Under the tree in 2010? Beer pong for kids

They don’t make toys like they used to — which is probably a good thing given some of the spectacularly dangerous toys I savored as a kid. I had numerous near-death experiences as a boy heaving foot-long lawn darts into the air like mortar shells. My friends and I nearly blinded each other when we discovered that my toy robot could fire more from its eyes than the suction cup-tipped projectiles that came with it: We loaded those eyes up with pencils, Bic pens and nails. And then there was the battleship that was supposed to launch hollow plastic, pretend depth charges from a catapult: I figured out early on that the catapult was also strong enough to hurl Lincoln Logs hard enough to dent Sheetrock.

When I visited the Toys ‘R Us in Williston and the Toy Shop of Concord, Mass., last month and looked at the hot toys of the 2010 season, I saw no foot-long, skull-crushing projectiles. Here, however, are toys that did catch my eye.

*  Cuponk. The object of this game is to bounce a small ball into a plastic cup, which lights up and makes noise when someone succeeds. It brought back fond memories of my underage drinking in my college fraternity: I can’t decide whether Cuponk was inspired by “quarters” or “beer pong,” or is meant to teach kids to play them. (Hasbro, $12.99)

*  Nerf N-Strike Stampede Rifle. Just another Nerf gun? Maybe. But it launches a “stream of darts up to 25 feet.” The warning on the box is prominent: “CAUTION: Do not aim at eyes or face. TO AVOID INJURY: Use only darts designed for this product. Do not modify darts or dart blaster.” I would have loved this as a boy. Thank heavens it didn’t exist in 1969. (Hasbro, $49.99)

*  Lego Harry Potter sets. These sets are terrific, especially Hagrid’s hut and the Weasley family’s burrow. But here is my counsel for parents: Be careful if you only buy one set and your children want to have Harry, Ron and Hermoine figurines to play with. To wit: The set with the Weasley family’s home (the burrow), comes with Harry and three Weasleys … but not Ron. The quidditch match set comes with five figurines, including Harry, but neither Ron nor Hermoine. (Lego, $10.99 to $129.99)

*  Milestones in Science Experiment Kit. When I saw this at the Concord Toy Shop, two grandparents were considering it for their granddaughter. At first blush, this one reeks of the sort of well-intentioned, high-minded, “educational” toy that would have infuriated me when I was a child. The box top is covered with old bald guys with beards from history and a token woman: Marie Curie. But it grew on me when I read more about it, especially since it seems to include everything for a hundred experiments — except the scientists themselves. (Thames & Kosmos, $89.95)

*  Sing-a-ma-jigs. Envision a small, plush vaguely bear-like creature with a flexible hair scrunchie for a mouth. The voice is a synthesizer on steroids. Of course, to get these bad boys to really rock, you need more than one. Why? They harmonize. So, if you want your own Sing-a-ma-jig batch of Von Trapps, you’ll need to bring home an armful. Imagine: A toy company designing a product that works best when you buy more than one. (Fisher-Price, $12.99)

*  Bigfoot the Monster. Bigfoot is a spectacularly ill-behaved remote control monster. I would have loved him when I was three or four. He walks and talks and stomps and burps and, according to the box, throws a tantrum. In other words, he would have been someone I could have identified with when I was a kid. (Fisher-Price, $89.99)

Three final warnings before you pick out the perfect present this season. First, see if the toy needs batteries and whether batteries are included. Second, be prepared with a backup if you find the toy is sold out. Third, be wary of parental elbows. Right now it’s a jungle out there in most stores, and even the Nerf Stampede Rifle is no match for moms and dads in the Lego aisles.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on December 5, 2010.)
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “Under the tree in 2010? Beer pong for kids

  1. Stephanie says:

    Love the new site. Up a notch! Now you need a forum and a group of obsessive moderators. Have great holidays! Looking forward to the next book.
    The toys of the 60s and 70s were as good for us as the processed foods were – Space Food Sticks, Quisp, Quake, Cap’n Crunch, Lays. Five packs of candy bars…..
    Of course to work it all off we could play with our lawn darts (jarts) or our safe bb guns, mini bikes, chemistry sets, and wood burning kits (Jeff Foxworthy has a great piece on this topic).

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