbro. Al Roker is always fun to do segments with – and I usually like doing segments outdoors because the crowds are there – giving that extra energy that you don’t get if you’re in the studio. The downside? The wind today was kicking up. So right before we were about to go on live, I turned sideways and all of my hair got caught in my lip gloss. Not the best look. But more important than my hair was that the Havoc Heli RC helicopters from Spinmaster couldn’t fly – too much wind for these really cool tiny helicopters that are meant for indoor use or a very calm day. Thankfully the big K’nex Double Ferris wheel did not fall over! It looked iffy there for a moment too. Of course I could really talk about any one of these products for 3.5 minutes–so it’s always hard to decide what the sound bite will be for each–and I didn’t want to skip any–so it was full steam ahead. If you want more info about these award winning products, you’ll find a lot more on our website at www.toyportfolio.com and we also have posted a calmer discussion of some of our award winners on www.youtube.com. The best sign of a successful segment, the kids didn’t want to stop playing with the toys after the segment was over!