Walsh notes that the birth of Flexible Flyer sleds, Lionel trains and Crayola crayons came shortly after the turn of the century. Monopoly, Slinky spring toys and Tonka trucks were conceived in the 1930s and 1940s. Silly Putty, the Magic-8 Ball, Pez and Play-Doh were born in the 1950s. Etch-A-Sketch, Lego blocks, G.I. Joe dolls and the Nerf ball were first made available in the 1960s and 1970s. And the 1980s and 1990s saw the emergence of Trivial Pursuit, Cabbage Patch Kids and the Super Soaker.But the fact that most of us remember almost all or some of these toys tells us they transcend their time.
A PIECE OF OURSELVES
"As parents or grandparents, we give our little ones a piece of ourselves in a toy we once treasured," Walsh writes in his introduction. "It's more than a brand new box of Crayola crayons; it's that shared experience, the smell, the waxy coat of color - you did the same thing when you were 4 years old.
"Raggedy Ann looks different today than she did when you first had tea with her, but somehow she's still the same. Toys connect us."
Walsh, co-inventor of the TriBond and Blurt board games, says his book is "a trip to toyland." The coffee-table sized volume is filled with an abundance of illustrations. Readers can relive past encounters with toys such as Radio Flyer wagons, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, Wiffle Ball, Cootie, Matchbox cars, Mr. Potato Head, Uno and The Game of Life.
A CHECKERED LIFE
The Game of Life board game, Walsh writes, is connected to Reuben Klamer, a former Canton, Ohio, resident who moved west to begin a toy-making career that eventually led to his induction into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame. When The Milton Bradley Co. decided to dust off The Checkered Game of Life in 1960, they hired Klamer to update it. Klamer worked with one of his designers, Bill Markham, and the result was "The Game of Life - A full 3D action game," as its box initially advertised.
"It had roads raised up with elaborate buildings," said Mel Taft, who was in charge of the project at Milton Bradley. "I tell you, it made your mouth water it was so beautiful, but we had to take it and make it cost-effective.
"Geez, we had a terrible time."
But, like the other toys Walsh highlights in his book, The Game of Life proved to be timeless. The board game celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2000.
Walsh conducted more than 150 interviews with people who had a hand in inventing or developing toys. While he did research a few rare toys, he mainly focuses on universal toys that everyone has enjoyed.
At the beginning of each chapter, timelines illustrate when each toy was invented and includes pictures of the toys and their packaging.
"It helps to recreate that sense of anticipation we felt before we tore into the box to get at the treasure," Walsh said.
Walsh personally played with most of the toys he writes about, and he remembers them with fondness. Still, some challenged his patience. He said his wife always beats him in Scrabble and he did complete a Rubik's cube - once.
"I did it once, but it still took me 20 minutes - with the solution book," he said.
The author couldn't pick just one favorite toy from his youth. Instead, he listed five:
- Big Wheel.
"I loved doing donuts in my parents' driveway. I rode it until it fell apart."
- Super Ball.
"I loved bouncing my Super Ball in the street in front of our house when traffic was much less than it is now. And negotiating the Super Ball's nasty second bounce."
- Wiffle Ball.
"Our strike zone was always a lawn chair set up against the side of our house. The clank of the ball hitting the chair and the clack of the bat remain vivid memories of summers past."
"My aunt and uncle lived behind us, and their huge backyard was a favorite for Frisbee throwing and catching."
- Flexible Flyer sleds.
"Snow days in New Jersey meant sledding and since this is the one toy on my list that my father also enjoyed, it makes for a great shared experience for my family. My sister and I conquered many a hill on our trusty, and rusty, runner sleds. They don't make them like this anymore, literally. Production stopped in 1999."
Walsh's "Timeless Toys" is a trip through time, to a period in our lives when we all dwelled in a world surrounded by Trivial Pursuit, Slip'N' Slides, and Rock'em Sock'em Robots. You may still be playing Trivial Pursuit, but what about the others? They probably still exist vividly in your memories.
"Over time, our childhood toys are given away or sold off at garage sales," wrote Walsh in his introduction. "They're lost, but not forgotten."