Acan't-miss plan, we thought: Let's kick off this year's KidsPost Summer Toy Test by launching a seven-foot-tall Monster Rocket capable, according to its package, of blasting more than 100 feet in the air. But we almost had to scrub the launch when it seemed our rocket was more mouse than monster.
The big green projectile was inflated and its water tank filled. Our crew of kid testers at Carver Community Center in Arlington was ready -- really ready -- to pump the water that would build the pressure that would send that rocket waaaaaay high.
But the cap on the water tank wouldn't close, no matter how much we twisted it. We were about to give up when Deonte Kenney, 9, spoke up. "Hey, you're turning it the wrong way!" he said, pointing to a little arrow that indicated we should be turning the cap to the left.
Darned if he wasn't right. Smarty pants. Whatever happened to the "lefty-loosey, righty-tighty" rule?
So, cap now in place, we began the launch. Everyone did 10 pumps until we neared 100 and the pressure gauge was in the Red Zone. Then . . .
"THREE . . . TWO . . . ONE . . . "
With the squeeze of a small plastic bulb to release the pressure, our Monster Rocket did, indeed, blast sky-high, clearing a tall tree and spraying us with a watery jet trail.
"Again! Again!" the testers screamed after the rocket returned to earth.
It was a fine way to begin an afternoon of fun with a bunch of nifty new summer gadgets: a backyard dunk tank (the overall favorite of our 10 testers), an inflatable disc, a battery-powered jump-rope, some "anti-gravity" bouncy shoes and a quartet of waterguns, two with flip-up shields and two with wearable target tags. There were no duds in the lot, although the rocket disappointed as well as delighted. After two terrific blasts, several attempts at a third ended in failure. The little bulb that helps propel the rocket wasn't working.
A few days later when we tried the rocket again, it soared and soared but landed on the roof of a three-story house where it got torn. Still, nothing that a little duct tape couldn't fix!
Here's the lowdown on our Summer 2004 toys:
Made by: Wild Planet.
Suggested price: $19.99.
What it is: Carnival-style dunking contraption that hooks to a garden hose. One person (your little brother, perhaps) sits on the inflatable seat. The ball thrower (you) tries to hit a target with a movable arm. Hit it successfully and the arm flips down, releasing a spray that squirts your brother.
What's to like: Drenching someone is hugely satisfying. Throwers may want to move farther from the target for more of a challenge. Testers liked spraying and being sprayed. "This is fun! I am soaked!" said Olivia Green, 10.
What's not to like: It takes some fiddling to get the target to stand level (ground spikes would help) and to position the sprayer just right.
Made by: Kid-riffic Toys.
Suggested price: $39.99.
What it is: Automatic jump-rope, can be used for traditional jumping (attach one end to a tree or doorknob) and as a skip-rope (it swings in circles at ankle height). Can be set for one, three or five minutes. (Requires six D batteries, not included.)
What's to like: Testers (boys as well as girls) liked the skip-rope mode, even though it went really fast. "This is cool!" said Keaira Wortham, 10. We didn't try the jump-rope mode.
What's not to like: The arm that holds the rope often flies off and has to be re-attached. Also, turning the device off can be a little scary, it spins so fast.
Vertigo Hover Disc
Made by: Overbreak LLC.
Suggested price: $9.99.
What it is: Picture a big Frisbee (36 inches across) made of Mylar that you inflate with air or helium. Internal metal rim around outer edge helps give it shape.
What's to like: Filled with air, it's like a lofty Frisbee with oodles of hang time. "It went far, it went high, it was, like, blowing," said Angel Reed, 9.
What's not to like: Thin material pops easily. Our disc quickly got stuck in a tree. In helium mode, it can float a little too well (right into space, in other words).
Shield Blaster 2000
Made by: Mattel.
Suggested price: $14.99.
What it is: A water gun with a movable, flip-up, see-through shield. Has a 36-ounce water tank and four nozzles that shoot single or multiple streams. Attaches to your arm with Velcro straps. Turn a crank to make water squirt.
What's to like: Opponents can blast right at your face, yet you are shielded. The shield's flipping and rotating functions work well. Compared with the slide action on some other squirters, the crank seems easier.
What's not to like: Some testers found it a bit heavy and awkward to operate. Shield is not large, so opponents can still blast around it.
Shield Blaster 3000
Made by: Mattel.
Suggested price: $19.99.
What it is: Like the 2000 but with a 60-ounce tank. Sprays three streams. Velcro straps. Turn crank to squirt. The shield flares out on either side of your arm.
What's to like: Bigger tank means more water.
What's not to like: Heavy. "My arm started to hurt. I thought it was uncomfortable," said Jocelyn Somerville, 10.
Made by: Hasbro/Supersoaker.
Suggested price: $9.99.
What it is: A mid-size (34-ounce) squirter that blasts twin streams of water in a twisted, "helix" pattern. Pump-action handle. Choice of nozzles for narrow or wide streams. Comes with body targets that attach to clothes and dissolve when hit by water, for a watery form of laser tag.
What's to like: "It shoots wavy, in a circle," said Tamera Vollin, 9.
What's not to like: The soaker tags dissolve almost immediately.
Air Kicks Kickaroos "Anti-Gravity Boots"
Made by: Extex.
Suggested price: $79.95.
What it is: Bouncy shoes. You put them on over your shoes and boing around. They're plastic with Velcro straps and football-shaped, heavy-duty plastic springs.
What's to like: Kids who put some oomph into it bounced high and had fun. "Jumpy and boinky!" said Jewel McNeil, 9.
What's not to like: Don't expect to bounce super-high like a moon astronaut. "I thought when I first heard about them that you could actually lift in the air," said Jocelyn Somerville. Also, the price may leave Mom and Dad a little up in the air.
Made by: Hasbro/Super Soaker.
Suggested price: $29.99.
What it is: Inflatable balloon-style rocket in a heavy plastic base connected to a water tank. Pour water in the tank, pressurize it with up to 100 pumps on a bicycle-type pump and release the water with a squeeze bulb.
What's to like: It's really big and it goes really high. The only fuel required is water. "I liked trying to catch it when it came down," said Trent Smith, 11.
What's not to like: Hard to work the squeeze bulb. (For $30 and all that pumping, you want the thing to go up!) Need a wide-open area for launching to avoid getting stuck in a tree or hitting a rooftop and popping.
-- Fern Shen and
with joy. To see a video clip
of our toy testers
in action, go to www.washingtonpost.