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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Fad Toys

When I was growing up, I think I ended up playing with a wide variety of different toys. And what was interesting about it was the fact that most of the toys that I played with were popular at least a decade before I was born!

And it got me thinking about toys that were insanely popular in certain time periods. I suppose one could say that they were “fads” of the time.

And, that's what I have decided to make this blog about. Fad toys.

Certainly, I was around for several of these fad toys, and I even played with some of them at the time they were at their peak of popularity.

Right off the bat, I can think of three fad toys that all the kids played with during the wonderful decade known as the 1990s. In 1990, I remember every kid having something called a “Skip-It”. It was first sold in stores in the late 1980s, and by my third grade year, everyone had one...including yours truly. It was just a plastic thing that you hooked around your ankle, and swung around in a circle as you skipped over it. There was even a counter attached onto the Skip-It that allowed you to count just how many times you could skip...but I was so terrible at it that I barely made it past ten skips. I think I ended up selling the blasted Skip-It at a garage sale just a couple of years later.

Another fad that I remember from the 1990s was a little game that a few of us used to play in the school playground circa 1993, 1994-ish.

Have you ever heard of a game known as Pogs? Pogs were little cardboard discs that had a variety of different designs all over them. Some were based on cartoon characters and television shows, some just had generic designs that were holographic, or were in 3-D, and some were even offered as toys in Happy Meals at fast food places.

MINI CONFESSION: Not only did I play with Pogs when I was twelve, but I still have all the ones that I managed to collect during the time when they were most popular!

The way that the game was played was very simple. Each player would stack up their Pogs into a giant tower. After that was completed, each player would take out something called a “Slammer”, which was a piece that was similar in shape to a Pog, but a much heavier weight. Usually, slammers were made out of thick plastic, metal, or rubber.

Each player would take their “Slammer” piece and hurl it towards the stack of Pogs. Doing this would cause the stack to flip over and collapse. If any of the Pogs landed face down, the player could claim those Pogs as their own. The others were restacked for the next player. The game ended when all the Pogs were claimed.

Now, if one were playing a friendly game, it was a nice distraction, and people just kept the Pogs that they brought to the game. But some games played for keeps, and I remember many kids in my school losing their entire collection of Pogs to some of the others who were the Pog champions of the playground. I suppose that was the main reason why my school (and many others in North America) banned Pogs. I suppose in some ways, it did seem like we were running a gambling operation right next to the monkey bars.

(For the record, I never played for keeps, and I only ever traded Pogs with other kids.)

Fortunately, I was a bit too old when the next fad of the 1990s came out. Do any of you ever remember having such a thing as a virtual pet? I believe that around my high school, they were known as Tamagotchis. First created in Japan in 1996, the electronic toys were all the rage in North America just two years later. Tamagotchis allowed people to raise an electronic pet right from the moment that the pet was “born” (when the device was switched on). But owners of a Tamagotchi soon found that taking care of a virtual pet was almost as tough as taking care of a real pet. Over the course of the life of your Tamagotchi, certain icons would pop up that detailed what your pet needed. You'd have to feed your pet, give your pet medicine, clean up after your pet, play with your pet, and even have to scold your pet for mischief it happens to cause.

Of course, not all Tamagotchi pets lasted forever. Neglect and poor care could cause the death clock to tick prematurely for your virtual pet, but in almost all cases, the pet simply died of old age. Fear not though, your game won't quit working. You could simply restart the game again with a brand new virtual pet.

That said, I never owned a Tamagotchi. I found it too time-consuming to deal with.

But fad toys aren't just limited to the 1990s. In the 1990s, people played with virtual pets, but back in 1975, a different virtual pet of sorts hit the marketplace.

I imagine quite a few people owned something called a “Pet Rock”. Pet rocks were the brainchild of California businessman Gary Dahl, who had joked that a pet rock was the perfect pet because they didn't need to be walked, fed, or cleaned up after. It was a rock. What could rocks do other than sit there and be admired?

What was amazing about the pet rock was how much of an impact it really had in the world of pop culture. In 1975 alone, Dahl ended up selling 1,500,000 pet rocks, alone, and for six months, everyone wanted a pet rock. By 1976, the fad had died a quick death, but Dahl still ended up becoming a millionaire with the sales accumulated from the pet rock. Imagine taking a rock and turning it into enough money to buy several rocks...of the shinier, glass-cutting kind. Now, that's business smarts right there!

In the 1950s, the toy that every girl, boy, and chipmunk apparently had to have was the hula hoop (Yes, in that Chipmunks Christmas song, Alvin had to have a hula hoop). Although the toy was not technically invented in the 1950s (apparently its origins come from 5th century Greece), it became extremely popular during that decade. The Wham-O toy company released a plastic version of the hula hoop in the late 1950s, and by the summer of 1958, it became a fad in the United States through promotions, radio giveaways, and hula hooping contests. By the time the 1960s arrived, over 100 million hula hoops had been sold, and at the peak of their popularity, toy companies were producing fifty thousand hula hoops a DAY!

Hula hoops are still being made today, though their sales and popularity aren't quite as high as they were back in the late 1950s. But the hula hoop was officially inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999, forever immortalizing it as one of the most loved fad toys ever.

That's a look at some of the fad toys of the last few decades. Now, I have a question for all of you.

BONUS QUESTION: What were some of your favourite fad toys?

I'll leave you now with this video of another fad toy...the Rubik's Cube of the 1980s...and watch in awe as this person solves the puzzle in under six seconds!

Did you miss that? Here it is again in slow motion...I am officially in awe!

See you soon, fellow Pop Culture Addicts!!!

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