Six Special Treasures from Toy Fair 2011

Photo: Lego

The night I came back from The Toy Fair I dumped my bag of pamphlets and brochures out on the kitchen table and began the sorting process. I’d seen a lot of interesting products and talked to more than a few energetic toy reps. But as the mom to four kids, I knew what piqued my interest and what seemed like a repeat of something I’d seen before.

In the end, a handful of products floated their way to the top of my stack. A few, like Crazy Forts, seemed like a really great idea, but after reading the dozens of negative reviews online, I lost my enthusiasm. But others held their own, and remained firmly on the list.

I realize Toy Fair was a couple of months ago, but any time’s a good time to talk about toys, right?

Of course a Lego product has to be at the top of my list. I’m continuously surprised by the way this single company has remained relevant in my geek household for a decade and a half. From our first Duplos, to the Mindstorms my teen sons are now building, Lego never grows old in our house. And one of their latest creations will surely be on my youngest son’s birthday list.

If you take a Lego mini figure, expand his size just a smidge, put a couple of really bright LED lights in his feet, and then clip him to a head strap, what do you get? A really cool ‘toy’ that is actually useful. This adorable light works great for reading books or doing a lap project in a dark car at night, but it’s so fun that kids might end up wearing it around the house and under fort cushions too.

Easy Fill and Tie

To make the deal even sweeter, in June 2011 the Lego Star Wars LED Lighting products roll out. Imagine adjusting Darth Vadar’s feet so their beams shine perfectly on the book in front of you. My son can hardly wait for their release date. (Update: My 14 year old son just walked through the room, saw the above picture, and announced, “SWEET! I want one of those!”)

The next thing on my list was a simple solution to a simple problem. Every year my husband volunteers to be in charge of the games at his company picnic. What this translates to is hours in front of our kitchen sink, filling up hundreds of water balloons (with a little cursing mixed in). We’ve bought the faucet adapters. But the hardest part is tying them off.

The product reps for SplashParty.com didn’t have a huge booth at Toy Fair. They had a small booth with a tiny table and a sink. As I walked by I saw them fill and tie a water balloon – in a split second. And it looked painless and easy. Of course I had to stop.

Photo: Hog Wild

Sure enough, their product is a small piece of perfectly molded plastic that hooks to the faucet. They claim you can fill fifty water balloons in 10 minutes, and I lean towards believing them. I have to say, I saw several similar products at Toy Fair in the course of the day, but this one was the simplest and seemed the easiest to use. Which means my kids can use it and I can step out of the task altogether. I’ll definitely be purchasing one of these clever inventions before hubby’s work picnic this year. Check out their fun website, that makes you pop a water balloon to gain entry.

This little guy made me smile for a different reason. He’s called a Dog Popper, by Hog Wild (and has buddies named Dino Popper, Bear Popper, Pig Popper, Moose Popper, and because I’m an amputee, my favorite, the peg legged Pirate Popper). He shoots soft foam balls out of his mouth when you squeeze his tummy. The harder you squeeze, the farther the ball goes. I played with a sample of the Pig Popper at the Hog Wild booth and have to admit it was addicting.

These little toys are not only adorable but they solve a problem for some of us. My boys have been allowed to play with toy guns, but many of their friends have not. I have nephews and other young children on my gift lists who love the idea of ‘shooting’ something, but have family rules that prohibit toy guns. This product is a nice answer. It truly feels like you’re making the shooting motion, without the pointing and aiming that’s involved with a gun.

Photo: Andreasrecipes.com

The only downside I can see with this toy is the cost of replacement balls. It almost dropped off my list for this reason alone (I’m weary of buying Nerf darts) but I think the play value supersedes my reservations.

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The company Hog Wild has quite a few interesting, novelty toys, but my other favorite was the one piece chopsticks. You have to admit, chop sticks just make dinner more fun. But for little fingers they can be tricky. That’s why I think this product is such a great idea. It’s adorable, comes in a huge variety of characters and animals, and is sure to make even the pickiest eater want to try their hand at picking up that formerly offensive tidbit.

They come in four categories – Farm Sticks, Zoo Sticks, Dino Sticks, and of course, Fish Sticks. I’d love to have a half dozen of these clever tools in my silverware drawer and I might have to break down and buy a few, long before my birthday.

Photo: Price Products

I no longer have a toddler in the house but I often run across products that I wish were around back when we had booster chairs at our dining table. One of the hidden treasures I discovered at Toy Fair was a Plate-Mate, by Price Products. They also make clever things like the dripstik, which catches the drips from ice cream cones and popsicles, but I was most intrigued by the dinner helper.

It’s just a simple plastic disc that clips onto the side of any 8-9.5″ plate. Its purpose is to keep that tricky food from sliding off the edge of the plate, when toddler spoons and forks are trying to capture their dinner. It works much like using your finger to push that last bite of mac and cheese onto the spoon, without the mess of a cheesy finger. Genius.

Drip Stiks, by Price Products

Because they aren’t big and bulky, it would be easy to keep one stowed in the diaper bag, for trips to the restaurant and stops at Grandma’s house. Hey, maybe I could get one to use when I pull out those funky chopsticks…

And last, but far from least, the most commercial product on my list – Zhu Zhu Puppies. This is the only product I received a sample of and, as I expected, it was a huge hit with my product review team (meaning my adorable 4- and 6-year-old neighbors).

Zhu Zhu Puppy Playhouse

They’re already in love with the Zhu Zhu hamsters and what better animal to expand the line, than adorable puppies. They make sounds, interact with their environments, and zip around, just like the Zhu Zhu hamsters. They come with fun accessories (like clothes and brushes) and a variety of play habitats. My pigtailed reviewers agreed that this was one toy they’d play with for weeks, even months to come.

There were plenty of amazing new products that the big guys like Fisher Price and Playmobil rolled out at Toy Fair this year. But when it comes to the smaller, novelty items, these six took top prizes in my book. Now I need to go buy myself some of those nutty chopsticks. It might take me the rest of the afternoon to narrow down my selection.