By and large, children's toys suck. There are the obvious exceptions. Legos do now and have always ruled. They are the ultimate toy and no look-a-like interlocking block can take their place. They are the most flexible, versatile, educational toys ever. (I think it is time to make a pilgrimage to LegoLand.)
Along the same lines, check out Roger's Connection Magnetic Construction System. These guys are clearly freakin' marketing geniuses. Can you imagine the jingle? But this toy is awesome. Little magnetic balls and connecting plastic rods allow you to make cool geometric shapes. I guess I'm a fan of construction toys. I've always loved Lincoln Logs as well. And, as a kid, my brother and I used to make fantastic skyscrapers with this wonderful toy called Girder and Panel. We loved that stuff.
But I digress. This isn't about cool toys. This is about toys that suck. Mind you, toys that suck is more of a category than a post. It could be a whole series. It could be a series of series. So rather than try to write a comprehensive guide to the vast array of toys that suck, I'll stick to a single sub-class -- noisy toys. I don't really recall noisy toys in my childhood. I guess while we have many wonderful things in the world thanks to microprocessors, the debt we pay is the talking doll, the singing cat, the Hokey Poky Elmo.
Ever since my first son was born 9 years ago, we have been receiving noisy toys as gifts. I say receiving because for the longest time we resisted the allure of the all-talking, all-singing toys from hell. We would buy simple, educational, wooden toys. But the grandmothers understood how much love noisy toys bought. Kids eat up the noisy toys. They want their police cars to have sirens. They want their baby dolls to "ga" and "goo" incessantly. They want their Barbie cell phones to say, "Hi friend, this is Barbie. I'm so glad that you called."
There is, however, one toy in particular that stands out among 9 years of noisy toys. It is a yellow sports car the size of a couple toasters. Each part of the car makes a different noise. Turn the key on and the engine starts up like some sort of beast from a tractor pull. Hit the gas peddle and a 2 second little ditty plays -- the kind of tune that you can’t get out of your head for a lifetime. Step on the brake and a voice says "Green light you can make it. Red light better brake it." (That's brilliant toy design right there.) Perhaps the most amazing thing about the automobile, however, is the phenomenal longevity of its batteries. It turns out that there is an inverse proportion between the length of time a toy's batteries last and the length of time you want them to. And so the yellow car lives on. (I realize that I can’t possibly do its vast annoyingness justice here in the written word – clearly a shortcoming of the skillfulness of my prose – so please, please, please take my word for it, this really is a God awful scourge of a toy.)
Until this weekend, the yellow car was the unchallenged champion of all noisy toys. Enter the Giant Hulk Hands. Yes, the Giant Hulk Hands. On the way home from a Saturday outing, we stopped at a friend's garage sale. I should have known better. There's nothing good that ever came of stopping at a yard sale. I don't need my own junk. Why would I need someone else’s? In this instance, someone else's junk was a pair of giant green foam clenched fists. They’re hollow and have handles inside so that you can hang onto them and pretend that they’re your real hands (only giant and green and perennially clenched). With them over your own hands, thanks to their foamy goodness, you can punch things indiscriminately without fear of injury to yourself or the things around you (except, as I have discovered, for those things you knock over and break against other less-foamy things).
Frankly, the mere sight of the Giant Hulk Hands had my 2 year old ready to pony up the fifty cents to take them home. But his head nearly exploded with glee when he heard the hands in action (of course, you knew they had to make sound -- after all, this is about noisy toys, isn’t it). Thanks to the aforementioned proliferation of the microprocessor and some hearty batteries, when a Giant Hulk Hand is struck against anything (a couch, a wall, your sister, the other Giant Hulk Hand) it makes a sound akin to two cars colliding. Not some fender bender. A snout on snout windshield crasher. Add to the noise the fact that both hands have the capacity to make that mangled auto sound and you can start to imagine the din created when both Giant Hulk Hands are in full swing. After a series of body blows, I yearned for the quiet goodness of “green light you can make it, red light better brake it.” But with each swing of the hands my son was more in love.
Now, you may be asking yourself, why on the planet would you allow these Giant Hulk Hands into your house? They weren’t a gift. You saw them (or, more importantly, heard them) in action before you bought them. The yard sale wasn’t even to raise money to bring one last moment of joy to sick orphans. So what in God’s name were you thinking? Simple. My two year old wanted them. He’s very persuasive. Plus, he looks so cute holding giant green foam Hulk hands half the size of his body. You would have said “yes” too. Trust me. And then picked up a pair of earplugs on the way home.