The sixties were a great time to be a kid and we owe it all to President Kennedy. My history is a little rusty, but I’m fairly sure he ordered the NASA scientists to “make toys for the astronauts to play with on the moon”. Oh yeah, I think he also told the astronauts to get their butts up to the moon to test out the new toys. The historians aren’t kidding when they write about Kennedy being so young. NASA scientists and inventors all over the country were charged up, their creativity genes on overdrive. We kids benefited – every kid wanted to be an astronaut or wanted to work for Wham-O so they could invent and test out the really cool new toys like Frisbee, Slinky or Superballs.
Superballs were awesome. They were made from a new synthetic rubber called Zectron. You could bounce a Superball on the concrete and it would easily fly over a house. Just don’t get your face in front of it after you slam it to the concrete for you might end up with a black eye. The only problem with them was that they could be lost fairly easily because they could fly so far, so high. It could be tough to follow them so we usually had to have a kid lookout anytime we wanted to bounce one really high. A lookout for cars could come in handy too.
The original Superball was black and came in just one size, slightly smaller in circumference than a baseball. Soon however they were offered in multiple sizes and colors. Bounce it just right and you could stand several feet away from your kitchen table, sending it under the table only to bounce up against the underside, spinning in reverse to hit the floor and come back to you – instant babysitter. (By the way, the 1960’s Superball bounces much higher than the 2011 remake).
Another cool sixties toy was the Frisbee. According to Wikipedia, these flying discs were invented earlier but didn’t become popular with us kids until the rights were sold to Wham-O and Wham-O named them Frisbee. The Frisbee is one of the few toys that didn’t disappear. In fact, they’ve grown in popularity over the years. Today there are even organized games centered on the use of the Frisbee (like golf). I was always just an average Frisbee tosser and I still admire those who can make them float for hundreds of feet.
Don’t get me wrong. We had boring educational toys too, toys like Lite-Brite that allowed us to paint electric light pictures by numbers. If we needed a little more direction and were interested in exploring our geometric side, then there was Spirograph. Spirograph was easy to use if you had a small circle inside one of the larger circles but good luck trying to keep them from flying off track if you were using one of the thinner main guides. Even Spirograph gave us the opportunity to hurt ourselves with those tiny pushpins. Etch-a-Sketch; now there was a pretty good baby sitter unless you were a left brain kid like me and couldn’t even draw stick people. All my ‘pictures’ were always the same – nice barn door Robbie.
Want a toy that could ‘put your eye out’ AND give mom a headache in the process? Well then, Clackers is your perfect toy. This short Wikipedia page is perfect – it describes the Clackers as two hard plastic balls suspended from strings and when banged against each other, they made a clacking sound. Once again, a great fun toy removed from playtime! Clackers were taken off the market because they were deemed a safety hazard. Gimme a break! Yeah Robbie – go play with your Play-Duh….I mean Play-Doh. Let me tell ya, if you couldn’t dodge a Superball or a Clacker, maybe you didn’t deserve to be a kid in the 60’s and 70’s. What’s next, Rockem Sockem Robots punching too hard?
We couldn’t always rely on Wham-O to entertain us. The 60’s taught us that it was cool to be creative and we leveraged that lesson in the 70’s with games like Purse and Batball. But if all else failed, there was always the yo-yo. Yo-yo’s might have been around for 2500 years, but in the 70’s, every kid just had to have at least one Duncan yo-yo. Yo-yo’s were cool! They were relatively inexpensive and indestructible. As long as you could scrape together a buck for replacement strings, you were set for yearlong personal babysitting entertainment. Want to walk the dog or execute a sleeper? Then you better get a Duncan. How long can you get your yo-yo to sleep? Want to accidentally knock your baby brother or sister in the head? Then you will need to learn the Around the World trick.
If I Google the images for “today’s toys” I just don’t see any good toys that can harm or maim me as a kid. What the heck has happened to our society? Have we become over protective or are we just so litigious that toy companies are only making Legos and video games? Where are the cool toys that can burn your fingers, toys like Creepy Crawlers (link)? Where are the toys that can put out an eye or break a finger, toys like the Clackers? When I was a kid, even the girls got to burn themselves with their Easy Bake Ovens – we were an equal opportunity society where it came to dangerous and fun toys.
Perhaps every generation gets nostalgic about their growing-up-toys…perhaps. But I was a sixties kid so bury me with a Slinky, a Frisbee and a Superball – who knows, maybe there’s no electricity in the afterlife!
PS – Note to wife: Even though I played Purse as a kid, please don’t bury me with a purse full of dog poop!