What's Rotten In The State Of Toy Land And Why Bikes Are Just Better

December 21, 2014


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We’re mid-way through Hanukkah.  

The middle point of anything is often time to think about what’s happened so far and what’s still to come.  As the parent of a six year old boy and a nine year old girl, I’m using this interlude to reflect on the state of today’s toys.

I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but do toys today just really suck?  They do right?  Is it just me?  I’m not saying all of the toys of my generation were better (well most were…).  Yet, unlike my Milton Bradley StarBird Avenger, I cannot imagine my son’s fourth night gift - The Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves - fetching multiple times its original sales price on eBay in years to come.  

Granted, the Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves was relatively inexpensive.  Yet, like so many things today, it feels laughably disposable.  It will enjoy a ridiculously short lifespan.  So short, that the Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves is already a few steps away from the cabinet where all of my son’s toys (or pieces of toys) go to die.  That cabinet contains so many bits and fragments of formerly must have gifts that it could be the setting of an epic Director’s Cut version of Toy Story.

Please indulge me for a moment to use this blog to recap what’s really rotten in the state of toy land.

Appliance Like Design.  While there is no shortage of Hot Wheels toys on the market, each seems to live in its own world.  Break Through Crazy Curves does not feel at all similar to the Hot Wheels Super Spin Carwash my son received for his birthday.  Or the Triple Track Twister he got as a gift from his aunt over Thanksgiving.  It's almost as if they all come from different companies and meet for the first time on the shelves of Toys-R-Us.  A logo is just about all they share.  But I guess that is ok because I can't even find the Super Spin Carwash and Triple Track Twister anymore.

However, it's rare that I see my son and his friends integrate toys from different domains.  When I was a child, my Britain's soldiers may have towered above the Corgi tank, but that didn't stop me from thinking they were both part of the same battle.  A Playskool toy bus likely stood in for a hi-jacked troop transport.  I knew they were from different worlds but they were fixtures in my universe of toys.  What place does a scary looking Skylander have in the Hot Wheels world?   We'll likely never know because of the next point.

Hyper accelerated entropy caused by too many pieces.  Little more than a few minutes after assembly (or even during assembly), pieces begin to scatter and disintegrate causing rapid disinterest for the child.  The worst offenders — toys with names that have more than two words - Littlelest Pet Shop, Barbie Dream House, Skylanders Trap Team, Star Wars figures.  It pains me to say it, but versus the Kenner versions of the late 70s, today’s Star Wars figures are a scant few steps away from a Rube Goldberg contraption. Do kids need fully articulating arms and knees, removable weapons belts, and helmets with visors to truly feel the Force?

For me, losing Han Solo’s blaster was as Obi-Wan said, “a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”  It taught me a lesson in how to take care of my things.  Losing a blaster these days is like losing the straw to a juice box - there’s always another somewhere.

Instructions.  If the box says the toy is for ages six years plus, it should be for ages six years plus.  My father can fix anything but I don’t recall needing much of his help to put my toys together.  My six year old doesn’t even attempt to build most things.  And why should he?  The sheer number of parts is overwhelming even for me.  I needed a double scotch after working with the Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves.

It’s not that the instructions are necessarily hard to follow.  It’s more that the surfeit of pieces fit together so poorly (or not at all) that I wonder whether I am doing things right.  I would love to just be called when there is a need for batteries.

Longevity.  I definitely sound like the curmudgeon here, but they just don’t build toys like they used to.  The stomach sinking site of whitish plastic that I have bent too far or pushed too hard is routine.  To the environmentalists out there, do not worry about today’s toys.  They have already begun breaking down before they even hit the landfills.

Decals.  Every toy comes with decals now.   And lots of them.  Growing up, I viewed decals with a sense of dread and awe.  I wanted to apply them PERFECTLY.  Often, I did not even want to use them at all as if the act of doing so would take away the newness of the toy.   For Legos especially, a decal locked a piece into a permanent role.  Putting decals on was serious business.

Now, decals are just like another sheet of stickers from the party store.  My son races to apply them with abandon giving little regard to how well they align with the edges of pieces.  There are so many included that they are meaningless.

“Groundhog Day Syndrome” - Over 10 years of parenthood, I have assembled many toys.  I have searched for, shoved, and manipulated my fair share of plastic.  Yet somehow, no matter what I build, I feel like I’m building the same toy over and over again.

Whether it’s the Power Rangers Zord Vehicle or the Spider Man Spiral Blast Web Shooter, pieces seem indistinguishable from one another.  Yet, they are not - that would make things too easy in the event of a lost piece.

I am not sure what the next few nights of Hanukah have in store for us.  My wife did the shopping this year and some gifts came wrapped from my siblings.   But I do know that I went for a ride with the kids this am and we had a great time.  I wish I could say that about playing with the Hot Wheels Break Through Crazy Curves.

- Jonathan

7 Responses


December 25, 2014

Lego, man… Lego.

Jonathan Schneider
Jonathan Schneider

December 24, 2014

Thanks for all of the comments on a definitively non-cycling related post!

I must admit this is a first world problem. I can surely do better when it comes to buying toys myself. I have most stuck with Legos and Xbox games (the sports ones) but I know I have slipped along the way.



December 24, 2014

One need only look at today’s Tonka Trucks; all plastic and just waiting to be replaced. Conversely I still have my front end loader, dump truck, et al, and they still kick butt. Even my kids know the difference because many arguments have broken out as to who will get the metal versions and who will be stuck with the plastic crap.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a happy New Year to everyone. May next year’s riding surpass this one.


December 22, 2014

Funny… I believe you are spot on… At least, in terms of the manufacture of many of today’s toys…

However, some of the blame resides with us parents – I don’t recall having as many toys, as a child, as my children do… (similar economic state, etc…) My children aren’t paying for their cornucopia of stuff, I (and my wife) am… Also, the efficiency of information flow and the productivity gains in manufacturing have made it very easy for Mattel (whomever) to make something new, communicate this to my kids, and have us shoot over to the local Target to pick it up – so, (1) 10MM TV channels + internet, etc. as medium for advertisement, (2) short production cycles as an advent of productivity gains, and (3) big box store with a very sophisticated, efficient distribution network to get it in my hands… Bingo, mounds and mounds of stuff…

And, with a bit of affluence that our society has achieved, it makes buying a boat load of poorly constructed, disposable toys really easy to do…

Ironically, I was thinking about this (in general) topic this morning… This year, as a household, Xmas gifts are tickets to shows, etc. – experiences that will last and from which memories will be created… Not just a toy from a box that, as you astutely suggest, will be soon pushed aside and relegated to the Goodwill stack…

Without question, Han’s blaster never fit well in his hand, and, I believe, may have been the most misplaced cool toy in history… (Unscientific perspective)

Happy Holidays!

George Jones
George Jones

December 22, 2014

As an old toy lover;and I mean I am old and I love old toys I feel your frustration. Our brave new world calsl for sophisticated bling and blang that is all shallow shine. There is not much for a parent to do except not buy the soulless junk.
Simplicity is the key to a child’s imagination.
Therefore stop buying such toys for your child. There are better ones out there.


December 22, 2014

my 24 and 21 year old think the toys being marketed to their 13 yo sister are appalling wastes of money. they also think ‘the tv shows were so much better when they were kids and had better, positive messages’ i guess you are never too young to be old.

Aaron Abbott
Aaron Abbott

December 22, 2014

I know what you mean about toys these days. It seems like when I was a kid (the 80’s) I beat the snot out of my G.I. Joe vehicles and Transformers and, sure, some parts would break but they endured a great deal more abuse than the action figures and vehicles of today seem to. And the Joes had all their own weapons and it was very important to me to keep track of them and make sure that each part stayed with the figure it came with. I considered them “out of uniform” if they were missing a gun or backpack.

As for decals, I think you hit the nail on the head. There were very few decals and they were meant to add to the overall effect of the toy – the design of the thing. But now it seems like decals are included with everything because they’re expected to be there, even if they add nothing to the experience.

1970’s-1980’s Kenner Star Wars figures were the most hardcore of all, not only did they lack the rubber band middles and articulated joints that made G.I. Joes more delicate but they were damn near impossible to destroy. To rip an arm or leg (or tentacle?) off you had to either do it deliberately or your member of the Rebel Alliance had to suffer the most catastrophic of misfortunes.

I, like you, seem to prefer the experiences over things. And, luckily, my eight year old son seems to, as well. We go for rides, play soccer, read, hike, etc. Those are the things that your kids will remember when they’re older. Sure, they’ll have favorite toys that they will remember when they’re older, too, but not many. I can think of three or four toys I wish I had kept but I remember the stuff I did so much more vividly. As sappy as it sounds, that’s really the best gift you can give to your kids.

That’s for the amusing post. (I’m sure I’ll be cursing whichever relative got my son something cheap and impossible to assemble in a few days.)

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