It debuted at Lincoln Center. It was taken to dinner in Georgetown and to a dance at the posh Metropolitan Club. It was the hit of a Christmas party at NIH.
Straighten up, Rubik's cube. Move over, pet rock. A new toy, with the charm of the shmoo, has come to town. And it is bound to stick.
Sticking, in fact, is one of its charms. So is its shape and color.
It's called a Wallwalker. It's a spidery-shaped creature, made from a sticky synthetic rubber, which walks down (never up) walls.
The first Wallwalker arrived in the District two months ago in a plain brown envelope addressed to Kenzo Hakuta, age 3 1/2, as a present from his grandparents in Tokyo.
There is no record of how Kenzo responded, but his father, Ken, a marketing specialist who sells cat food to Japan and karate uniforms to Americans, saw in the Wallwalker the kind of item he used to dream about at Harvard Business School. "I figured it might be something that could put humor into this recession."
Apparently, it has made a lot of people happy. In two weeks of test marketing in the area, 25,000 Wallwalkers have been sold, for $2 each, at The Red Balloon toy shop and Ginza Japanese import store.
It surely has done well for the Japanese manufacturer. The Japanese call it Taco, for octopus, a worthy description. In six months 11 million were sold in Japan and, according to Hakuta, it has become the hottest selling toy there.
Hakuta became so excited about the item he started throwing it at every shiny vertical space he encountered. He went to lunch at Takesushi and threw it at the wall behind the sushi counter, where it began to slink and tumble slowly toward the ground. The chef took it out to the kitchen and Hakuta heard all the other chefs in the kitchen screaming. "I was afraid it might come back on a plate, but it was returned in one piece."
He showed it to Eulalie Fenhagen, a friend whose husband is the former rector of St. John's Georgetown parish. She coined the name "Wallwalker."
The first night she had it she took it to a fancy dinner party in New York, where she now lives; it was the hit of the party. The next night she slapped it on the front door of the swanky Knickerbocker Club and she and her husband, now dean and president of the General Theological Seminary, took it for drinks at the Hotel Pierre.
"I started to worry that I was showing it to too many people and someone might steal the idea," said Fenhagen.
But the next night she couldn't control herself. She went to the Lincoln Center with the Wallwalker in her evening purse. By the time she got to a preconcert reception in the patron's lounge, the Wallwalker was out of the bag. "I couldn't resist the big glass window," she said.
Hakuta is doing more research. He has discovered that Wallwalkers swim, and when the air bubble under their bodies fills with water, they sink slowly and crawl along the bottom of the tub. They slow down on cold days, speed up when the heat's on.
Bob Joy at The Red Balloon rates the Wallwalker one of the three top toys in his shop this Christmas. The others are rattlesnake eggs, for 98 cents--open the envelope and a burring noise from a rubber band, metal washer and a piece of curved wire goes off and "makes your hair stand up on end," says Joy. And a half-inch gelatin Grow-Pet, 60 cents each, shaped like a turtle, snake or frog that grows to 900 times its volume. "I tell 'em that if they live in a trailer, they can't buy it."
"The Wallwalker's a big hit with kids with runny noses and women in fur coats," says Joy. One customer bought 23.
Hakuta is planning a Wallwalker Olympics -- he thinks the glass windows of the new Washington Square building on Connecticut Avenue at lunch time would be a good setting. "My dream is to get 5,000 and throw them at the World Trade Center building in New York," he says.