After surveying more than 2,000 toys in the last year, the Americans for Democratic Action this week listed toys they would keep in their "Toy Box" and others they relegated to their "Trash Box."
The selection process wasn't very scientific. Some of the criteria are hard to measure. For example, a toy can get tossed in the ADA's "Trash Box" for such reasons as misleading advertising, lack of play value ("Is it boring?"), or being messy and unsanitary, highly frustrating, poorly constructed or, of course, dangerous.
"Toy Box" recommendations were based on safety, realistic packaging and advertising, sturdiness and durability, good play value and fun.
"It is a survey conducted by consumers for consumers, and I think that's what gives the survey its special spirit," said Ann Brown, who chairs the ADA Consumer Affairs Committee that runs the survey. "It is conducted by 15 to 20 volunteers. The only paid people are a coordinator and a secretary. Most of the volunteers have worked from 10 to 12 years each on the (annual) study."
The survey cites potentially dangerous baby equipment: portable hook-on baby seats that attach to tables and counters, baby walkers, and certain baby gates used to keep children from falling downstairs or going through a doorway. It also questions safety aspects of a collar used on a popular doll.
Most of the survey, however, is devoted to assigning toys to the ADA's "Toy Box" and "Trash Box."
Nine landed in the "Toy Box:"
Tap-A-Tune, made by Little Tikes, is a sturdy, one-piece piano/xylophone with no parts to lose, no hammer with which to bonk other kids. Color-coded keys match color-coded notes in a songbook that comes with this toy that costs about $20. "At last," said the ADA, "someone has made a preschool instrument that sounds like music! This kind of toy has been made poorly by almost everyone for years. The Tap-A-Tune is different . . . This is a real winner."
Chubbles, made by Animal Fair, is the "surprise hit" of this year's survey and winner of the ADA's "Most Loveable Toy" award. "People of all ages, literally from 3 to 49, responded to the funny shape and friendly sound of this huggable plush imaginary animal," the survey said of the toy that sells for about $18 or $20. Chubbles responds to changes of light by illuminating its battery-operated nose and "chiggling," which in Chubbles language means making a noise something like a giggle. Many persons surveyed called it "the best new toy of the year." Carole Seymour, co-owner of Star Toys in West Los Angeles, singled it out as one of her best sellers, attributing its popularity as much to the fact that it is cuddly as to its ability to "chiggle."
Fisher-Price's AM/FM Radio for about $35 made the "Toy Box" list because it is sturdy, durable, easy to use, has a working microphone so kids can sing along with the radio, offers a one-year warranty "under normal play conditions," and "it sounds good too!" the survey said.
Robo Strux, made by Tomy, are dinosaur-like monster kits that landed in the "Toy Box" despite complicated assembly instructions and numerous parts. "We thought the Robo Strux would surely end up in our "Trash Box," noted the survey. "But our kids proved us wrong: they loved this toy--thought the instructions were easy to understand--and the 45 minutes it took to construct Robo Strux was part of the fun of the toy." They come in different sizes and for different prices. Gordox and Radox, for example, will set you back between about $20 and $25.
Stomper Speedsters Twistrack Challenger Set, made by Schaper for about $28, is an auto racing set whose battery-operated cars race along tracks that look like spaghetti, so kids can arrange and rearrange them to their liking. Both boys and girls liked this "Toy Box" set.
Teddy Ruxpin, made by Worlds of Wonder, won the ADA's "Most Innovative Toy" award. It is a natural for the "Toy Box" despite its $80 price tag. The survey describes the cuddly animal as "an animated, talking stuffed teddy bear whose mouth, nose and eye movements are perfectly synchronized to his voice when specially programmed cassettes are put inside of his body," adding that it represents "the newest, most advanced technology in the toy industry."
Milton Bradley's Last Word is a board game requiring strategic abilities. Letters are placed on the board, along with "pawns" for up to four players. A player moves his or her pawn from letter to letter, spelling out words and then removing from the board the letters used in the words. Removing letters around an opponent's pawns isolates them, and prevents them from scoring. The survey notes that "an 11-year-old was a bit intimidated by all the letters at first--and ended up loving the game--especially after she beat all the adults playing against her." Last Word sells for about $15.