Did you ever wonder how a certain toy or game got invented? Did some super-geniuses sit around a big table until they had it exactly right? Was some guy noodling on a napkin while waiting for his pizza to arrive? Or maybe a kid woke up in the middle of the night with a brainstorm for a great new
puzzle or game.
This is the tale of three new playthings and how they came to be.
Michael Hicks didn't set out to invent a challenging toy.
Laid off from his job as an industrial electronics technician, he was supposed to be installing the new dryer at his home in South Carolina. But the dryer hose didn't fit. It had been sitting in the corner on top of his golf bag for a couple of days when Hicks spied it and had an odd thought: "I wonder if I can get a golf ball to loop in and out of this tube?"
Four hours later he was still playing with it, convinced that he had his hands on the next hot toy. Others weren't so sure. When he excitedly showed his creation to his grandmother, she said, "You've lost your mind!" And his friends predicted that "nobody is going to buy this."
Hicks has sold about 80,000 Accuthrows (the name he gave his toy) and soon they will be available in Europe. The toy, which sells for $9.95, has even appeared on national television shows.
"It's addictive," said Paul McCall, a fan whose skill has earned him the nickname Accuthrow Man.
McCall, an artist who met Hicks through a mutual friend a year and a half ago, can do 20 tricks with Accuthrow, although he does not hold the world record (377 continuous loops, according to accuthrow.com).
Hicks, 33, said he never doubted his toy would create a buzz: "It's wholesome and simple. People are saying, 'That's the next big thing. That's the next Hula Hoop.' "
The winning idea just popped into Nathan C. Tung's head.
He had seen a magazine ad announcing a contest for kid inventors. He was 10 at the time and eager to invent something.
But for a long while, he didn't know what. The night before the contest deadline, he sat down at his kitchen table with a pencil and paper. Suddenly he had his idea: "Power Gloves" to wear while hiking or jogging. The gloves he drew had a light-up compass that doubled as a magnifying glass, an alarm clock/stopwatch and a message recorder.
The next day Nathan's mom mailed his drawing to the Wild Planet toy company, which hosts the annual inventor contest. Several months later Nathan was notified that he had won and that his idea, renamed Explorer's Gloves, would be made into a real toy!
"I didn't know what to say," he recalled in a phone interview from his home in Southern California. "It was too amazing."
This September you will be able to get your hands into a pair of Explorer's Gloves. They will have tweezers for picking up bugs, and lights to see things in the dark. But to keep the price under $20, they won't have a message recorder or stopwatch.
Nathan, now 11 and finishing fifth grade, is cool with the changes. He's already thinking of his next big invention.
Like most working moms, Rose Anderson wanted to spend more time with her pre-teen kids. But when she got home from work, they were busy playing video games or doing other things.
She tried to get them to play board games as a family, but they said the games were old-fashioned and boring.
So Anderson, 44, decided to invent her own game: something exciting that older kids (10 and up) would want to play again and again, something educational as well as fun, and something that girls and boys would both like.
She called it Geist (the German word for ghost, spirit, mind or wit). Geist takes place in a cemetery haunted by 13 ghosts who have escaped from the underworld. The players are hunters who must capture the ghosts and save the town. To do that, the hunters must plot their moves carefully, watching out for pranks by the geists that could upset their strategy.
Anderson, who lives in Vienna in Northern Virginia, spent two years developing Geist. Her two kids -- Max, now 14, and India, 11 -- and stepdaughter Taylor, 12, helped work out the kinks and advised her on what was awesome.
"I wanted a game that you buy once and play for the rest of your life -- a classic," she said. Geist sells for about $44.
On Saturday the world's first Geist Tournament was held at George Mason University in Fairfax County. And later this year look for Geist Junior, designed for kids under 10.
-- Marylou Tousignant