For Francoise Oram, the last-minute Christmas shopping panic already has begun.
"This is my third trip to find Teddy Ruxpin for my 6-year-old granddaughter. I've already been to Evans and Best," Oram said yesterday as she emerged from Toys R US without the most-wanted bear in America.
The $80 Teddy, touted as "The World's First Animated Talking" toy, is this year's replay of the Cabbage Patch crisis -- the toy that everybody wants and nobody can find. There are 150,000 different kinds of toys sold in America, between 3,000 and 4,000 of them new this year, and inevitably the ones you want are the ones you can't find.
"Teddy Ruxpin -- are we out of it!" lamented John Hall, manager for Lowen's toy store in Bethesda. "I got it in last Friday and we were out of it by Saturday."
Cabbage Patch is another matter. This year, there are enough Cabbage Patch dolls in this world to populate several small countries. By the end of this Christmas season, the ubiquitous dolls with the mashed-in mouths will be once again the No. 1 toy, sharing the spotlight with the equally omnipresent Transformers, the toy that turns into another toy.
From Coleco -- the company that pioneered the idea of creating artificial shortages to stimulate demand for its toys -- comes a whole garden of best sellers. There are Cabbage Patch Twins for $80 a pair, $50 Cabbage Patch World Travelers clutching a satchel and an airline ticket and wearing an "authentic costume" (can-can skirt, kilt, or the like) plus Cabbage Patch Preemies, Cabbage Patch pets called "Koosas," Cabbage Patch Show Ponies and the Cabbage patch equivalent of Brussel's sprouts -- five-inch miniatures called "Playmates."
Counting the fur coats, diapers, exercise clothes, country-western outfits, and strollers, Coleco expects to do $540 million worth of business by the end of this year.
The "original" Cabbage Patch dolls -- as opposed to the mass-produced ones -- still are being sold by inventor Xavier Roberts, at $135 a crack. "They are considered works of art," said his spokeswoman, who added that some collectors have as many as 100 dolls. Roberts is trying for a second gold ring this year with "Furskins," bears with belly buttons and hats that come in country clothes and sell for about $60. J. C. Penney's already has sold 300,000.
Marinda Christopher, spokeswoman for the 233-store chain Toys R Us, also reports big interest in Wuzzlies, a stuffed animal that combines two, like the Butterbear, which has characteristics of both a butterfly and a bear.
Stuffed animals are so big this year that even flannel sheets imprinted with them are selling out. There are stuffed cats that walk when you clap your hands, beasts with radios implanted in their bellies and bears that respond in "bear talk" when you talk to them. The latter is the creation of Nolan Bushnell, the wonderful fellow who brought you Chuck E. Cheese. You remember Chuck E. Cheese?
If your favorite child does not have one of the 17 million Hasbro Transformers sold last year or any of the 125 million Mattell Masters of the Universe figures cloned since 1982, there are plenty more in the stores this year.
Retailers warn parents that, if they don't shop early, they may not find this year's favorites -- the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, better known in juvenile warfare circles as MASK. At one Best Products store yesterday, the MASK command center Boulder Hill was all gone from the shelves by noon, with only one left in the storeroom. But the MASK vehicles remained, including Switchblade, a helicopter which converts to a jet; Rhino, a tank rig that transforms into a mobile defense unit, and Gator, an off-road vehicle that converts into a hydroplane.
Demand also is outstripping supply for $7, two-inch-tall TV wrestlers. Grunt-and-groan fans can have their very own version of the World Wrestling Federation stars, including Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Jimmy Superfly, Snuka and Big John Studd.
Or, if you prefer, there is Princess of Power, a bio-engineered line of beauties whose ancestors include not only G. I. Joe and Barbie, but also Transformers and GoBots. The princesses aim to combine girls' interest in "action, hair play and fashion play," according to Mattel spokeswoman Kathy Thorpe. They have long hair, large wardrobes, "action waists," magical powers, and names like Castaspella and Adora (who becomes She-Ra, the female leader of the universe.) They cost about $7 and their home, the Crystal Castle, about $34.
Good old (she's now 26) Barbie has kept up with the times. The Career Barbie, now comes in a pink business suit, with a briefcase and credit cards. Her clothes can be turned inside out to become an evening gown. There is a choice of careers and also an "office and home" play set. However, sales of Career Barbie are about even with Peaches 'n' Cream Barbie, who wears a peach-and-white sparkly evening gown with a stole. Aerobic Barbie, dressed in exercise togs, now has her own gym, complete with weights, an exercycle and a slant board ($17.50).
Princess of Power is the latest member of Masters of the Universe, a Mattell "action fantasy" family that is expected to produce $450 million worth of business this year at prices of up to $47 each. The 36 different action figures (there must be some your kid doesn't have) include Prince Adam (who turns into He-Man), 6 animals, 9 fantasy vehicles, the Battlebones carrying case and the 3 play sets: Castle Grayskull, Snake Mountain and Fright Zone.
The label on the Fright Zone box says it all: "Masters of the Universe/ The Evil Horde/ Fright Zone/ Trap filled stronghold of terror."
If that doesn't scare your child, three board games based on child safety are on the market: Strangers and Dangers, Safely Home and Don't Talk to Strangers. This appears to be a trend, said a spokeswoman at the Toy Manufacturers of America, the trade association for the $13 billion business.
Trivial Pursuit, once as hard to find as the answers to its questions, is just another game this year. The thing to pursue this year is College Pursuit, a game that's supposed to compensate for high school by improving college test stores. It comes with 800 questions patterned after the Scholastic Aptitude Tests and a list of 200 colleges with the median SAT scores of their freshmen.
The big game this year is Clue, the perennial whodunit, repackaged on video cassette. Mr. Mustard is still in the drawing room with the lead pipe, but Clue -- the Video -- costs $38. And once Clue -- The Movie -- premieres later this month, finding the video version will require some detective work.
Other surprises lurking on the far side of Christmas:
*At FAO Schwarz in Manhattan, the citadel of toy stores, a Marilyn Monroe doll sells for $450, and the Eleanor Roosevelt doll sells for $74.95.
*The Rice Paddy Baby, a soft Oriental doll, comes with a British passport. The box says "I want to immigrate. Will you sponsor me?" $16.91 at Juvenile Sales.
*The Yuppie Game is here, a board game in which the winner must achieve seven goals: accumulating $150,000 in cash, a fast-track career, a marriage partner, a "yupmobile," a house suitable for the cover of Metropolitan Home, a child and a private school for that child. Throws of the dice allow the player to acquire various possessions such as an IBM PC, a Sony Trinitron, or brie, or force him to go through various "Yupheavals," such as, "after too many Kir Royales at Sunday brunch you inadvertently use the word 'groovy.' "
It costs $20 and is available at department stores, including, of course, Bloomingdale's.