With three youngins underfoot in our household we receive a fair number of catalogs featuring products for the younger set. Some are from clothing companies seeking to have our children outfitted in the latest styles from the Swedish countryside. Others are home furnishing companies who have specially tailored children's versions of their adult offerings (Pottery Barn Infants, Pottery Barn Toddlers, Pottery Barn Kids, etc.) Then there are the safety product catalogs which seek to prey upon your deepest parental fears to protect your kids from every possible calamity--nothing says "I Love You" like encasing your child in our exclusive "Baby Bubble," which prevents injury from common household accidents as well as defense against nuclear/chemical/biological agents and nearly every communicable disease known to man.
The only ones that I have much interest in perusing are the toy catalogs. No matter how mature you pretend to be, you can't deny that you still get a thrill checking out the toys. For a moment, you're transported back to a time when dreams of acquiring this or that special toy dominated your thoughts especially as you approached a birthday or Christmas.
Just the other day a catalog from Back To Basics Toys arrived at our home. They have an especially cool collection of toys including some classics from the past. When you page through it, you recognize many of these "oldies but goodies"--either as toys you had, toys that your friends had, or toys that you always wanted, but never were within your reach.
It's easy to fall into a spell of misty nostalgia when the memories of these old toys are rekindled. However, when I reflected a little deeper on the items in the catalog I realized that some of them really didn't merit such fond recollections. In fact, some of these "classic" toys were in reality quite lame.
Toys like Rock'em Sock'em Robots:
Still Rockin' and Sockin' after all these years! A classic since 1966. Remember the fun you had competing for the title? Two contenders control the plastic boxers every move until the winner knocks loose the other's spring-loaded head. Lots of action and competition. Will Red Rocker or Blue Bomber prevail?
This was a much sought after toy during my days of youth. The television commercials made it look like so much fun. My brother and I imagined the many hours we would spend trying to knock each other's blocks off (not in a literal sense for a change) and looked forward to the day when we too would be able to Rock and Sock 'em. Finally, our parents were able to get one for us (pretty sure it was from a garage sale). And after all that anticipation we discovered that the toy...
...pretty much sucked. It wasn't nearly as exciting as portrayed on TV. The robots barely moved, you couldn't really connect that well with a punch, and when you did the results were disappointing. I think we were bored with it within a matter of minutes and rarely went back to it again.
Or the Electric Football Game:
Classic Electric Football brings home 3-D football action. A classic game since 1947. Plug in the unit, set up your players, and the vibrating board does the rest. Features 22 players (including a full-action quarterback), working scoreboard, and magnetic first down marker.
Sounds exactly like the one I had. Metal field, plastic players, out of scale little foam footballs that you threw, kicked, or jammed under a running back's arm. Like a real football game, there was usually very little actual action going on. You spent most of time picking up the players, lining them up, and then trying to figure out how you would use the ball. At last, you'd flip the switch, the table would vibrate, players would topple, and ten seconds later the play would end. Then you'd turn it off and start all over again.
Considering what was available at the time I suppose it wasn't that bad of way to simulate football. But when you can play Madden in hi-def, why would anyone bother with Electric Football?
Another clunker was Shoot the Moon:
Defy gravity by moving the ball up the adjustable steel rods as far as possible for the highest score. A great skill game for children and adults. Made from solid hardwood. A classic since 1920.
This was usually what you ended up stuck with when you went over to visit your parents' friends who didn't have any kids. Say, you kids want to do something fun? Try this game. Five minutes later you were frustrated, fed-up, and wondering how it was possible for anyone to live in a place as boring as this.
Lastly, we have the Slinky:
Marine engineer Richard James invented the Slinky in 1943 when he accidentally knocked a metal spring off his desk. He was amazed at how the metal spring traveled end-over-end across the floor. After more than 60 years, Slinky is still traveling end-over-end across floors, down stairs and into children's hearts.
Who doesn't have fond memories of the Slinky with its simple design and catchy theme song (Slinky, Slinky, oh what a wonderful toy...)? But how much fun did you really have with it? My Slinky NEVER went down the stairs like the ones they showed on TV. While it was amusing for a time to move the Slinky back in forth between your hands, after a while that got old and before long your Slinky was kinked up and sitting at the bottom of a toy box collecting dust.
There were toys from our childhoods that did live up to expectations and provided untold hours of joy. And they deserve to be considered classics. But there were others that don't really hold up that well when you bring a little more focus to the hazy lenses of memory.