Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

September 30, 2012

HOPKINS: Toy nominees recall memories of childhood

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — I’ve never been to Rochester’s National Museum of Play or its National Toy Hall of Fame, but I’m sure if I did, I’d be there for hours.

That’s because I suspect you’d have to drag me out; I’d be having too much fun rediscovering my youth. Pulling the wagon around the house, playing with Matchbox cars and Tonka trucks. Board games with my siblings.

Every day I receive close to 200 e-mails, most of which are press releases from various organizations. Most don’t pertain to Lockport, so I don’t even bother opening them.

Occasionally I’ll take a look at something that isn’t Lockport-specific, just because the topic seems interesting. That’s where the Museum of Play and the Toy Hall of Fame come in.

Among the litany of junk was this enticing subject line: “Announcing 2012 National Toy Hall Finalists.” That was all I needed to open that baby up.

“The 12 finalists for 2012 induction have been officially announced!” was the greeting I received. “Which toys will make it into the hallowed halls of the National Toy Hall of Fame this November? Is the Force with Star Wars action figures? Does the Magic 8 Ball say it will be so? Will the pogo stick bounce in?”

There’s a page at http://www.thestrong.org that lists the 12 finalists and includes a brief biography of the toy. I won’t rehash all of them, but I learned a few things while rediscovering my youth through nostalgia.

Although I’m definitely a “Star Wars” child — I was six when the first movie came out in 1977 — I never played with the action figures. The pogo stick? Yeah, we had one at home, but I was never very good on it. It’s one of the oldest toys on the list, patented in 1919.

The Magic 8-Ball is still fun. There was one at a previous job and we used to ask it questions about a co-worker just to annoy the heck out of her. That was fun. I was amazed to learn that it was introduced in 1946.

Four games are competing to join the exclusive list: Clue, Dominoes, Simon and Twister. I’ve played all of these. Twister and Clue rise to the top among these four for me.

My sister Margaret received Clue as a Christmas present one year. The game makes you think as you determine who’s responsible for a murder, and it allows for some good deceptive moves to win. It also led to some childish innuendo when you made your declarations on whodunnit.

We had a version of Twister called “Animal Twister” in which silhouettes of various animals replaced the traditional dots on the mat. It was a good game to help a child’s developing mind to recognize animals. I didn’t even know about the original Twister until I was eight or nine.

And, Dominoes. I played it a few times, but like most people it’s always been more fun to line them up and knock over the first one, causing the rest to fall. Thus the invention of a very popular social studies term: the Domino Effect (and Theory).

The rest of the list includes Fisher Price’s Corn Popper (who didn’t have one of these?), Lite Brite (”Lite Brite, making things with light. Outta sight, making things with Lite Brite,” went the jingle), Little Green Army Men, Sidewalk chalk and the tea set.

To me, Lite Brite is still a cool toy. I remember spending hours playing with the one in the Hopkins home. A case contaning a light, with a plastic pegboard on which a black sheet of paper was placed. You plugged in plastic “lights” for the corresponding holes to make pictures.

It’s a simple item that teaches how to follow directions with the pre-printed sheets and allows for creativity, with its blank sheets, so you can make your own designs.

Out of 12 finalists, only two will be honored, joining 49 enshrined edifices to our childhood. Sweet memories such as the hula hoop, the jack-in-the-box, Erector Set, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, the dollhouse and the old reliable cardboard box.

Erector Sets are difficult to find today, and I don’t think they were too popular when I was a child. Still, I had one, but I favored Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs over the Erector Set. I can still remember the smell of the actual wooden Lincoln Logs, which of course today are made out of plastic.

Take a look at the hall of fame list at www.toyhalloffame.org and take a trip down memory lane. I think I still have some View-Masters at home, right next to the Hot Wheels and LEGOs.

I’ll be interested to see what wins. I’m kind of pulling for the ol’ Magic 8 Ball. Maybe I’ll ask it and see if it can foretell its own future.

John J. Hopkins is the managing editor of the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. His column appears on Sundays. Contact Mr. Hopkins at john.hopkins@lockportjournal.com.

John J. Hopkins is the managing editor of the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. His column appears on Sundays. Contact Mr. Hopkins at john.hopkins@lockportjournal.com.