2011.12.21 The greatest toys of all time

Written by David Green.


It’s the season of toys, for both big and little girls and boys. An article by Wired’s Jonathan Liu addresses what he sees as “the five best toys of all time.” Liu’s department at Wired Magazine is Geek Dad so you might expect to read about the latest in high-tech gadgets for a father to buy his son.

Think again.

Liu says he understands that most of us have limited budgets and could never afford all the cool new toys, devices, software, etc. Instead, he’s created a list to fit anyone’s budget and to interest a wide age range. They’re time-tested, he says, and kid-approved.

Number one on his list is the stick. Excellent choice. Everyone has played with a stick and had a great time. For as long as humans have been around, the stick has been a clear winner for outdoor play.

Liu describes the stick as a poker and a digger and a reach-extender, but it’s so much more. It’s a spear and a sword. It makes designs in the dirt. It’s good to have when walking. Younger kids find it good for nibbling.

There’s a variety of sizes and shapes, Liu says, but he notes that smaller sticks break easily and are difficult to repair. I remember enjoying the breakage by trying to fit them back together again as though the break never occurred. 

If you’re feeling “green” this Christmas, get your kid a completely natural, biodegradable stick. Wrap one up, put it under the tree, and watch the look of delight on your child’s face when he rips open the package.

And if you need a user guide, Antoinette Portis has written a book titled “Not a Stick” which offers many ideas for using the device, proving that it isn’t a mere piece of wood you’re holding. It’s a magic wand or a snowman’s arm or...there are dozens of uses.

Liu’s other suggestions include string and cardboard tubes. He sees the cardboard tube like the toy at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks—the prize is always there, but you have to wait until you get to the end before claiming your prize.

I never quickly unrolled toilet paper to reach the tube, but a box of Cracker Jacks was different. I never ate until I reached the prize. I had the prize in my possession after the first mouthful, no matter what it took. Usually it took spilling some of that molasses coated popcorn. But why the big hurry? Did you ever get a Cracker Jack prize that was actually worth the search?

But back to the tube. The small ones are binoculars. The gift wrap size are swords. The big industrial-strength size—like inside a roll of carpet—those must be something special, but I don’t think I ever had one when I was a kid.

I might wrap up a stick with a tube around it and let the kids innovate. They’re all college graduates.

I don’t have a lot of memories of string. We had it around for kites and yo-yos, and it seems that maybe my brother Dan tried to remove a tooth with string and a swinging door.

I spent more time with its older sibling—rope. So many things to do with a good piece of rope. Pulling sleds, climbing to a tree branch, injuring younger brothers when towing a wagon with a bike.

I still remember the amazing day that I discovered where rope comes from. There was a hole in the floor of Art Ellison’s Western Auto store, with a piece of rope sticking out. Down below was an immeasurable quantity of rope—some for every kid in town.

Liu also lists dirt—at a young age for eating and making mud, at an older age for digging—and readers suggested bubble wrap, tape and water. Liu officially added water as number six on his list.

I’ve been saving the second thing on his list until last: the box. Probably every parent has caught a kid setting aside a toy and playing with the box that it came in. That’s not to dismiss the value of the gift; it’s just that a box is such a darn good toy.

Probably the best thing I ever received was the wooden crate that a printing press was shipped in. My father had his new toy—the Heidelberg Windmill—and he recognized the crate as something for his kids. It was so wonderful in so many ways.

There are a few days left before Christmas morning. I hope I’ve offered some inspiration so you can get your kids what they really want.

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