The one guaranteed way to get lots of clicks on the Internet is to do an arbitrary list of the 10 or 100 or 1,000 best or worst of anything. Time magazine has been indulging in that method for a while now, and the lists are usually good for a decent discussion topic, even if the content of the lists might be a little sketchy. This one is no exception: They’ve gone and anointed the “All-TIME 100 Greatest Toys.” (See, it’s “Time” in all-caps, because it’s TIME magazine. Uh, right)
Any list of the “100 Greatest Toys” is going to be subjective, of course, but Time’s list, divided into decades, includes some that are universal — everyone’s owned a Yo-Yo at some point, everyone’s had a Slinky or Magic 8 Ball or Legos — and some that I wouldn’t classify as “toys” at all, like pop-up books or Little Golden Books or any books at all. But everyone has his or her favorites.
Mine? (I know, you didn’t ask, but I get to go first) From this list, and keeping in mind that the stuff from the 80’s and 90’s post-dates the time that I could enter a toy store and not look like Uncle Creepy, I loved View-Masters — you want to talk 3D, THAT was 3D — and Slinky (always tangled) and Silly Putty and Wiffle Ball and Mr. Potato Head. Definitely Hot Wheels and anything Nerf-related. Etch-a-Sketch was cool for a few seconds, but I could never get the hang of it. I could still kill several hours playing with Legos, building clever scale replicas of major league ballparks. But my favorite was one that I’m surprised and happy made the cut….
Mattel Classic Football was, in a word, mesmerizing. It resembled real football not even a little bit. It had a little “field” of LEDs, and buttons that allowed you to “run” with the ball or “pass” it, and you’d hit the buttons to zig-zag your flashing blip (really, just up or down or left or right) around tacklers. But after a short time, you’d figure out the proper pattern that guaranteed you a touchdown, and before long you’d find yourself glassy-eyed on the rec room sofa, punching the buttons in the same never-varying pattern — UP left left left DOWN left UP right DOWN left left TOUCHDOWN!!! — until Mom finally ordered you to put that thing away and go to sleep. Then you’d still play it for another half hour under the blankets until consciousness was lost. And if you got bored with the two play levels, you could get a basketball version, which was about the same and just as addictive.
For guys of a certain age, that football game is the Holy Grail. Some places sell even 10 year old reproductions for about ninety bucks mint, thirty or forty dollars used. At that price, I’ll pass, but if I had to pick my Top Toy of All Time, that’s the one. Madden’s okay, I guess, but for pure gridiron action, you can’t beat little LED blips.
Your turn, in the comments below: What’s your pick for Greatest Toy of All Time?