Good Games and Bad Toys

So Evelyn and I were geocaching a few weeks back. It was only a half-mile from home, so we decided to walk there. The skies were looking overcast, and I asked if we should take the umbrella. "Nah, it’ll encumber us. Let’s travel light." This particular cache combined my two caching archnemeses: ivy, and more ivy. After a half hour dredging through the undergrowth in vain, we aborted, just as the light drizzle started to intensify into rain. We were getting wet enough, and with several blocks to home, we ducked into Goodwill to get out of the downpour.

We took our time perusing the racks. The book aisle offered nothing enticing, so I headed to the back where the games tend to hide. Hidden behind a stack of carousel projector reels was the telltale trademark of old-school Avalon Hill. I reached back, and unearthed Civilization, a cult-status classic from the early eighties. Knowing the desirability of this title, my heartbeat grew stronger. I peeked under the lid, hoping I had an intact set. It was flawless. Not a single stain, dog-earred corner, or piece omission. The tokens had been lovingly sorted and placed in individually labeled Ziplock baggies. Whoever last owned this game truly cared for it, and this was a good sign that this copy was intact. But out of the corner of my eye, another Avalon Hill box, this one red. Advanced Civilization! But would lightning strike twice? Would this one be complete was well? Yes, indeed. Condition like new, with all the cards and rules and everything. This must have come from the same owner, a veteran Civ fan who donated them to the fate of a thrift store. I swooned at the combined sticker price of $4, knowing these games combined could be easily sold at the bargain price of $75. I could not resist, and who knows, maybe I’d actually like this game Civ. We had the clerk triple bag our purchases, and braved a half-mile through a deluge. By the time we got to our front door, Evelyn and I were soaked clear through, but our games were dry. It took two days for my shoes, jacket and hat to dry out. I later sat down with the Civ finds, and I have confirmed that they are indeed a complete set, down to the last counter. All that is missing is the basic Civ rules (only the Advanced rules remain).

We also dug up a copy of Stocks & Bonds, which was surprisingly interesting for a stock simulator. I recommend it!


But life hasn’t been all games. Evelyn’s nephew Avi celebrated his 2nd birthday this Saturday, so we spent a day with him at the National Zoo. The little guy was all energetic, and we had to keep up with him! He really liked the horse, the seals, the turtles, and the orang utans. A pastry party followed at Krispy Kreme, and we gave him our gifts: a Squidgy Ball and a crate of Duplos. Happy birthday, Avi!

We spent a long time at Target shopping for good toys for Avi. It was difficult finding good toys that met our criteria:

  • Non-electronic. This is a big one for us. Kids need to learn about how the world works, on a physical tangible level. Most of us learned about physics empiracally through our toys. You can’t see how stuff works if it is powered by invisible black-magic microchips. On top of that, orthodox Avi isn’t be able to play with electrical toys on the Sabbath.
  • Quiet. This is for the sake of the parents. No stay-at-home Mom wants to hear the clamor of noisy child’s toys all day. Kids love repetitive toys, so if you can’t stand listening to the toy for 10 minutes in the store, you won’t put up with Junior hammering away at it for three hours at home.
  • Active. Avi is a very physical boy, and he frequently plays with a mixture of throwing and hitting. He is still working on delicate hand dexterity, so he needs a toy that doesn’t need a great deal of deliberate hand motions. He needs a toy that he can be rough with, one that doesn’t need the deft hands of a surgeon to operate (relatively speaking).

Within these parameters, we had a tough time. Almost every toy in the Target aisiles has noise, microchips, or bombastic color. I’ve got this pet theory that ‘noisy toys’, in the mental sense, contribute to ADHD. By noisy toys, I mean ones that offer up a massive gamut of options, buttons to push, sounds, outlandish displays of color, and a design that screams for a child’s every waking minute of attention. On top of that, I dislike how anthropomorphic most toys are these days. Plastic telephones beam a gelatinous smile at you in eight different colors, with googly eyes and a playful tongue stuck out like a manic beagle. I don’t want children surrounded by giddy cartoonish toys, trapped in a bewildering plastic Toontown menagerie of glaring color and a dissonant endless chorus of electronic shrieking.

Is there no room left in this world for quiet, simple, physical toys? The classics are still there: wooden blocks, stacking donuts, and simple shapes and colors toys. But Avi’s too old for those. What’s left for the 2-4 year olds? Even Tonka trucks, the bastion of male toddlerhood, now have lights and buzzers and Motorized Dumping Action. Where are the humble toys for little kids who are between baby and preschool years? Let us not forget that kids just need to play. They do not need a My First Laptop, a John Deere cellphone, or battery-powered stuffed animals. They need physics. They need toys that demand patience, creativity, and motivation. In the 21st Century, it seems the toy aisile has given up on these obsolete values.

Have a good week!

P.S.: In a stunning display of Lack of Creativity, all toys marketed for girls have become either flourescent pink and purple. Let’s see some more options!

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