Behind the scenes at The Today Show

At the Today Show talking toys with Willie Geist and Steve Harvey

At the Today Show talking toys with Willie Geist and Steve Harvey

Last night I had odd dreams that were both a combination of Downton Abbey (I still feel so upset about the season’s ending)  and worrying that some of the prototypes (especially the last flying toy) wouldn’t work. By three in the morning I had Maggie Smith commenting on the series of spy toys we had on. Not the best night’s sleep.

Right before the segment with the Hot Wheel Car Maker

Right before the segment with the Hot Wheel Car Maker

This morning seemed very, very quiet. Maybe because it was soooo cold outside–it just seemed more laid back than usual. Since we were showing prototypes, there were no kids scheduled to be on the segment with me. That also made the green room less lively.  (Everyone did perk up when the Jeopardy teen champ came in.)  My mom, fresh back from her adventure through South America, was with me–which is always great. There was a guest there speaking about a 21 day cleanse. The whole idea made me hungry.

The segment was fun. You can watch it here. Willie Geist is fantastic and as a Dad with two young children, he’s totally in the toy zone. Steve Harvey was guest co-hosting today and was a total sport–trying out the Spy Net Lie Detector Toy from Jakks Pacific and flying one of the Atmospheres from Spin Master. Special thanks to Cara from LEGO and Rachel from Spin Master for coming in to make sure that they’re prototypes worked on camera. All the toys we showed today are featured on my blog posts from last week.

Love this picture because Steve is still playing with the toy!!

Love this picture because Steve is still playing with the toy!!



Top Ten Dumb Toys of 2012

As the toy season for 2012 comes to an end, we always like to share the toys that made us pause throughout the year…IMG_7626

1. Scum Drum Garbage Game. The game play here is to collect all the garbage. We couldn’t make this up if we tried. Pieces promise to “tumble through the sewer pipe!”




2.Scatter Brainz – Sticky brain-like darts. The game play is to collect them all. Play pieces include: Coma Toes, Stinkin’ Rich, Darting Death, Nano-Neurotic.IMG_7620 (Also good luck explaining neurotic to your 8 year old.)





3. Play-Doh Sweet Shoppe.  A candy-making machine, but you can’t eat the candy. Seems like a cruel joke.IMG_6613








4. Little Mommy Doll with simulated poop in the potty. Some things should be left to your child’s imagination.





5. Create a Monster. Move over Dr. Frankenstein, fans of Monster High can now buy body parts and make their own creations. IMG_7609






6. Crazy Cubes. You’re buying cubes…not to build with, just to have. In fairness, they have marbles in them. IMG_7825







7. Zombie Burbz Avenue. A new APP/Toy concept. We had hoped new technology would bring something more lively than Zombies. IMG_7826






8.KISS a la K’NEX. A wholesome gift.IMG_7827







9. My Little Pony Princess Pony Bride. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any pinker or ponier. IMG_6848Winner of our rococo plastic toy award.






10. Mutant Ninja Turtle Secret Sewer Lair Playset.  A very big plastic sewer for your Ninja Turtles.IMG_7155 Part of an apparent trend, see (1) above.






and…the Breastfeeding Doll. Not new, but still pretty dumb and still getting lots of press. Kids don’t need literal props for everything.86cb30befd6849378823b4cb2e7aa7bc-fcba1ead7bf546f2aa234818895a2a89-0





For toys worth your child’s time, take a look at our list of 2012 Platinum, Gold, Blue Chip and SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product Awards) at

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,

You can also watch the segment below.

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behind the scenes at the Today Show

Stephanie practicing her bird calling technique

So I was preoccupied this morning with demonstrating the bird calling whistles for Backyard Safari. One requires filling it with water–it makes the BEST noise, but it does drip and if you don’t have the right amount of water in it–it just doesn’t do its thing. Ali took video of me practicing. Click here.

If you missed the segment this morning you can watch it by clicking here. I did the segment with Ann–we got through a lot of products…but I didn’t get to say everything I wanted to about all of read the article and the reviews of the products featured  – it’s all on our website:


Move over bugs, the rodents are taking over toyland.

Last year, I’ll admit– I was pretty bug crazy. Spiders, little bugs, remote controlled bugs…couldn’t get enough of them. They’re all over our Platinum List.

During one of my segments with Al Roker on the Today Show–I was showing a remote controlled spider…he said he would like a rat.  Well Al, watch out what you wish for!  Right after I finished the segment, I heard from the company, Fantasma Toys, that they were indeed working on a RAT.  I really thought they were kidding until I got to Toy Fair this week…and sure enough…a remote controlled RAT.

Fantasma Toys new Remote Controlled RAT

Now,  if RATS aren’t your thing, not to worry.  Could I interest you in a mouse? Less creepy?  New from Wild Creations.

Wild Creations New Remote Controlled Mouse

Ok, now as much as I LOVE bugs…I really, really hate rats and mice!

Happily, there is a new bug, one that makes me smile. New from Wild Creations.

A much less creepy alternative, the ladybug!

Barbie Video Girl

There’s always one toy that seems to draw the attention of the media…and this year it’s the new Barbie Video Girl.  Critics are  suggesting that she could be used as a tool for creating child pornography.  It’s not lost on me that as a girl that never played with Barbies and as an adult toy reviewer that often questions Barbie’s various professions – that I am now feeling the need to defend this high-tech version of this doll icon.  Many holiday stories about toys have a life of their own. One person makes a strong statement about a particular toy..and in this year, where there is no run away hot toy, editors and producers looking for a nice toy story will hold onto a story that has all the hot topics rolled into one.  What’s more titillating than a story that draws Barbie, sex and crimes and against children?

True, Barbie Video Camera could be used in inappropriate ways.  Yet, I’m not sure why the same isn’t being said of the other video cameras for children this year. It’s a hot category that includes a spy watch with a built in video camera that can used to entice both boys and girls…or how about the little toy helicopter with a built in video camera.  We need to be careful about the people in our children’s lives – but to suggest that this camera is particularly dangerous is ridiculous.

Dolls that Wet (and Poop)

Over the years, this category has always been one that fascinates parents – often when they are in the throws of potty training.  We had one testing family that was our go- to potty doll testers.  Even dolls that I knew probably weren’t going to work out–they really wanted to test.  One of the early potty dolls involved food and water…that you guessed it, had to come out.  So the doll also came with disposable diapers.  The only problem was that the food often got stuck and it was super difficult to get the doll to poop. Thankfully no doll enema included.   Even Elmo got into the act with Potty Time Elmo…he was really polite about the whole experience and reinforced the idea that accidents happen.  He made sound effects to simulate the experience…no actual diapers to change here.  He made our Platinum List one year.  As the mother of two boys, I was also particularly fond of Corolle’s Paul doll, an anatomically correct boy  doll that pees (no pooping here).

So this is all to say that we are always interested in new dolls in this category.  Yesterday we received a huge box of toys that we hadn’t seen yet (amazing since it just feels like we’ve seen every toy)…but we hadn’t tested this particular bunch.  The one that caught our eye was Fisher-Price’s new Wipey Dipey from their Little Mommy line.

Fisher-Price's Little Mommy Wipey Dipey Doll

We usually like these novelty dolls and this one really made us curious.  The box reads:  “pee-pee and poo-poo disappear with a wipe!”  Ok, not that unusual…but here’s the new twist. The diaper lights up with a light indicating that your dolly has made one or two…and then you wipe it away.   No messy diapers (it comes with one plastic diaper that is not removable) and a wipe. You give Wipey Dipey her bottle and then she lets you know that she needs to be changed. She either tells you or makes an uncomfortable sound. In otherwords, this drink and wet doll…really doesn’t do either except in a high-tech manner.

Pros and Cons.

She’s a hard plastic doll…so she’s not soft and huggable. We also found some of her phrases difficult to understand. One could say she’s a mumbler…her supporters would also probably point out that she’s a baby doll.   The novelty aspect of this doll is pretty unique and will appeal to small children that love the “let’s see what she made now” aspect of the doll play.  My only real problem is that when you wipe the poo poo as they call it…you’re wiping in the wrong direction.  I’m really amazed that I just constructed that sentence…but it is really an issue especially when you’re trying to teach kids how to properly wipe at this stage. On the other hand, nothing gets stuck in this doll and there is no water to clean up either.  If you’re of the camp that likes to see the water come out of the doll, Wipey Dipey is probably going to disappoint you.  On the other hand, if you are not big on messy dolls/toys in general…this high-tech no mess approach to potty training may just be what you’ve been looking for.  Only if the real experience could be so mess free!

Watch our video.

Stephanie behind the scenes at the TODAY Show

Stephanie Oppenheim, Al Roker and Natalie Morales

This morning’s segment was about the’s BEST HIGH TECH TOYS for 2010, the complete list of products is on our site.   If you missed the segment from this morning you can watch it by clicking here.

This morning Joanne and I  were in the upstairs green room. Usually we have so many kids with us that we are in the larger downstairs green room.  As much as upstairs is very dignified, there’s usually a lot more action downstairs. I was down there for hair and make up. Rascal Flatts was getting ready.  I got to see Peter Krause out of the corner of one eye while getting mascara put on. Love his  show Parenthood!

The set seemed strange without my usual ten or twelve kids milling about but since I had a lot of high tech toys we decided to go without kids in the studio. We turned on all the bugs and many of the Hexbug Nanos jumped from their Battle Bridge and ended up on the floor. We had a fun collection of games, bugs, spiders,  a motion activated snake, Crayola Color Studio, and an assortment of video cameras include Barbie Video Girl that seemed to really disturb Al!  I see his point about the placement of Barbie’s camera (on a necklace–on her chest) but our kid testers really liked using this high tech version of Barbie.

Al taking a look at Barbie Video Camera

At the end we did a demo of the hot new KINECT for XBOX 360 from Microsoft.  I was planning on wearing a dress but I was told last night that the sensors might not read my legs in a dress.  There’s nothing like having to pick out an outfit where you know the camera is going to shoot you from behind (every woman’s dream).  So I decided to go Matrix-y – all in black with the highest heeled boots I own!  For the live tease Whitney (from Microsoft PR team) did a demo with me–she did great!  And thankfully Tim (my tech hero this morning) was making sure that the KINECT game was up and running.  Hard to play a game and talk about it as you’re playing I’ve discovered.

Al Roker and Stephanie Oppenheim playing KINECT

Usually after I do one of these segments I remember all the things I didn’t say.  This morning the list includes:  I didn’t mention that you need alot of space to play KINECT so it’s not great for really tiny apartments or dorm rooms.  You need to be about 8 feet back and you also need room to move side to side (or run the risk of really hitting your opponent!).  Als0 – most of the games that have come out for the holiday season are family and action oriented.  So if you’re more of a point/shoot XBOX 360 fan, there aren’t titles for you yet…but suspect they’ll be on their way.  I love playing Rallyball – it’s like Dodgeball but no one gets hurt!  While it’s true that you don’t need to use a controller to play KINECT you will need to know how to use one to set it up initially…(in otherwords, if you’re not comfortable with controllers…you’ll want to get someone who know what they’re doing).  The last thing I forgot to mention is that KINECT has facial recognition so that if you make your own Avatar and you turn it on–it will recognize you. How cool is that?  Also there is voice recognition as well (also pretty Jetson like if you ask me!).  That said…there is a learning curve for selecting games that can seem slow which seems kind of odd since the whole concept is so cutting edge.  Ok…now I’ve said it all!

Pick of the Day: Karito Kids

Laura Rangel - CEO of KidsGive

Laura Rangel - CEO of KidsGive

Karito Kids from Kids Give is one of our favorite award-winning collections of multi-cultural dolls this year.  The collection has been updated and features a range of dolls from all over the world.  When I was growing up I had dolls from other lands — but these were all no-touching dolls. The ones meant to be put on a shelf and appreciated.  The only one that was able to play with was my London go-go girl.  She had hair like Marlo Thomas and she had white go-go boots just like mine.  Maybe she wasn’t meant to be played with either–but since I so rarely played with dolls, my mother never said a word.

I love that these dolls are meant to be enjoyed. Their clothes reflect modern girls from all over the world. The books that come with them aren’t my favorite…but it doesn’t take away that these dolls do help introduce girls to a more global view. Here’s my visit with founder Laura Rangel. The company also has a commitment to giving back to the communities where the dolls come from as well as new bracelets that are being made here in the USA by people with disabilities.

Reviews of the new dolls are all on our site at

New Dolls from Karito Kids

Pick of the Day: Hasbro’s Star Wars Imperial AT-AT

May the Force Be with You!

While we do have a general policy against toys that have aggressive themes and those that have projectile parts–each year we do bend the rules a bit for Star Wars. Why? Because I love Star Wars, it’s fantasy play, and at the end of the day good overcomes evil in the universe.  Part of the fun of going to Toy Fair each year is to see the new toys in this category. The best news is that because of the Clone Wars cartoon–there’s a whole new generation of kids that love Star Wars. So much of pop culture is generational – so it’s pretty special when a series is able to span several generations of followers. It also means there will be new Star Wars toys for years to come!

This new AT-AT from Hasbro is over two feet tall.

Star Wars Imperial AT-AT (from Hasbro)

It will provide young Star Wars fans with a pretend setting. It comes with a small vehicle and one storm trooper.  There are sound effects right from the movie–also very pleasing. There are projectiles that you should remove if you have young children at home so that no one aims at a little brother or sister (by accident, of course). For a complete review and shopping info, see our review. To watch our video, click here.