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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Yo-Yo Effect

One of the most frustrating things that can possibly happen when you are a child is getting a toy and having it not work properly, or get broken after a certain amount of time.

I'm sure we've all been in situations like that. I'm sure that we've all had a wheel fall off of our roller skates or skateboards. I'm sure that those of us who owned a Nintendo remember blowing into the cartridges when they refused to play in the machine. And, I'm sure that many of you were upset when the light bulbs burned out in your Lite-Brite toys or Easy Bake Ovens.

Of course, those were all things that couldn't be helped...well, unless you were incredibly rough with your toys and caused the damage yourself.

Now, what happens when you get a toy that you're dying to play with, but have absolutely no idea how to get it working, or how to set it up properly to guarantee yourself hours of fun? In these cases, the toy may very well be manufactured with the greatest of care and ease, and there isn't a single thing wrong with it. It's the owners of the toys themselves who can't figure it out.

I can think of a couple of examples to try and illustrate what I mean. You know those Rubik's Cubes where the goal of the puzzle was to arrange it so that each face of the cube was a solid colour? It's been 30 years since they've been released, and I still can't seem to figure them out. Or, those model train sets. Some people have a huge hobby of collecting train sets, and designing model train tracks...but the one and only train set I ever owned was a nightmare to complete. I don't even know if I ever managed to get the whole thing set up one hundred per cent correctly.

And then there's the subject of today's blog topic. It is a toy that I probably owned at least three or four of at any given time...and it is a toy that for whatever reason, I could not figure out how it worked.

We're going to be talking about the small, but mighty yo-yo.

I know what some of you must be saying. The yo-yo is a classic toy. How could anyone have a hard time with a yo-yo?

Well, I did. I was a...well, um...a yo-yo with a yo-yo...and no, that's not me.  It's a good representation of how horrible I was with a yo-yo though.

I mean, certainly most kids learn how to master the most simplest of moves that a yo-yo was capable of performing. The classic up and down motion. Well, do you want to know how old I was when I mastered the up/down technique? EIGHTEEN. It took me eighteen years to learn how to use a yo-yo the correct way. Looking back on it, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that, but I just wanted to prove the point that in this case, it wasn't the yo-yo's fault.

Needless to say, learning the various tricks that can be associated with yo-yos were an impossibility for me. Instead of walking the dog, I was killing the dog. And, don't even get me started on the yo-yo trick “around the world”. I even think that Blair Warner from “The Facts of Life” did a better job with that trick than I did...and if you've ever seen the episode where she performs that trick, that should give you an indication of how hopeless I was with a yo-yo.

Despite this, I still admit that I find yo-yos to be fascinating things. I certainly admire people who can do elaborate yo-yo tricks, and deep down, I wish I could find a way to perform them too. But with my luck, the yo-yo would turn against me and strangle me to death if I tried.

The history of the yo-yo is a fascinating tale though. The earliest surviving yo-yo reportedly dates back thousands of years to the year 500 B.C. The materials that were used for the body of the yo-yo were terra cotta skin disks. If you look at the image below, you can see a painting of a boy playing with a yo-yo that was taken from the outside of an ancient Greek vase. The reason behind using the terra cotta disks were symbolic. They were used to ceremonially offer the toys of youth to certain gods when the child came of age.

And why was the toy named the “yo-yo”? Admittedly, the history behind the name has conflicting theories. The most widely believed one is that the name came from the northern Philippine Ilokano language word. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary seems to confirm this definition, so I'm going to go with this one. But another theory is that the word yo-yo was actually a Tagalong word, which meant “come from” or “return”.

So, that's your history lesson on how yo-yos were created. However, it took thousands of years before the toy became popular in North America. James L. Haven and Charles Hettrick, both of Cincinnati, Ohio, took out a patent in the United States for an improved version of the toy, which was also referred to as a bandelore. This occurred in 1866.

A few decades later, in 1928, Filipino-American Pedro Flores started up the Yo-Yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, California. The business started up small, with just a dozen handmade toys, including yo-yos, but by the following year, Flores had opened two additional factories in Los Angeles and Hollywood, California, which employed 600 people, and produced over 300,000 toys each day!

Entrepreneur Donald Duncan took notice of the yo-yo fad, and he purchased the Flores Yo-Yo Corporation and all of its assets, including the Flores name. The name “yo-yo” was registered as a trademark in America in 1932, and Duncan's first design of the yo-yo was called the Duncan O-BOY. Duncan reportedly paid more than a quarter of a million dollars to invest in the company (which was almost unheard of, given that it was smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression). Even more unheard of was that the investment that Duncan made ended up being very profitable. By 1946, Duncan's wealth had skyrocketed as a result. That same year, he opened up a factory in Luck, Wisconsin, which prompted the small town to call themselves the “Yo-yo Capital of the World”.

Duncan's yo-yo design was so successful that it ended up being inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York in 1999.

Of course, Duncan's success didn't come without its controversies, and certainly the biggest one that he faced occurred in 1965. That year, the Royal Tops Company claimed that the word “yo-yo” had become commonly used within the English vocabulary, making Duncan's rights to the name redundant. To everyone's surprise, a judge sided with Royal Tops, and the fallout caused Duncan's fortune to plummet. It caused so much damage that the Duncan family was forced to sell the business to Flambeau Incorporated in the late 1960s, which had manufactured Duncan's plastic yo-yo models for a decade prior. The company is still in operation as of 2012.

In fact, yo-yos are just as popular as ever. It sounds surprising, given that we now live in a world that is filled with iPods, mobile phones, and XBOX 360s to distract teenagers. There is something to be said about the power of the yo-yo, however.

Did you know that there is a massive online following of all things relative to the yo-yo? I didn't know this either until I did some searching around online. And the discussion and obsession over yo-yos aren't just limited to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even Pinterest. There are several online groups devoted to yo-yo news, sharing new tricks, and exchanging yo-yo themed merchandise. Some of these sites include the following;

And those are just FIVE of many sites devoted to the yo-yo.

Then there are the various yo-yo contests that are held all over the world. Perhaps one of the most famous events is the World Yo-Yo Contest, which has been held annually since 1992 (although the first ever contest was held sixty years prior, in 1932). As of July 2012, the current yo-yo champions are;

Marcus Koh – Single Hand String Trick
Shinji Saito – Two Hands Looping Trick
Hank Freeman – Two Hands String Trick
Naoto Okada – Offstring
Takeshi Matsuura – Counterweight
Takahiko Hasegawa – Artistic Performance

TRIVIA: That second name on the list is no stranger to yo-yo championships. Reportedly, he has won TWELVE titles!

So, that is my report on the ups and downs of yo-yos. I certainly didn't have much luck with getting my yo-yo to do much of anything, but the one thing that I can say is that yo-yos are not going away. They never really left. Why, if I live until the year 2100, I bet yo-yos will still have a place in this world.

Although, in 2100, I'll be 119 years old, and will likely not be alive to collect on that bet. Oh well, c'est la vie.

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