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Freshly Opened Play-doh

Yesterday I did a lecture for the USC chapter of SIGGRAPH entitled “Interactive Art & Toys,” in which I demonstrated how to build a Karl Marx Paddleball toy in Flash.

As a gift, chapter president Pamela Fox presented me with this really cool book:

Timeless Toys : Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them by Tim Walsh is now officially my favorite Coffee table book. I’ve already spent a couple hours immersed in it, reliving some vivid childhood memories.

The book 300 page book is filled with sharp vivid color photographs and short essays about all the wonderful toys that fueled the imaginations of kids who were born in the 20th century. Radio Flyer wagons, Crayola Crayons, Silly Putty, Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, Spyrograph, Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, and so on.

Each individual toy is given about 4 pages, which is just about the right amount, I think. Walsh points out that this is not a book that anyone could write by spending an afternoon on Google. He really did the subject justice, contacting each of the inventors or their families, and getting some great inside stories, photographs and anecdotes that you simply won’t find online.

Not only does the book provide the inside stories about how each of these toys was created, but it also provides a wealth of vivid writing about what it was like to play with these toys. Do you remember the smell of freshly opened can of Playdoh? The feel of your snowboots against the steering bars of a flexible flyer sled? When did you etch a black square in your etch-a-sketch so you could examine the inner workings or take apart a Magic 8-Ball to see how it works?

One of my favorite sections is devoted to Marvin Glass, whose name is connected to a remarkable and diverse set of toys including Mousetrap, Operation, Mystery Date, LiteBrite and Simon.

The USC students made me promise to build to build simulations of a few of these toys in Flash, and I intend to live up to my end of the bargain. Thanks guys!

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