Toys for tots


toy boxWelcome to day 2 of “Nostalgia Week”.

Back before alliterative charities for donating toys, the headline term simply referred to the amusements around the house for the kiddies.  Let’s walk down a little of my memory lane and see what I played with.  If there’s a bit of a leaning towards crafts, well, that’s to be expected from someone who went on to use both writing and drawing in his professional career(s).


The board games

pop-o-maticPlenty of times were spent in the living room (or in the aptly named Florida room) with the family or friends playing board games.  Any number of games could be listed here, but this one always “pops” up in my memory.

It was a relatively simple game, though not easy to win, but I just liked popping the plastic bubble with the die in it.  Looking back at it now, I have to laugh at the first line on the box, “Frustrating chase game”.  Who advertises like that?


sorryAnother game that had basically no other purpose than to chase the person in front of you.  No fancy writing, no properties to buy and sell, no wheels to spin or even buttons to pop…just roll the dice and occasionally pick a Sorry card.  Simple fun for the whole family.



electronic footballOboy!  If you want to talk about simple, here it is.  So, you take these little plastic figures that sort of look like football players (if they were an inch high) and you place them on this green metallic board.  Good thing they had magnets on their feet!

Place a little magnet “ball” on one of the players, plug the sucker in, turn on the power and RAT-A-TAT-A-TAT, the whole thing vibrated loudly and the little magnet guys moved all around.  Sometimes they wouldn’t go forward, sure, but most of the time, you got some cool “action”.  A play ended when the “defense” touched the player with the ball.  Or when the ball carrier vibrated off the field.  Or ran into his own end zone.


The crafts

lite briteOh yeah, who didn’t have this cool game where you poked colored plastic pegs through a black sheet of paper and then turned on the back light to get a neat “glowing” picture.  Admittedly, I never did anything quite as complex as the picture shown (I didn’t even know about her until many years later).



etch a sketchHere’s another artistic tool that I’m betting many of you had.  I probably had nearly as much fun shaking the drawing away as I did actually drawing.  I can also guarantee I never would have had the patience to do the sketch in the photo when I was in single digits (interestingly, this is another woman I didn’t know about when I was a kid).


colorformsAre these still around?  They were the coolest thing.  “clammy” vinyl pieces you could assemble on a background to make your own scenes.  Colorforms were like magic, since the pieces seemed to defy gravity and “stick” to the background (even though you could simply peel them off).  This was a great travel activity, taking care not to drop an arm or a leg under the back seat.


twirl paintSeriously cool fun here!  No need to go to the circus to find this famous craft, spin some paint right in your own home (but do it on the patio or spread some newspaper please, honey).  You placed the paper inside the bowl and it spun around while you squirted paint on it.  Minutes later, you were ready for your first gallery showing!


elsie stixThe uninformed had tinker toys or lincoln logs, but those of us “in the know” had Elsie Stix!  You could build anything with Elsie Stix that you could with a construction set, but these things had two important advantages:  they were made of plastic (not wood or metal) and they could only be obtained after finishing your Borden’s Elsie Stix ice cream bar.  Yum!


The dolls

gumbySure boys played with dolls…and not just toy army and cowboys and GI Joe (which I also had).

Everyone remembers the original stretchy and poseable character Gumby (and his horsey friend, Pokey!).  There were all sorts of things you could do with Gumby (walking up a stack of books, hanging from a lamp, sitting on the TV dial) and he was another excellent traveling companion.

Later in life, when I was working for a national toy chain, some employees posed a bunch of these in…regrettable way for a Grand Opening.  That blog is somewhere on this site.


potato headOh yeah.  The original.

Maybe you didn’t know this before his revitalization in the Toy Story movies, but originally, Mr. Potato Head was simply plastic features that you put on an actual potato!

By the time I got one in the mid-60’s, he also included the now famous plastic head.


The weird

silly puttyWhat came in a little egg and used on Sunday morning?

This cool (but weird) substance had a variety of uses (check out the ad to the left).  Chief among those most prized by kids:  the ability to lay the putty flat against the (color) Sunday funnies and lift off the picture on the putty!  If that wasn’t cool enough, you could then stretch the comic to all sorts of weird proportions.  Kneading the putty for a minute or so “erased” the picture for brand new fun!



The deadly

fright factoryIn the category of things they wouldn’t sell today comes the “Fright Factory” (also known as the “Thingmaker”).  This was an especially advanced idea.  Pour substance into mold, heat to intense temp, pull out and open for pliable decorations and makeup.  No worries about scalding yourself on the metal or maybe setting fire to the carpet.  Another offshoot of this idea was one where you dropped plastic “plugs” into a “factory” and then squeezed the melted plastic into metal molds.  Moms beware!


chemistryIn the category of things they still sell today but you have to ask “Why?”, I give you the classic Chemistry set.

Mix your own batch of chemical nightmares.  Watch it bubble in the little glass test tubes.  Watch it spill and stain.  Watch as you drop and shatter the little glass test tubes.  Watch as your Mom turns one of the colors of the chemical powders in your set!


Of course, there was other fun stuff.  Ping Pong was a national home sport (in the garage or, if you were lucky enough, that big Florida room).  You had classic board games like Scrabble or Chinese Checkers.  And other cool stuff I bet you remember having fun with!


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