They shuffle though toy stores, muffle their gasps at $100 price tags, fret over safety and feel the forward flip of the calendar. They are parents looking for their children's holiday treasures.
Just in time to help them with their task is the 16th Annual Toy Report on Quality, Price and Safety prepared by the Consumer Affairs Committee of the Americans for Democratic Action.
The report, released Tuesday, has four listings: dangerous toys, toys of no redeeming social value, good toys and price comparisons in 10 local stores.
"I think people are vitally interested in children's toys," said Ann Brown, chairwoman of the committee. "I think they have lost their confidence that everything is good and safe."
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the ADA agree that perennial problems with toys are sharp edges, removable or breakable parts that can be swallowed, forceful projectiles and flammable materials.
This year, the ADA branded several toys potentially dangerous because of flammability: the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, the Fisher-Price Pop-Up Playhouse, Walt Disney's Mickey Snug-Ums, the Coke Slumber Bag and Pillow People Slumber Bag.
The ADA named My Dolly's Bottle Feeding Set #88, My Dolly's Delux Meal Time Set, "Little Mommy" Easy-flow Doll Bottle #1015, Downhill Teddy, Slime Balls and Lite-Up Monster Head as products with label information that either failed to alert parents to danger or recommended use for children too young for the toys.
Choking hazards were seen in Tub Doodler #5301, Colorforms Color Chang-O-Bath Buddies #1605, Fun Sponge, Tub Time Sponge Set and Bath Chums. All are foam or sponge bath toys that can break into pieces small enough to be swallowed and choke a child, the report said.
The report criticized Tub Alarms, which make noise when running water fills a tub and thus allow adults to leave children unattended in the bathroom. The alarms endanger youngsters, who can drown in only two inches of water, the report warned.
Children can easily fall out of the Graduate Booster Seat, the survey said.
The manufacturers of the ink-pellet Gotcha! Gun say that it is not a toy, but distribute it to toy stores. ADA labeled it and the Zebra Automatic Pistol #770 dangerous because of the force of the projectiles.
Mr. Spudhead, Farm Animals, Paint Set by Knobler, Go Fly A Kite-Flutterbye were called perilous because of sharp edges or small parts.
Ten toys were relegated to the ADA's Trash Box of products judged gruesome, overpriced, boring or useless. Hot Wheels Dinosaur Mud Pit, Cabbage Patch Splashin' Kids, Skateboard Smackups, Tuffies, Mad Scientist, Funwich Factory, Torpedo Run, GI Joe: Cobra Mamba, Sweetie Pops and Video Art filled this year's box.
Although gory toys may fascinate some children, their interest fades so rapidly that the toys are poor investments, the report said. Some of the products may also torment parents by ruining clothing or furniture. The ADA cited the Mad Scientist line, a medical kit for extraterrestrial creatures featuring Alien Innards and powdered Monster Flesh Remover. The Mad Scientist Monster Lab bears warnings that the Living Ice "may be harmful to vinyl and wood surfaces." Alien Blood, the label warns, "sticks to rugs, fabrics and hair . . . . Dry cleaning will not remove Alien Blood. May be harmful to wood surfaces."
Another Trash Box designee is the Skateboard Smackups series, small models of skateboards with a variety of mutilated riders atop. A few wedges of Patti Plateglass' skull and body are missing; a few chunks of imitation glass protrude. Carrie Cardoor has a bashed face, and the car door that did the damage is attached.
Tuffies, a stuffed dog recommended for children aged 3 and older, has jaws that can carry slippers or a newspaper. The child is instructed to squeeze the dog's neck to open its mouth. Should the child ever try the same trick with a live dog -- perhaps a pit bull -- the fun would end quickly, the ADA said.
But, the survey said, some good toys exist: Fun With Food: Kitchen, and Fun with Food: Breakfast Skillet Set, which the ADA found widely appealing to both boys and girls; R/C Mini Hoppers, energetic remote control cars; Trivial Pursuit For Juniors, and Pictionary Junior, a charade game.
Also in the Toy Box were Mini-Wizard, a reasonably priced electronic game; Jenga, a wood-stacking set; Pipeworks, a sturdy building set; Starcom, action adventure toys, and Light and Sound Sonic Robot, a construction toy.
The report also recommended the Safe and Secure Toilet Lock Lid, which requires no tools for installation and keeps children and pets away from toilet water.
The price comparison this year listed 32 toys at 10 stores. Last year's report, which covered 21 stores, concluded that the discount catalogue outlets were the overall best price bet. Because of staff shortages in the all-volunteer effort, the store list was shortened, according to ADA toy chairwoman Debbie Wager.
"There are so many toys over $100 this year it's crazy," Wager said. But there is no runaway favorite fomenting frustration and frenzy like the Cabbage Patch Dolls and Laser Tag of recent years, she said.
The ADA wrote that it did not try to be all-inclusive in any of its surveys. Toys were chosen by monitoring advertisements and the industry Toy Fair, and by consulting with retailers and trade publications. The local price comparisons were conducted from Nov. 7 to 16.
"Every store has a different pricing policy," Wager said. She urges buyers to use the chart and look for advertisements of sales.
Among the recommendations for buyers in the ADA report are: Always check for gurarantees of "flame retardant" or "flame resistant" fabrics. Look for "nontoxic" painted toys and "machine washable" stuffed toys.
Ask to see the contents of a boxed toy, to be sure that the item is intact. Buy toys that will hold a child's interest over months or years.
Remember the price of batteries while calculating toy costs. Save sales receipts and directions. Consider how messy or destructive the toy can be. Buy toys that the child can play with safely alone.
Check newspaper ads just before Christmas, and if possible, put off a new, popular toy until next year, when its price will probably drop.
Wager, the editor of the report and the director of all 16 toy surveys, has just published a $5.95 book, "Good Toys." In addition, the 1987 toy report is distributed to the District's public libraries and is available for $6 from the ADA Consumer Affairs Committee, 3246 Jones Court NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. Call 337-5454.