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Consider This

By LC Van Savage

Toys Toys Toys Toys Toys Toys

Insomnia? For me? Never a problem, as long as there’s a kid around who wants to play a board or a card game with me. I have no idea what kind of sick twisted mind I have but games with kids just instantly knock me out and I do mean instantly. I began a simple game of Go Fish last month with a grandchild and in one minute she was shouting angrily, “Bucky! Wake up!!” and up out of my fog I struggled, insisting, “I am not asleep. I am not!” But I was lying. I was. Tic Tac Toe? Waves of sleep start pouring over my head after I’ve put the fist X or O in place. Hangman? One vowel? ZZZZZZ. Checkers? Ditto and I can’t play chess although my grandchildren can and have been playing since age 4. Big whoop. Chutes and Ladders? Candy Land? I’m gone. This is a serious problem for me. I call it Juvenile Board Game Narcolepsy, or JBGN.

I don’t have this problem with outdoor games with kids because I know they are bad for people and so I don’t indulge, but I will pull up a summer chair and watch. That I’ll definitely do. I mean I want these kids to have at least some kind of participatory grandam memories, after all. “Bucky was always there for us,” I want them to say after I’m gone, even if followed by, “Yeah. Snoring.”

They say board games were probably first invented in Mesopotamia. That’s somewhere around Iraq, right? Chess was invented by the Hindus somewhere in the fifth century AD or, ooops, maybe the Persians invented it because they apparently invented the term “checkmate” which was sort of pronounced “al shah mat” meaning “the king is dead.” The Greeks and Romans got into checkers where it was a snooty game just for aristocrats, although samples of the game were found in Egyptian tombs, all somewhere around 2000 BC.

Nevertheless, games are on a lot of minds these days what with the holidays coming. I see a lot of them stacked up in stores but I avert my eyes and rush past them so I don’t keel over in the aisle which always causes such an embarrassing fuss. I did purchase “Twisters” because no one would dare ask me to join in and it’s fun to watch kids twist themselves into knots while screaming happily.

But all this game stuff at this time of year has made me wonder about the origins of some of them. Games have been around since a couple of grunting kids crawled out of their caves, stood upright in the tall grasses and began to bounce rocks off each other’s skulls while they laughed and ran off to look for more rocks and more skulls. Keeping score was easy back then; the kid who was knocked cold, lost. Or maybe won. It’s hard to know what the rules were so long ago.

Where was Frisbee invented? Apparently it’s not an ancient game played around the pyramids. No, it seems that before the 1950s in Connecticut where I think there was a company called the Frisbee Pie Company of Bridgeport owned and operated by William Russell Frisbie. His bakery sold pies in circular tin pans and while no one knows how, the students at Yale University (not far from Bridgeport) grabbed a bunch of the pie plates and began scaling them at each other. (Beer trays were pretty good too but they really hurt your hands.) The whole thing took off when others who got interested in the fad got involved, which included a guy very interested in flying saucers, then Harvard and Yale made the “sport” very popular, “Wham-O” toy company made the trays out of plastic and made a billion dollars too, renamed them “Frisbees” in 1959 and the rest is history. I think I skipped a few steps but that’s the gist.

Now which of us would be brainless enough to give children yo-yos for the holidays? Yes, they do teach eye/hand co-ordination and if one gets good enough like that Smothers Brothers guy, one can go to conventions and show many tricks to yo-yo-ing such as working 6 at once, but the chances of that’s happening are fairly remote and the toy just ends up putting someone’s eye out on Christmas morning. But the history of the toy is interesting. The Chinese invented yo-yos, or so they say, about 1000 years before the first alleged Christmas day, and it was a weapon. (See the eye-out comment above.) Evidently way back in early China a couple of wooden disks attached by a central wooden peg to which twine was wound ‘round were spun around and hurled at animals’ legs, tripping them up and bringing them down for a fairly easy kill, just as a yo-yo will do on a bright holiday morn to one’s annoying sibling. But good thinking early Chinese hunter guys. Those yo-yos could bring down dinner from a long distance and so I doubt those Alpha hunter dudes gave them to their kids to play with.

But the yo-yo hunter gadgets became so revered when they moved throughout Europe they began to be carved out of ivory and encrusted with jewels and even had weird geometrical designs painted on them to get people sort of dizzy or mesmerized while they were bobbed up and down. I suspect those somewhat pricey yo-yos were probably not used to bring down a nice fat partridge for lunch.

But then in the 1920s a guy named Donald Duncan saw these things in the Philippines, modified them and yo-yos became what we see today.

Monopoly? 1930s. Scrabble? Ditto. Silly Putty? 1940s. Slinky? Ditto. Dolls? 40K years ago, but I think they were invented long before that.

The history of toys is amazing, fascinating and there are hundreds of great books out there about these playthings with fabulous color pictures. The antique toys are now quite valuable and are traded and sold all over the world. We humans are lucky enough to still have thousands of them from the old, old days and those very old toys, at least to me, are always more enchanting than the wild crazy plastic stuff out there today advertised on TV which don’t much encourage a child’s imagination to grow, and then they break. I suspect landfills are overwhelmed with those broken pieces of junk although in all honesty many toy manufacturers and retailers really do make an effort to produce long lasting, healthy, strong and beautiful toys which become treasured heirlooms. Bravo.

I sure wish those kid board games didn’t make me fall into a coma, but they do and I’m too old to get into deep therapy about it and I don’t think there’s any big study out there on JBGN anyway. I mean come on, if that’s the worst thing about me as a parent and grandparent, then I’m totally golden, right? Right?

Give the kids solid, plain, long lasting, imagination-inspiring toys this year, OK? Give less but give quality. Your kids will pass them down to their kids and you won’t ever be forgotten, and that’s a good goal.

I wish you all love and joy and lots of wassail too and the best and happiest holidays you and yours have ever had.

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