• Stuck on Colorforms, the Two-Dimensional Toy Beloved By Mid-Century Modern Kids One of the most cherished myths about children is that they possess incredible imaginations. Put a child on the floor in front of a pile of blocks, this magical thinking goes, and she will assemble veritable Roman Aqueducts and Towers of Babel, making the efforts of most adults look, well, like child’s play. "We had Eames furniture, of course. Who didn’t?" In fact, psychologists have long know…
  • Guys and Dolls: Veteran Toy Designer Wrestles With the Industry's Gender Divide The last time you spoke to a pregnant woman, how long did you wait to ask if she was having a boy or a girl? Thus begins the first of a million moments in which adults bombard those malleable little ones with preconceptions of gender, ranging from unconscious body language to outright sexism. Perhaps the most common ritual is surrounding babies with "gender-appropriate" objects: Specific styles an…
  • Easy-Bake Evolution: 50 Years of Cakes, Cookies, and Gender Politics I have a confession: My brother and I destroyed my Easy-Bake Oven. I had the 1981 Mini-Wave model, the boxy, yellow microwave style, which was, in my 7-year-old mind, the only kind of Easy-Bake there was. One day, my 4-year-old brother had a brilliant idea—to “cook” a green plastic steak from our 1972 Mattel Tuff Stuff Play Food set. After all, we should be able to cook a steak, right? It fit into…
  • Love at First Kite: How Pizza and Pente Led to One Oklahoman's High-Flying Obsession Vintage kites from all over the world hang from the ceiling and walls of the late Richard Dermer’s popular Hideaway Pizza restaurant in Stillwater, Oklahoma—and that’s only a fraction of his collection. To many locals, the kites might just seem like another piece of quirky décor. But not so. Dermer, who spoke with us before he passed away in March 2014, was an avid kite enthusiast, and each has a …
  • Toys That Were Made to Be Broken Remember the shoddy toys you begged your parents to buy while waiting in the supermarket checkout line, then promptly lost interest in before the day's end? Those cheap plastic knock-offs have mostly been ignored by collectors, too, consigned to the dustbins of history almost immediately after purchase. "I had things like 'Annie' curlers hanging on the wall—just crazy, weird toys all over the p…
  • Cowboys vs. Spacemen: How the Toy Chest Was Won The lone frontiersman, the rebellious explorer: These archetypal characters appear as frequently in the far reaches of outer-space as in the American West, from "Star Wars" to "Stagecoach," on Planet Vulcan or the Oregon Trail. Today, toys, comic books, and even movie posters representing these figures are equally familiar. But which holds more power for kids and adults alike? Are spacemen our tru…
  • How Science Made Your Dino Toys Extinct Remember when you were a kid how dinosaurs were the coolest ever? In particular, the stories of Big Three—the brontosaurus, the triceratops, and the Tyrannosaurus rex—dominated children's books, coloring books, cartoons, games, and figurines. Plus, these great beasts weren't just some mythological creatures like dragons; no, we had the fossils, and everything we learned about them was based on …
  • Cyanide, Uranium, and Ammonium Nitrate: When Kids Really Had Fun With Science Here we are, in 2011, a.k.a. "The Future." We've made leaps and bounds in science that we couldn't even imagine 50 years ago. You'd think the science toys of our age would be mind-bending in their ability to awe and inspire young chemists and biologists. Instead, kids today are being protected within an inch of their lives, while adults apparently live in dread of unsupervised children running amu…
  • Yakity-Yak: 60 Years of Teeth That Talk Back There's something to be said for being easily amused. In the 1940s, toy inventor Eddie Goldfarb saw an ad for a false-teeth holder called a "Tooth Garage" and he started cracking up. In his head, he saw a pair of dentures, chomping and sputtering down the road like a car, and parking on their own. Thus, in 1949, Yakity-Yak Talking Teeth—the wildly popular wind-up gag commonly known as "chatteri…
  • Attack of the Vintage Toy Robots! Justin Pinchot on Japan’s Coolest Postwar Export Everyone is always looking for the next big thing. In the 1960s, it was going into space. In the '40s and '50s, the frontier was technology, with a particular focus on "What's going to make our lives easier?" For the very first time, you had cars with automatic-transmissions, automatic washing machines, and perpetually cooling refrigerators. I mean, we were coming out of an era when you scrubbe…