A rose by any other name…

Old Names, But New Games. One of the trends for the fall is familiar names (Monopoly, Scrabble, Twister, etc.) being used with all new game play.

U Build Monopoly

The new U-Build Monopoly (Parker Brothers $19.99) looks like an interesting concept, you build the board – allowing you to control how long your game will take. But the traditional game board is completely gone.

Scrabble Flash Cubes

Scrabble Flash Cubes (Hasbro $29.99), one of the coolest games we saw at Toy Fair, has electronic cubes that you use to build words, again no board, no little tiles…no double or triple word points. If you’re a purist about Twister and love the smell and feel of that mat, you may feel sad about Twister Hoopla (Hasbro $19.99) -where your body becomes the mat. We’ll have to see how these test with kids and their parents.  All Available Fall 2010.

Brand new. We did find some new innovative games. Konexi (ZimZala Games $24.99) brings the fun of Jenga and word play together. Here you stack letters to create words-but watch out you don’t want the letters to come falling down. We loved the design and feel of this game – can’t wait to test with kids.

Konexi by ZimZala Games

We suggested that they could make one of games younger so that the age range of 10 plus could come down considerably.  Available Fall 2010.

An anti-technology theme. Appealing to parents that would like the playroom to be more “real” – we found even more organic and recycled products than last year.  A new approach  – classic toys that now require no batteries – saving money, another bonus.   We all grew up with Spin Art – one of my all time personal favorites!   Innovative for this year, Crayola will roll out  Crayola Color Twister Spin Art (Crayola $14.99) which uses an air pump to make the platform spin.  Watch our video.

Crayola Color Twister Spin Art

We only got to to see the prototype–but look forward to testing the real toy later this season. Available July 2010.

LEGO RACER with Air Pump

The same “air” technology is now being used to propel certain LEGO RACERS ($12.99/ Available now).

Pure Whimsy.

Sing-a-ma-jigs

Sing-a-ma-jigs (Mattel $12.99 each) may turn out to be one of the hottest toys of the season if the real things work as well as the prototypes.  Be sure to watch my video. Each of the dolls will chatter, sing and even harmonize together. To me they look like claymation characters come to life. We look forward to testing these as soon as they are ready.  First collection available May 2010/ more to come for the holidays.

Hexbug Nanos. You either loves these little bugs that come in test tubes…or they’ll  creep you out. I love them. Rolling out right now are habitats that you can put them in.  Our testers enjoyed the portability of these little bugs that go like crazy!  The bugs are each $9.99, the habitat starter set is $19.99. 

Hexbug Nanos in their Habitat

They are to me the tech answer to Zhu Zhu Hamsters. If you’re shopping for that hard to buy for tween, these will be an interesting novelty. Available Now.

May the Force be with you. As a complete Star Wars fan, it makes me so happy that there is a whole new generation falling in love with the saga– thanks to the Clone Wars cartoon.  For my LEGO builders, the Star Wars sets are always the number one request.

LEGO TIE Defender

LEGO has responded with many new models including the TIE Defender ($49.99). This is the Empire’s most advanced fighter, it comes with 304 pieces and includes two action figures. Available Now.

Star Wars Millenium Falcon

We also can’t wait to test, the Star Wars R/C Millennium Falcon (Hasbro $49.99/ Available Fall 2010) – watch our video; the Star Wars AT-AT (Hasbro $99.99/Available August 2010)- a pretty impressive play setting for your own battles against the Empire.

Star Wars AT-AT

It’s more than 2′ tall and 28″  long, comes with LED lights, sounds and phrases from the movie; the Star Wars General Grievous Lightsaber (Hasbro $34.99/Available August 2010) is fun to spin–with double lightsabers that come apart. The lights and sound effects will appeal to Star Wars fans young and old.  Watch our video.

All of these toys will be tested and full reviews will appear on www.toyportfolio.com

Related videos:

Our video of Sing-a-ma-jigs

Our video of General Grevious Lightsaber

Our video of the Crayola Color Twist Spin Art

Our video of the Star Wars Millenium Falcon

Thank you toyportfolio.com toy testers!

Toyportfolio.com's toy tester Jake after the Today Show

One of the pleasures of my job is getting to know families from all over the country.  When we first started the toyportfolio we started with friends and family…but that quickly grew to families that we didn’t know–from all spots on the map…Alaska, California, Florida.  Long before facebook, I feel like we developed a wonderful network of both moms and dads that I know only through emails.  Over the course of our conversations, I quickly learn which families love games, hate puzzles, feel strongly about complicated instructions and dread noisy toys!   I even went through the angst of the college admissions process with one mom as both of our oldest kids were applying to schools!

Really great testing families take the process seriously (while having fun of course).  Last year we had a family leave New Jersey for Hong Kong…another to London.  I miss these families and their wonderful feedback. When Joanne and I go through toy fair, we often will discuss the kids that have particular interests–knowing we found a product that will probably be perfect for them to take a look at.

Some of our testers also have joined me for segments on the Today Show.  The Denny family has been doing this for several years–and they’re always up for some fun on the set–and do a great job passing time in the green room waiting and waiting…for the time to go up the stairs to studio 1A and play.

So it was with very mixed emotions that I learned that they were leaving the city — opting for more space in the suburbs.  I totally get it–and now it means they will be able to help me with more outdoor toy testing,  But I will miss seeing them!

Below is a picture of Betsy and her kids Jake and  Josie…her older daughter Annie (a seasoned toyportfolio tester) insisted on going to school instead of being on the Today Show.  As Betsy and her husband tried to convince her to change her mind…they laughed, realizing that their daughter had her priorities in order.

Denny Family outside of the Today Show

So happy trails to the Denny family…and a big thank you to all of our testers that provide such valuable feedback – and make our process unique and ultimately really valuable to other consumers looking for objective information about children’s products before they buy.

Happy Holidays!

Best Wishes to Byrant Gumbel

I was so sadden today when I heard the news that Bryant is being treated for lung cancer.  When I started doing segments at the Today Show Bryant was the co-host.  While he had a reputation for being tough, Bryant was nothing but warm and encouraging.  I often did segments with him about children’s books–and he was always so amazingly well-prepared.  If I dropped a message point that I had put in the notes for the segment, Bryant was always there to provide it.  I remember one of the first segments I did included an Eyewitness book about the history of Greece.  The lay out of the book was like a newspaper–he said something about “at least they had newspapers–I suppose there’s no videotape”…he was teasing me…but I was so  nervous, I didn’t get it until I was onto the next book.

He is such a wonderful interviewer–he knows how to allow his guests to share their information without taking over.   Our segments  felt like conversations.  I know it sounds silly, but after a segment when Bryant would say “nice job Steph” — it made my day!  I wish him well as he goes through his treatments.

ELMO…feeling a little left out

In seasons past, ELMO is the toy we get all the calls for -someone in desperate need for the latest version of the original Tickle Me Elmo Doll.  We have particular fondness for the original – Joanne brought Elmo on the TODAY Show – Bryant Gumbel loved it–and played with it for the entire show.

This season, ELMO is being completely ignored.  A smaller, perhaps cuter critter has grabbed the imagination of children and media outlets everywhere -even though ELMO  tells jokes this year as well as any Borscht Belt comedian. Oh and yes,  he’s  still throwing kisses…it could break your heart.  Watch our video.

Princess & the Frog: Princess Tiana Just One Kiss Doll

Disney's Princess Tiana

Last week I talked about this doll as one of the top five hottest toys in toyland on the TODAY Show.  But because I only had two minutes to discuss five toys, I didn’t have time to demonstrate why this particular Princess Doll is so much fun.  Watch our toyportfolio.com video and you’ll see the interactive/light up features of this talking doll.

Right after my segment, I got an email from Disney–reminding me that there were less expensive Princess Tiana dolls…so true.  You can get your Princess fix for under $16.  The Just One Kiss doll retails for $24.99–and I already see lots of price gauging. There are plainer Princess Dolls–but we have not personally seen or tested them–I do see some complaints on line about the quality of the least expensive version–but we can’t confirm. We’re thrilled that Disney is featuring the first African-American Princess.  If you’d also like a book, we’d recommend Princess and the Royal Ball by Natasha A. Tarpley/illustrated by James Finch)–a full review is on our site.

 

Behind the Scenes at the TODAY SHOW

The whole gang during the segment

The whole gang during the segment

I actually love doing segments with lots of kids. I think it adds to the energy of the piece – but I do have to say last night I had this momentary thought “eight babies!, really?!…what were you thinking!”

The kids had a  long wait until it was time to go into the studio–and one thing I’ve learned over the years, never show kids toys long before they go on air – especially when you’re talking about babies and toddlers. To expect them to be engaged with toys for more than 10 minutes in any given setting, just isn’t reasonable in real life, much less in a tv studio with so many people, lights and cameras around. So we had some other related toys for them to play with in their separate “green room”…but at a certain point, they all started moving about the lower concourse — to say this particular group of kids were cute, is an understatement.  The kids were all in what I call that “cupcake” stage where they are just full of pure joy.  (At least at that moment!)

Once we got to the set, I was happy.  The kids and their parents were engaged with all the toys we had selected.  (You can hear them throughout!)  Doing segments with Natalie is also fun because she’s  in the middle of this zone with her two sons…so she gets it.

This is a picture of Matthew (4 months old)…enjoying  hanging out on the Infantino Twist & Fold mat. Picture 10

And here’s a pic with Natalie after the segment is over….To watch the segment, click here.

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim