Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Five Toys That Need a Rebirth

Nostalgia is an established part of the toy-maker playbook, meaning that treasured pieces of childhood tend to continually get new life as marketers reinvent old brands for each new generation. This is generally a bad thing. It leads to mindless movie franchises (this year, '80s icons G.I. Joe and Transformers) and a line of Strawberry Shortcake characters that simply will not die.

Still, if mining the past is inevitable, I would like to offer toy czars some suggestions for items from the '80s that are worth a comeback. Just keep Michael Bay the heck away from them:

1. Teddy Ruxpin: The talking teddy bear with a tapedeck in this back was a little creepy, but no worse that the scores of beeping, buzzing, shouting electronic animals that now litter my house. Give me an MP3-ready stuffed animal with the charm of Teddy Ruxpin that I can use to play back The Killers, and I'll make sure the world beats a path to your door.

2. The Rubik's Cube: I know that you can still get cubes online or at your more upscale toy stores, but there was a time when every kid I knew had one, and skill with the Rubik's Cube was a great marker for separating the true geeks from the wannabes. Why has the current generation given up on Rubik and his cube? Does that say something about the attention span of today's children?

3. The Smurfs: Those little blue dudes (and Smurfette) were everywhere. The Smurfs stood for living simply and being nice to each other, which would be a welcome tonic for today's world, where most licensed characters teach children the value of a well-place insult.

4. Slime: Every corner store sold the small buckets of Slime, which was some sort of amazing substance carefully engineered with the most disgusting possible texture, something between Silly Putty and motor oil.

5. Dungeons and Dragons: All you need to know about my life in middle school is that I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, and that almost certainly delayed my first kiss. Though the Internet (through places like Second Life and World of Warcraft) means that opportunities for role-playing have never been richer, I have to mourn the loss of the social aspect. There was something important about sitting around a table with friends, chatting and clutching 20-sided dice. After all, the dice --in the end -- were irrelevant.

I'm sure I've missed some of your favorites. Set me straight in the comments.

By Brian Reid |  September 22, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Entertainment
Previous: Chasing Rugrats Is Not Exercise, Researchers Say | Next: Economics and Home Economics


Wow, I never knew anyone who admitted to D&D publicly! kidding. I vote for the Big Wheel. Where did it go? No greater achievement than to wear a hole in the wheel!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | September 22, 2009 7:31 AM | Report abuse

I hated the Smurfs when they came out as well as the Care Bears. They were TOO treacly. But then again, I wasn't a child either so they weren't geared towards me.

Most of what I remember is still around like the Breyer Horses that were the right size for my Barbies. I remember thinking that the Cabbage Patch kids were very cool despite the fact that I was well past the doll age by that point.

Posted by: Billie_R | September 22, 2009 7:32 AM | Report abuse

Actually, I hate to break it to you, but Dungeons & Dragons (aka D&D) has never gone away. In fact, it is in it's 4th/6th (depends on how you count it) reiteration. Also, it spawned a whole world of table-top role-playing games of so many types and styles that there is bound to be something to appeal to anyone with an open mind and at least 2 friends.

Posted by: AuntieEmo | September 22, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Yes, D&D is still around. Slime has been replaced by floam (I think that's what is called) and I still see little buckets of slime sometimes. It ruins carpeting, btw.

I'm not too keen on the rest of the list, the smurfs were annoying and I don't even remember Teddie Ruxpin. I can't think of one thing I'd bring back - I was dedicated to Barbie and Ken and their adventures. The rest of the time I was running around outside and riding bikes, etc. Maybe we should bring back outdoor play and forget about the stupid toys?

Posted by: cheekymonkey | September 22, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

What's the PC term for "nerd"? I can't think of a list of 5 geekier toys than that...

a better list would have included things you can throw, kick, launch, ride, ignite, bury, construct (to demolish), or perform surgery on. With the exception of smurfs (who often were the subject of launchings to my sister's dismay), your list meets none of those criteria for (in my opinion) a good toy

Posted by: 06902 | September 22, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

All of the major stores, Walmart, Target, Toys R Us etc stock Rubik's Cubes. In 2008 it was still one of the best selling toys in the world & still selling millions in the US.

Posted by: DavidJ7 | September 22, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Stacey Garfinkle needs your help:

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 22, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

DavidJ7 got to it first, but nice research. The Rubik's cube is very widely available. It resurfaced a handful of years ago and remains in mainstream stores.

Also, if you wander into a Target, you'll also find a nice selection of Smurfs.

And yeah, Slime-like products are there, too.

It helps if you get out of your PJ's and actually wander into a place before posting something.

Posted by: kolbkl | September 22, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

I grew up long before the 1980's and never had any of those nerdy toys. We had Slinky, Tiny Tears doll, paint by number sets, a little blackboard with colored chalk and eraser (played endless hours of school) and View-master. We had a little wooden step stool with barrel-shaped pegs where you put a peg in a hole on one end of the stool, whack it with a mallet and the peg comes out the other end. I have no idea what that supposed to teach us, probably something about the gastrointestinal tract. Other favorites: little weaving loom to make potholders, a Jerry Mahoney ventriloquist doll, a toy bake oven with a light bulb to produce the heat and it actually baked little cakes, and a set of tiny rubber letters you slide backward into a tray and print words on paper like a printing press. These toys were low on technology but long on imaginative play.

Slime? Dungeons and Dragons? Rubik's Cube? (No wonder there's so much ADHD going around.) I wouldn't let those things into my house.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | September 22, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

there was an article in the costco mag last fall saying that teddy ruxpin was back. i never saw it in the store - but i don't go frequently and I wouldn't have been looking for it.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 22, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Y'all are totally forgetting shrinky-dinks... I mean come on... they required actual use of the oven. What about the snoopy snow cone maker? A deck of Uno cards. The game Operation.

Mostly for us it was outdoor games like "Crack the Whip" and "Kick the Can" and stuff... Summer nights were the best...

Posted by: LTL1 | September 22, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I get a kick out of remembering my old favorite toys- the 'Operation' game, "Creepy Crawlers" plastic bug molds, my turquoise blue 'Easy Bake' oven, classic Candyland, as well as jacks, hopscotch and chinese jump rope. It is wonderful to pass on these memories to your children. My kids and I have had a blast watching the old 'Slinky' commercials and other classic toy spots on YouTube.

A few years ago, I found a site online where someone had scanned in the pages of the old Sears Christmas 'Wish Books'. That provided several hours of sweet nostaligia, and it was 1968 all over again!

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | September 22, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I wish they made adult-sized Sit 'n' Spins. Those were fun (I didn't have one, but the kids next door did).

Posted by: J2-D2 | September 22, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

The smurfs will be back soon - there's a movie coming out next year or 2011.

Posted by: dennis5 | September 22, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

The Smurfs are already back. Go to Target or Walmart and they have little smurf houses and figurines on the shelf. And there was a Teddy Ruxpin wannabe made by Playskool just a few years ago...TJ Bearytales.

Posted by: MEALmama | September 22, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

fr MEALmama:

>...And there was a Teddy Ruxpin wannabe made by Playskool just a few years ago...

I vaguely remember someone replacing the "voicebox" on Teddy Ruxpin with a KISS tape.....

Posted by: Alex511 | September 22, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

"I wish they made adult-sized Sit 'n' Spins."

They do! I got a pair of them as a Father's Day gift several years ago. I keep them out back on the deck and I have to admit that they are among the most cherished of gifts I have ever received as they get used every evening when it isn't raining or snowing. Technically they're called swivel chairs or swivel rockers and are made for both indoor and outdoor use. One small push, and I get 25 revolutions. WEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeee.

PS: I get only 5 revs tops on my chair here at the office.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | September 22, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

@MoxieMom1: Yes! Big Wheels! A notable omission.

@AuntieEMO: Sure, D&D is technically still available. But is it still the cultural centerpiece of socially awkward kids, like it used to be? Or is the demographic mostly socially awkward adults who never gave it up? (I'm not being snarky. I honestly don't know. The boys I know in that age group might play Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh, but I've never seen a 12-side die in their homes.)

@DavidJ7: I'll take your word for the "best selling" claim re: Rubik's Cube. I still see them in stores. What I do not see, however, is children carrying them around. Maybe I hang around the wrong kids.

LTL1: I remember Shrinky Dinks being slightly anti-climatic. You put a big hunk of plastic in the oven and got ... a smaller hunk of plastic!

Posted by: rebeldad | September 22, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

i loved shrinky dinks.
I remember getting the sit and spin. My dad brought it home one day for me! It was SO exciting, cause since I was the third kid, I rarely got new toys. I completely remember that day.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 22, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Seems like everything mentioned today is still around, the lifespan of many of these toys is 30-40 years!

Posted by: cheekymonkey | September 22, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

"shrinky dinks"

Sounds like a zany Neo-Nazi band.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 22, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Is Dressy Bessy still around. This doll was great for learning to do buttons, zippers, snaps, etc. Raggedy Anne was also an old favorite.

I also had Big Wheels. What fun. When did they go out of style? I also had an Inch Worm and one of those ball bouncy things with a handle on it that you sat on and bounced on. I also had a pogo stick that was a lot of fun. And who could forget Baby Alive? And my Aristocats record player, and Barbie's Townhouse, and the Easybake Oven, and Play Dough?

Posted by: emily8 | September 22, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Forget nostalgic rebranding, my 5 toys I couldn't live without (if I were still a kid), excluding sports equipment:
army men
hacky sack
matchbox cars
rubber band airplane (the kind you put together from the air and space museum)

Posted by: 06902 | September 22, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Teddy Ruxpin is back. My 24 yr old brother had one as a baby and LOVED it! We went through 2 or 3 of them becasue it got used so much. But anyway, he bought one for my girls 2 or 3 years ago. It no longer weighs 50 lbs! Might be a CD now instead of the plastic tape it used to be. But the stories and voices are the same. My girls didn't really like it and would just press the STOP button every 30 seconds! In fact I still have an unopened one. EBay I guess????

I would like it if the 3-4 inch posable Care Bears came back! You know, the ones that fit into the heart shaped carrying case!! And go back to the original characters- none of this new "Harmony" Bear and "Do Your Best" Bear. PUHLEEEASE!!!!!!!

Posted by: LBH219 | September 22, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

What ever happend to smash-up derbies? I haven't seen one since the 70's.

I think that Brian has a point about what kids have nowadays and what they play with. I don't think that my kids have ever played Monopoly, Battleship, wiffleball, checkers or even know how to jump rope. Everything is available to them. I remember when I first got my hands on a Rubik's cube. I barely ate, drank, or slept for 3 days until I learned to solve that thing.

I think it's the computer games that's pushed to the back burner all the toys that require patience, concentration, or a friend with free time, and almost all outdoor activities are now done under adult supervision. Sheesh! To even get a kid to play with matches nowadays, you have to sign them up for scouts.

Emily, the rubber ball with a hoop on it was called a Hippity Hop. As with the big wheel, it came out a little after I had outgrown it, but my little sister had one.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | September 22, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

"Just keep Michael Bay the heck away from them"

I'm actually curious what Michael Bay would do with Teddy Ruxpin

Posted by: NoVAHockey | September 22, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Yes. Hippity Hop. Whacky, how old are you?

Posted by: emily8 | September 22, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

These turns down memory lane always remind me of my favorite childhood cartoons.
The Flintstones, the Jetsons, Yogi Bear, the Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck Show (it was called something different but that's what it was), Mighty Mouse, Atom Ant, Kimba the White Lion, (Gosh, did my parents really let me watch tv so much? yes. And I am none the worse for it.)

Posted by: emily8 | September 22, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I notice there are a lot of us posting today who seem to have come of age during the 1970s.

We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun... wait- I guess we'll have to save that discussion for when Brian does a blog entry on 5 songs that should/should not ever be played again...

While we're at it, no one has mentioned 'Spirograph', which was one of my favorites. Seems like the only things that have survived from those days are the loop potholders that I made for my mom and most of my aunts and grandparents. They are indestructible!

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | September 22, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Oh Lord. Seasons in the Sun used to make me cry. Sob.

Posted by: emily8 | September 22, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Oh Lord. Seasons in the Sun used to make me cry. Sob.

Posted by: emily8 | September 22, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Or slaughter the entire household. The "Seasons in the Sun" defense.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 22, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I wish I could find Romper Stompers. They were these yellow plastic cup-looking things with a green string, and you were meant to stomp around with them. I used to do that for hours.

Posted by: newsahm | September 22, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Take it easy for the first couple of steps, as walking might be a bit imbalanced until you get the hang of it. nostalgia does not recommend running, skipping, or jumping with your Romper Stompers, as danger surely ensues. But a menacing walk, like some demented marionette gone bad, was virtually guaranteed.

Posted by: pipe1 | September 22, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

All right, you've all inspired me! One of my favorites was the sets of stilts Granddaddy made for us. One set got you about 6-8 inches off the ground, the other was about 18 inches. They were soooooo fun!

I have to go home this evening, grab some scrap wood and build stilts for the boys! (And who cares if the boys don't enjoy them - I will!)

Posted by: SueMc | September 22, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

spirograph! That was SO COOL.

We never had it,b ut lite brite was cool, too...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 22, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

I loved the Skip It and jump rope, do they still do jump rope in Gym? it was apart of heart start I think. Pogo sticks WILL make a come back , imma get one for my oldest twin neice and newphew this christmas I know they'll enjoy it, the youngest newphew is getting a three wheeled scooter

Posted by: stargirl1055412 | September 22, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Lawn darts need to be reintroduced.

And happy fun ball.

Posted by: ah___ | September 22, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to mention a REALLY cool board game called "Dark Tower". You played against a very primitive "computer" tower in the middle of the board, or against up to 3 other people. When I first got one, it was in the mid-80's. Haven't seen it for YEARS. Anyone familiar with it?

Posted by: Alex511 | September 22, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

fr jezebel3:

>...Or slaughter the entire household. The "Seasons in the Sun" defense.

ROFL! I love it!

Posted by: Alex511 | September 22, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Teddy Ruxpin is available in an updated format that has small cartridges instead of cassettes. He's only available online at

Posted by: Deedle1 | September 23, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

A friend of mine brought Dark Tower over to game night and it was very cool. ;) Antiquated gameplay, but nostalgic as hell.

D&D 4th edition has been re-worked to attract the younger crowd of gamers who play WoW on the computer. The game's biggest problem is that it requires a LOT of time to get together, getting together often, a lot of money to buy the books, and more than three friends. Other games like Magic don't need that type of commitment. They are "pick-up" games that can be played with anyone for however long as you happen to have.

What has happened now, is that the kids who grew up with D&D have gone on to other games. They get together with friends and spouses and have game nights like people used to do with Bridge or Poker. The games range widely in topic and tone. You can be resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Poland or Igor-like minions in a fantasy world or the different parts of a single person's personality or an ancient Greek hero or an ordinary schmoe just trying to accomplish some normal goal like keeping your job.

Not to say that we don't still sometimes play D&D. It's cute and fun and doesn't require a lot of thinking unlike some of the more sophisticated games. But it still teaches a lot of good lessons like Planning, Preparedness, Attention to Detail, and Team Management. Gosh, those sound a lot like things employers look for....

Posted by: AuntieEmo | September 23, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company