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the five best toys of all time
December 9, 2011 10:03 AM   Subscribe

"Here at GeekDad we review a lot of products — books, toys, gadgets, software — and I know it’s impossible for most parents to actually afford all of the cool stuff that gets written up... [W]hile we love telling you about all the cool stuff that’s out there, I understand that as parents we all have limited budgets and we sometimes need help narrowing down our wishlists. So to help you out, I’ve worked really hard to narrow down this list to five items that no kid should be without. All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved!"
posted by flex (123 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was going to snap in and say BOX was my favorite growing up, but he makes an excellent case for CARDBOARD TUBE. Also, a good sword-length CARDBOARD TUBE was rarer.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hah! I told my daugther this morning I got her a stick for Christmas.
posted by shothotbot at 10:06 AM on December 9, 2011


No love for RUBBER BAND, ROCK or SHEET?
posted by jquinby at 10:07 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fuck yeah tubes!
posted by Big_B at 10:08 AM on December 9, 2011


Oh, great, another arbitrary year-end list, another your-favourite-list-of-favourites-sucks debate.

And in this case, it's valid: Because where, goddammit, is Ball? I mean, they actually mention Stickball in the Stick review but then snub Ball? You can roll dirt or snow into Ball, you can find a round stone and use it as Ball. One time, in Cuba, I saw some kids so desperate for Ball they were using an old pill bottle for their Stickball game. (True story.)

Point being: a list of things no kid should be without is incomplete and invalid without Ball on it. Cardboard Tube's great and all, but your kid's not going to spend every gym class and after-school sporting activity kicking and tossing Cardboard Tubes around.

Ball, goddammit. There's no happy childhood anywhere ever without Ball.
posted by gompa at 10:10 AM on December 9, 2011 [22 favorites]


Pfff. I'll wait for the iStick, iBox, iString, iTube, and iDirt.
posted by The Deej at 10:11 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great. Now there's going to be a run on dirt this holiday season.
posted by crunchland at 10:11 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh my god,the best toy ever? Laundry basket!
posted by Blasdelb at 10:12 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


I was going to snap in and say BOX was my favorite growing up, but he makes an excellent case for CARDBOARD TUBE. Also, a good sword-length CARDBOARD TUBE was rarer.

A few of the tubes that come in packs of wrapping paper, some friends, and a willingness to yell "THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE" were the necessary ingredients to some good times as a kid.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:12 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


He forgot empty two litter soda bottle, a roll of construction paper and off brand crayons.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 10:14 AM on December 9, 2011


Log.
posted by ardgedee at 10:14 AM on December 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


gompa: if you mention to your average person about Ball they're going to assume an item manufactured to be Ball and for sale as Ball. Sure, you can make your own Ball but the point of his list is to talk about items that don't have to be made, that come for free. I agree that Ball is important but there's big money in Balls and it doesn't fit the theme of "using a free thing to have fun."
posted by komara at 10:15 AM on December 9, 2011


Another "best of all time" list that's biased towards the new. I mean, cardboard box and cardboard tube were both invented in the last, what, couple hundred years?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:15 AM on December 9, 2011


What, no plastic bag? Plastic bags are the best. They make great space helmets.
posted by falameufilho at 10:16 AM on December 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


My favorite "toy" was the giant rolls of paper my dad would bring home from the local printshop. You know those huge rolls of "print ends" that they basically just give away? A seemingly endless canvas for my doodles.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:16 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree they're further down on the list, but we can't forget the couch cushions in conjunction with card table.
posted by crunchland at 10:18 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Your Own Penis.
posted by swift at 10:18 AM on December 9, 2011 [20 favorites]


PVC collected from the construction site with permission...
posted by mrgroweler at 10:19 AM on December 9, 2011


Elitist! What about all those kids who live in Manhattan high-rises, huh? Where's their dirt?
posted by cmoj at 10:21 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


PVC collected from the construction site with permission...

When I was a kid and bored, my father would try to "inspire" me with stories about how much fun the kids in his neighborhood had making makeshift cannons out of PVC pipe and the powder from stolen shotgun shells. He would then immediately admonish me not to do this specific thing.

To this day, I don't know what he was expecting to accomplish.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:22 AM on December 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


The Deej: "Pfff. I'll wait for the iStick, iBox, iString, iTube, and iDirt."

perhaps you would be interested in uTube?
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:23 AM on December 9, 2011


"I got a rock."
posted by kagredon at 10:24 AM on December 9, 2011


I saw these kids the other day checking out sticks on the side of the road, but you just know they're gonna end up getting them from Amazon instead, the little shits.
posted by orme at 10:24 AM on December 9, 2011 [24 favorites]


Yeah, SHEET is the best toy and I am disappointed it was not included on this list.
posted by heyforfour at 10:25 AM on December 9, 2011


Box is cool, but refrigerator box was taking it to another level. Too bad my parents only replaced ours once, but I'll never forget that week or so period in the backyard until it rained.
posted by resurrexit at 10:26 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


I know it's only one-time use, but BUBBLE WRAP is awesome.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:26 AM on December 9, 2011


I know Matches is a controversial pick nowadays, but I think if you really try to engage with it in the context of its time, it's undeniable.
posted by penduluum at 10:26 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Huge corrugated refrigerator box: BEST TOY EVAR. Could be clubhouse, rocket ship, bus, cave...

Other favorites: Sandbox, Tree, Big Rock.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:27 AM on December 9, 2011


But don't cheap out on these. It's well known that the more expensive the christmas present, the more likely the child will fixate on the box it came in.
posted by condour75 at 10:28 AM on December 9, 2011


Sure, you can make your own Ball but the point of his list is to talk about items that don't have to be made, that come for free.

What are you talking about? Half of all kids come with Ball, and in fact, they have enough to share with the other half.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:29 AM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I know it's a bit of a niche, but as a kid, I got a TON of use out of Old Keyboard From Defunct Computer. Especially since mine was a limited edition with a bunch of symbols not on fancy modern keyboards that I could use to make, like, lasers fire out of the spaceship I was controlling. It was awesome.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:29 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


gompa: if you mention to your average person about Ball they're going to assume an item manufactured to be Ball and for sale as Ball. Sure, you can make your own Ball but the point of his list is to talk about items that don't have to be made, that come for free. I agree that Ball is important but there's big money in Balls and it doesn't fit the theme of "using a free thing to have fun."

I see your point, but someone had to buy something (or go scavenging) in order to get Box and Cardboard Tube into the house. Same deal with Ball. Mash a bunch of old tape together? You've got Ball. (The mashed-up-hockey-tape Ball is a Canadian rec room classic.) Gather rubber bands in a big knot? Ball. Crush a can semi-skilfully? Kick that thing down the block and functionally speaking, you've got Ball. Some piece of equipment coughs up a couple of ball bearings? You better believe that's Ball.

Ball, goddammit. Ball.

No, I can't believe this argument's gotten so elaborate and technical either.
posted by gompa at 10:34 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I, too, am disappointed to see log fall off this list.

Too easy?
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:38 AM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Huge corrugated refrigerator box: BEST TOY EVAR. Could be clubhouse, rocket ship, bus, cave...

My favorite thing to do with my sibs and a refrigerator box was to take the ends off, lay it on its side, then propel it forward by crawling in unison, much like being inside the tracks of a tank.

Lots of fun until (a) one of the industrial sized box staples gashed my brother's arm; or (b) we rolled over glass or sharp rocks (in the vacant lot next door to our house Detroit); or (c) the whole box came apart at the seam, leaving us momentarily, but suddenly crawling across the vacant lot debris field on our bare hands and knees.

Come to think of it, it was still fun even when those things happened.
posted by The Deej at 10:39 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was going to snap in and say BOX was my favorite growing up, but he makes an excellent case for CARDBOARD TUBE.

I had a privileged upbringing. Through his line of work, my father had ready access to cardboard barrels, which attracted all the kids to our yard. Kind of a cross between a box and a tube, you could roll down slopes in it, imprison in it, hide in it, beat on it, roll over it, collect in it, stand on it, etc.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:39 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ball, goddammit. There's no happy childhood anywhere ever without Ball.

Isn't that what rocks are for?

Also the box is in the toy hall of fame, and has been since 2005.
posted by Gungho at 10:40 AM on December 9, 2011


I know Matches is a controversial pick nowadays

I wasn't allowed matches, but if you have a large MAGNIFYING GLASS you can harness the power of thermonuclear destruction!

Ahem. I didn't burn down anything important, and no one cares what happened to my sister's plastic bucket, anyway.
posted by bitmage at 10:40 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


F*** yeah giant magnifying glass! There was one in this book and the sucker could melt lead!
posted by Brodiggitty at 10:44 AM on December 9, 2011


Was I the only one kind of dissapointed that this list was just a snarky bit? I mean, I get it and all, but I was actually kind of excited to see some affordable yet awesome toys that I may have never heard of.
posted by Think_Long at 10:45 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


+1 for MAGNIFYING GLASS! Also, BB Gun!
posted by Blake at 10:47 AM on December 9, 2011


My husband and I are trying to decide what we want to buy ourselves for Christmas that will come in a big giant box, because the box will be our kids' favorite present EVAH (Or until I get tired of it cluttering up the house )!
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:49 AM on December 9, 2011


Frankly, I don't know how String made the list.
posted by Kabanos at 10:49 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm gonna vote COUCH.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:49 AM on December 9, 2011


My refrigerator box became a little house, with windows, curtains, and old sofa cushions to sit on and watch TV out the open "door". It was in the living room so lasted a long time.

Another good toy is rocks and a hammer, break them in half and see the pretty insides of some. (no, I did not put my eye out)
posted by mermayd at 10:51 AM on December 9, 2011


Another vote for Ball here. Although, when combined with Dog, Stick can take the place of Ball. Dog really should be on this list, too, but so much of the internet is Cat, I am not surprised.
posted by zomg at 10:57 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


All five should be lego.
posted by mufasu at 10:57 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


PILLOWFORT?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:00 AM on December 9, 2011


I'm very happy that Kirth Gerson points out that people are willing to share their balls. I like it when I get to play with balls too. Mom and Dad never let me have balls as a kid so...

Yay, Ball!!!
posted by onhazier at 11:01 AM on December 9, 2011


Was I the only one kind of dissapointed that this list was just a snarky bit? I mean, I get it and all, but I was actually kind of excited to see some affordable yet awesome toys that I may have never heard of.

You have undoubtedly heard of them, but a serious answer to this question: Legos! Other than the Barbies I enacted numerous melodramatic lengthy dramas with, the legos were the toys that I played with the longest and most frequently. As a bonus, those very same legos, many of which were passed on to me from my older brother and came with us when we moved to California from Germany, have since been equally popular with my numerous younger cousins. I am now in my 20s, but our parents still have those legos in the house, and they get pulled out for successive generations of my little cousins to play with every time they visit.

You don't even need to get one of those more expensive, fancy sets of legos based off of Harry Potter or Transformers or something: your basic set of legos is really all you need.
posted by yasaman at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2011


I'm very happy that Kirth Gerson points out that people are willing to share their balls. I like it when I get to play with balls too.

You all are totally welcome to play with my balls.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


oh man, yeah, TUBE. It was right around the time I learned how to fling STEEL BALL BEARING with surprising speed and accuracy using TUBE that I finally lost TUBE privileges.
posted by logicpunk at 11:06 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


penduluum: "I know Matches is a controversial pick nowadays, but I think if you really try to engage with it in the context of its time, it's undeniable."

Matches all the way. Of course, being a timid, middle class child, I used to combine Matches with Old Biscuit Tin, for "safely" containing Fire made of Leaves.
posted by jack_mo at 11:09 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


You should read the follow-up post the author did recently, after the 5 Best Toys post became popular. The follow-up addresses Ball, among other things.

Incidentally, it's not a year-end list, just a list -- note that it was published at the end of January of this year.

(I've been desperately waiting for someone to post this article -- I'm the Managing Editor of GeekDad, so couldn't.)
posted by cerebus19 at 11:20 AM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


jquinby: No love for RUBBER BAND, ROCK or SHEET?

Rock is a great expansion pack for Dirt. Mud is also pretty good.
posted by metl_lord at 11:21 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even as a 50-year-old, I am finding that DOG and TENNIS BALL provide great enjoyment.

DOG stands at top of STAIRS, catches T-BALL, then rolls it down the STAIRS back to me.
posted by Billiken at 11:23 AM on December 9, 2011


MetaFilter: You all are totally welcome to play with my balls.
posted by Billiken at 11:24 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love how he ends the follow-up.

Excuse me, I have something in my eye.
posted by epersonae at 11:24 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh god yes. This is so true.

As a kid, my dad owned a farm supply store. He sold appliances and all sorts of stuff that came in big boxes. I used to build spaceships out of these. Real, life-size spaceships that I flew around the neighborhood in. Or at least to my memory, I did.

There were also huge, 50 lb kraft paper bags that I used for smaller constructions.

Someday, I'm going to make my grandkids crap themselves with a kid-sized lunar spacecraft made out of cardboard.
posted by Mcable at 11:29 AM on December 9, 2011


Best childhood toy: an old 55-gallon drum that my dad used occasionally to test his outboard motor in.

We used to do "astronaut training" by rolling down hills inside that thing. Sometimes we'd play lumberjack by "logrolling" it down the hill with us on top.

Yes, of course we got hurt. A lot.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 11:37 AM on December 9, 2011


I had a roommate who brought home an eight foot cardboard tube* from his job. He'd been idly mentioning for a year or so that it would make a great um....accessory, and finally I told him that he'd better just bring the damn thing home so we could see.

Boy am I glad I invested in bunk beds for the apartment when he moved out, because I got to keep the tube. Had to have at least two friends over to use the damn thing.

But cardboard tube definitely makes my list awesome things.


*those huge window posters you see in shops? they ship in...cardboard tubes.
posted by bilabial at 11:38 AM on December 9, 2011


LOG is implicitly included in the list as it is a super-sized variant of STICK.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:41 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


bilabial, I can't help feeling there's some part of your comment that I'm not understanding.
posted by vanar sena at 11:41 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


PILLOWFORT?

I was partial to the blanket fort, personally.
posted by asnider at 11:43 AM on December 9, 2011


Because where, goddammit, is Ball?

Every Pixar film, for starters, which is why its omission was so glaring.
posted by Gelatin at 11:44 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


And to keep on topic: my favourite adolescent was Abandoned Combine Harvester, but I had to go find one of those on my own. Parents just don't understand when and why a kid would need one of those.
posted by vanar sena at 11:44 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


adolescent _toy_, dammit. The harvester itself was geriatric.
posted by vanar sena at 11:45 AM on December 9, 2011


The biggest lie ever told? "This bag is not a toy".
posted by Fnarf at 11:45 AM on December 9, 2011


Second place? Somebody call 911, because I've been robbed.
posted by box at 11:46 AM on December 9, 2011 [21 favorites]


if you mention to your average person about Ball they're going to assume an item manufactured to be Ball and for sale as Ball.

Unlike, say, String.
posted by Gelatin at 11:46 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Soundwave is the goddamned best toy of all time.

----------
Growing up poor I didn't have many "new" toys, and I was quite content with the wooden milk-bottles (that I pretended were grenades), and the plain LEGOs (fuck you I'll call them Legos if I want!)

Not that I didn't have a few transformers (and the cheap rip-offs for us poor kids -- but I didn't care - it transformed? cool!)

----------
When my nephews were really young, they were opening the paper, and the youngest one said "IT'S A BOX!!!!!!!!" Seriously happy about a box.

Then he opened it up got the toy out, and the next package contained batteries.

"IT'S BATTERIES!!!!"

Any toy is the best toy with a strong enough imagination :)
posted by symbioid at 11:48 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh cardboard tube was awesome. I put one on my hand and pretended I had a cannon fist. I'd also take toilet paper tubes, and kind of press down with a force on one side so they'd go spinning and I drew faces on them and pretended that they were little breakdancers. Upvote for Cardboard tube!
posted by symbioid at 11:50 AM on December 9, 2011


My dad was awesome. Around my preschool age he got a hankering to fill up a low spot in the back yard and ordered a couple dumptruck loads of dirt which got piled at the end of our driveway. Years later, the back yard still had a low spot that flooded and the dirt pile had dug out trenches for army men, bast craters from M80s (and anything else I could make explode), mud pits and waterfalls powered by the garden hose. Then around 4th grade when my parents divorced and I had to move, surprisingly the new house also had a low spot that would need filling and I got a new pile of dirt.

He also brought back an industrial sized box from his work at the steel plant. It was the size of a van and made the best playhouse. It had windows and a door that opened and closed and was strong enough for me to climb around on and take naps on the roof.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:50 AM on December 9, 2011


Oh god, how I loved big cardboard appliance boxes...
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:51 AM on December 9, 2011


Limmy also endorses the cardboard box
posted by symbioid at 11:54 AM on December 9, 2011


Box, string, and cardboard tube are not things that come for free, but rather things that you can probably get for free because someone else paid for them in some form.

In that spirit, I propose: magnifying glass. Not for looking at stuff, but for engraving things and setting them on fire WITH THE POWER OF THE SUN. Amaze your friends. Impress (and theoretically wound slower-moving) enemies. Brand your family's garden tools, and random kids' sneakers. 100% awesomeness guaranteed*.

* guarantee seasonally operative in the land of the midnight sun
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:02 PM on December 9, 2011


Ironically, this list doubles as the Five Best CAT Toys of All Time. (Of all time!)
posted by mudpuppie at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Orange crate.

Well, bunch of orange crates, sheets of plywood, and saw horses. 'Cause you can build anything with those.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:06 PM on December 9, 2011


I'm going to have bilabial's comment knocking around my head confusing me for the rest of the day, now...
posted by Navelgazer at 12:28 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


when i was a kid, my best friend and i played "whiffle ball" for hours in the back yard - we had a nicer stick than most (baseball bat), but it'd crush the whiffle balls to bits in short order, so we started to make them from the scoops inside drink mix packages (man, we drank a LOT of Wylers/KoolAid!), reinforced with tape. Suckers'd curve a mile, if thrown correctly. Great Fun, not much money...
posted by slaxer at 12:31 PM on December 9, 2011


epersonae: "Excuse me, I have something in my eye."

Is it Dirt?
posted by Deathalicious at 12:31 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


* Batteries not included

(good movie, btw)
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:35 PM on December 9, 2011


Best childhood toy: an old 55-gallon drum that my dad used occasionally to test his outboard motor in.

The house I grew up in Detroit (mentioned above) shared an alley with some kind of a small manufacturing business. I don't know what they made, but every week with their trash, they placed about a half-dozen empty blue steel drums. They were probably about 10 gallon size, the kind with steel ends but a punch-out area on one end to serve as a spout.

We had great fun with those, stacking them, throwing them, building forts with them, and often laying a piece of old, splintery plywood across 4 or 5 of them, and propelling ourselves along while one of use grabbed the rearmost can and moved it to the front to keep the plywood moving along. That is, until it got going too fast and whomever was riding the plywood "magic carpet" was uncerimoniously thrown headlong to the ground, scraping along the splntery plywood in the process.

Those blue cans always had a weird residual smell of their former contents, which may have been instrumental in helping our crashes not hurt so much. The label was clearly marked, but we really didn't know what "Ether" was.

Ah, growing up in the 60s! When splintery wood and hazardous chemicals were still A-OK to use as playthings!
posted by The Deej at 12:41 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hey kid, you want a toy?
posted by eye of newt at 12:45 PM on December 9, 2011


MetaFilter: there's big money in Balls.
posted by Splunge at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2011


This was awesome. I played with sticks. And grass and leaves. I started this huge six month long game in elementary school where we used leaves as currency. But only certain kinds of leaves.
posted by thelastcamel at 12:49 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


My sisters and I liked to take a box (preferably the kind you buy with 50 little individual bags of chips in it, you know the kind, rectangular and shallow) and use it to sled down the stairwell in our house.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:55 PM on December 9, 2011


They left out the humble Tree, which can provide most of this stuff! It gives sticks, and if it bears fruit you can use the unripe ones as makeshift balls. Then when they're ripe you can eat them. Make a hammock out of a sheet, or add a tire on a rope, and you never need to get out of the tree until it's dinner time.

I spent a good part of my childhood in trees. Usually guava trees. Those suckers hurt if you throw 'em hard enough.
posted by cmyk at 12:56 PM on December 9, 2011


Unlike, say, String.

Having read the follow-up article, I see that the writer covered that base: unlike a ball, string isn't sold as a toy* (though, as he points out, you can make a ball out of it).

*Except, of course, for Silly String.
posted by Gelatin at 1:06 PM on December 9, 2011


I think I'll stick to Legos and my bike. If my parents had got me a stick and some mud for christmas I would have thrown myself under a bus.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:27 PM on December 9, 2011


"Matches all the way. Of course, being a timid, middle class child, I used to combine Matches with Old Biscuit Tin, for 'safely' containing Fire made of Leaves."

Huh. You know, I've never thought about this before, but I really didn't play with fire as a kid. Not because I wasn't supposed to, but because it wasn't very interesting to me. Things burned. I was fascinated with campfires and fireplace fires, though.

Anyway, do most kids, or most boys (assuming there's any gender difference here) play with matches and fire growing up? Because if I didn't and it's unusual, I wonder what that means.

On the other hand, I did play with Drano once outside in a little model lake and stream I made in the dirt. I was totally expecting some dramatic chemical reaction, but was completely underwhelmed. I could even put my hands in it without harm. Also, about the same time, this was when I was about seven, I combined all the stuff in my chemistry set and poured it on the lawn, hoping to produce a patch of permanently dead grass. That was disappointing, too.

One time, I convinced some nearby transportation workers to part with some concrete when they were building a sidewalk or something. I had them pour a bit in a plastic tub. Damn, that thing was heavy. I had to drag it all the way back home. I don't recall, but I think my parents weren't happy with this big lump of hardened concrete they found in the yard later.

Some of you guys lived privileged lives what with your giant boxes, and all. I'd have done something desperate to get one of those van-sized cardboard boxes. Wow. I was always building forts and houses and stuff, anyway. A huge box would have been nirvana for me.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:31 PM on December 9, 2011


As a person who thinks kids are awesome -- even other people's kids -- but won't have any of my own, I think this list is severely missing toys that make lots and lots of noise.

(My parents and another couple they were friends with had an ongoing war -- accidentally started by my parents who did not have kids when they met -- giving gifts to the other's children that made noise. By the time this skirmish got to my younger brother, who was, from birth, the most prone to be loud, a peace was negotiated.)

I was partial to the blanket fort, personally.


When I was very young, my mom sewed onto a sheet some fabric that said "Mike's Fort" and made it so it fitted to a card table and cut in windows and a door. I haven't thought about it for a while, but would more often if asked to come up with a list of 'best toys' or 'best gifts' more often.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:36 PM on December 9, 2011


When I was very young, my mom sewed onto a sheet some fabric that said "Mike's Fort" and made it so it fitted to a card table and cut in windows and a door. I haven't thought about it for a while, but would more often if asked to come up with a list of 'best toys' or 'best gifts' more often.

I love it! I might have to do something like when/if I have children. Although, I always thought that half of the fun was building a new configuration every time you setup a fort.
posted by asnider at 1:38 PM on December 9, 2011


Bonus toy: Duct Tape.

Call us what you want, but our kids *love* that duct tape in their stockings.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:38 PM on December 9, 2011


Note, duct tape when applied to brother's head results in Severe Punishment.
posted by maxwelton at 1:41 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Scissors and dry cleaning bags.
posted by ericb at 1:51 PM on December 9, 2011


I know I'm way late on this, but:

Metafilter: There's big money in Balls
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 1:54 PM on December 9, 2011


Anyway, do most kids, or most boys (assuming there's any gender difference here) play with matches and fire growing up? Because if I didn't and it's unusual, I wonder what that means.

I made that first comment as a joke, but yeah, I played with fire as a kid. Mainly in the campfire sense you're talking about, but occasionally with actual matches. My grandfather had a lot of these ... almost industrial-looking candles, just big plain white candles, and I'd light those and then play with various things in the flames. Twigs, flowers. As I got older, army men.

He also had an awesome workshop that I played in a lot, so it's identified in my mind with playing with hatchets, saws, kite string and scrap wood, that kind of thing. Collecting acorns to squeeze in the vice.

The playing with fire ended, as it always does, with me burning the everliving fuck out of myself. There was this big tarp in the backyard handing over my grandmother's plants, and it accidentally blew into the flame, and I realized that as it burnt and melted it made the most incredible growling/ripping sound. So I burnt a corner of it a little bit, enjoying the noise, and it melted and dripped a single drop onto my thumb. Worst pain I'd ever felt, at the time. And that ended all that.
posted by penduluum at 1:58 PM on December 9, 2011


Pocketknife.

Full disclosure: a quarter-inch scar on the outside of my left pinky, from before I got good at whittling, casts its vote for "cardboard tube" instead.
posted by amy lecteur at 2:03 PM on December 9, 2011


yeah, I played with fire as a kid

We used to make model ships and fill them with glue light them afire and send them out on a pond, waiting for the fire to reach the M80 that was buried in the middle. Once we got ambitious and put tiny eyebolts in models of fighter planes, filled them with glue, and sent them flaming down a wire strung between two trees. We also would do fun stuff like set fire to a can of lighter fluid to see just how seriously we should take our parents' warnings -- the damn thing just burned like a votive candle until we got bored.

The one time we got in trouble was when we were thrusting full sheets of newspaper, opened wide, into the roaring fireplace, where they would be sucked up into and out of the chimney with a ferocious WHOOMP, upon which we would run outside and watch the still-burning sheet of paper float around in the breeze outside. Ahem.

posted by Fnarf at 2:06 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Regarding Box.

My brother had crushed a box and was sitting on it, putting it at the end of the stairs, holding the front up so it didn't catch and sliding down the stairs with it like a sled.

After god knows how long watching this I begged to go for a run. He said fine, but you know what would be so COOL?! Get INSIDE the box and slide down!!

I still have the scar.
posted by Staples at 2:06 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pocketknife
I got a pocketknife for Christmas one year, a gorgeous little Buck knife, and literally the very firsst thing I did with it was slice a piece off the end of my thumb the size of a dime, testing it out on a piece of cardboard. Genius.
posted by Fnarf at 2:08 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


And though it's been mentioned in the fire comments, I would like to add CHEMICALS.
Mixing chemicals and seeing what would happen is always a good time.

How long will it take for a leaky bleach bottle to burn through a pallet in the alley? How much will it hurt to pee if I drink a liter of vinegar? etc etc...
posted by Staples at 2:09 PM on December 9, 2011


Pocketknife
I got a pocketknife for Christmas one year, a gorgeous little Buck knife, and literally the very firsst thing I did with it was slice a piece off the end of my thumb the size of a dime, testing it out on a piece of cardboard. Genius.


Haha! I remember trying to "wipe off" the grease on the blade of my new Swiss Army knife the second I opened it like I'd brush crumbs off of a table and wondering where all that blood was coming from. Our poor parents probably thought their kids were morons.
posted by resurrexit at 2:17 PM on December 9, 2011


I was privileged - we lived next to a stream, so I got to play with WATER and DIRT together. I used to dam up the stream, and fight to keep it plugged as long as possible.

Hours and hours and hours of fun.
posted by richyoung at 2:40 PM on December 9, 2011


"Haha! I remember trying to "wipe off" the grease on the blade of my new Swiss Army knife the second I opened it like I'd brush crumbs off of a table and wondering where all that blood was coming from. Our poor parents probably thought their kids were morons."

I always had pocketknives from pretty early in childhood, at least six or seven. But that was a long time ago, the late sixties/early seventies. Parents are more paranoid about things like that these days. Then, most boys had pocketknives.

Even so, I cut myself badly with mine when I was ten. I had a toy, some battery powered thing, that was a genie bottle that somehow made a bit of smoke. It didn't work right and I thought I knew how to fix it. (I took everything I owned, and much I didn't, apart from the age of two onward—around nine or ten, or so, I started to learn how to put things back together.) I was cutting into the plastic and my hand slipped, slicing down though my other hand at the base of my thumb, severing the tendon. Thirty-seven years later, it's still a pretty visible scar, and you can feel the kind of knot under the skin where the doctor somehow reconnected the tendon.

I don't know—there's lots of stories here of children injuring themselves while playing unsafely. I can't fault the desire and trend to keep kids more safe and prevent injury, but it seems like hurting yourself and learning lessons the hard way is an essential component of growing up. I know that I learned from the incident above to (almost always) consider how I'm holding something when I cut with the other hand. I also learned, as a stupid teen, not to open windows by pushing on the glass. D'uh.

Speaking of rolling downhill in things, I distinctly remember in preschool several of us got ahold of an old truck tire and positioned ourselves inside it and got it rolling downhill. It was a mess, we each were (mildly) injured in some way. But it had to be done, of course. Rolling downhill inside something satisfies some insane childhood urge.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:44 PM on December 9, 2011


Rocks can be multipurpose as well; some for throwing (especially into ponds) but where I grew up we had these iron-oxide-rich orange rocks that made good chalk for sidewalks. Weeds and doodlebugs are also good for hours of fun.

Later of course, there was Porn Somebody Left in a Ditch. But that's a different story.
posted by emjaybee at 2:58 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Later of course, there was Porn Somebody Left in a Ditch. But that's a different story."

Yes, but it's an interesting story...especially now that things have changed so much.

That was certainly, and weirdly (from my perspective now), about one-fourth of how I acquired porn as a teen. Well, one lucky find could account for the larger portion of a collection. One afternoon, I took the trash out to the bin in the alley and there were something like thirty hard-core porn magazines in it. It was like God had specifically decided to shower me with glories.

I didn't see a porn film/video until the summer after I graduated from high school, and then only because this was just at the beginning of the home VCR era and my cousin had found his dad's porn stash.

Things were very different then. I have some difficulty getting my head around how much different the world is now for teens with regard to porn.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:11 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


around nine or ten, or so, I started to learn how to put things back together

Ah. I never really progressed to that stage. To this day, I have a habit of leaving little tiny screws and bits and bobs everywhere I go. And people know to take their belongings out of my hands and put them away if I pick them up, because that's where a lot of those little tiny screws and whatnot come from. Oops.
posted by Fnarf at 3:55 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, of course, we had it tough. We used to 'ave to get up out of shoebox at twelve o'clock at night and lick road clean wit' tongue. We had two bits of cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at mill for sixpence every four years, and when we got home our Dad would slice us in two wit' bread knife.
posted by bxyldy at 4:17 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I saw these kids the other day checking out sticks on the side of the road, but you just know they're gonna end up getting them from Amazon instead, the little shits.

Damn kids, they get into smuggling tropical hardwoods so early these days.
posted by atrazine at 4:46 PM on December 9, 2011


I was privileged - we lived next to a stream, so I got to play with WATER and DIRT together. I used to dam up the stream, and fight to keep it plugged as long as possible.

Oh man, I would do this ALL THE TIME at my grandparents' house with the assistance of STICK and (Seasonally Available) LEAVES. I would have to be very surreptitious of my stream damming efforts as if I were caught with STICK and LEAVES plugging up the brook... my cookie futures would certainly suffer, to say the least.

As a kid, I certainly couldn't get why the hell WOULDN'T you want that brook in your backyard to be all dammed up in random spots? Adults were so boring.
posted by sonika at 6:17 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


"As a kid, I certainly couldn't get why the hell WOULDN'T you want that brook in your backyard to be all dammed up in random spots? Adults were so boring."

My great-grandmother, with whom I spent a lot of time throughout my childhood, lived in a north valley neighborhood that through much of her life was semi-rural. These days, it's been incorporated into its own little exclusive village surrounded by the city proper. But it was a pretty modest neighborhood back then.

But these were big lots, where people grew stuff and kept chickens and the like. My great-grandfather, before I was born, converted their chicken-coop into a small guest house, where his sister-in-law lived until her death. (Weird trivia: she owned or managed the country-western nightclub where Glen Campbell got his start.)

Anyway, the point is that they had irrigation available from the river, in controlled irrigation ditches.

I vividly recall—keep in mind, I must have been no more than three or four—the first time I went with her to open up the sluice gate to the irrigation, and watching it flood the little channel and then her garden. That was the coolest thing I'd ever seen and I had the most intense desire to play with it. But she informed me that its use was strictly controlled and that she could open it up only on certain days and such and made it extremely clear to me that it wasn't to be touched. But, damn, I could imagine all the sorts of fun things that could be done with that water and controlling it.

I mean, hell, right now I want to play with irrigation ditch sluices and the water. I don't know why. It just sounds like fun.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:38 PM on December 9, 2011


I spent several happy summers at an awesome camp and the first thing I think of is making dams in the creek for an hour at a time. I can still feel the smooth stones that hundreds of boys had moved into place before me.

Then some ten year old genius had the idea of making ships in shop so we could use dams to make racing courses.
posted by shothotbot at 8:16 PM on December 9, 2011


When I was 12, I played often at my friend's house, which was Box Fort Nirvana. And I'll tell you why: she lived at the edge of the subdivision, and on the other side of her back fence was a retail area, along a huge major road. And right over the fence was... an appliance store! It was called Silo, and as you may guess, we regularly found giant boxes out back and threw them over the fence, and there you go! We would build our forts on her back porch, and leave a small hole in the side. The small hole was for the vent from her clothes dryer, which was located in the basement. So we'd build our fort, get all cozy inside, and then she'd go throw some towels in the dryer and we had heat. It was fucking awesome. I think we spent the night in there once or twice.

Once, her family's indoor cats both got loose, and the next morning they were found in our box fort. KITTEHS SAVED!

I mean, hell, right now I want to play with irrigation ditch sluices and the water. I don't know why. It just sounds like fun.

We played this at my elementary school after heavy rains. Digging ditches in the sand (which for some reason worked superbly with this level of rain) with our hands, making lakes and streams, damming them up, arguing over water resources and sloshing the water up and down streams with our hands.

Which reminds me: in 2005 my family took a vacation in San Diego, and there's a playground there that has a water spewing source of some sort. My memory is a bit hazy, but I know I started digging troughs in the sand to control the flow of water, and all the kids really got into it. It was a blast!
posted by marble at 8:21 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


My 16 year old has a pocket knife from his late great grandfather. He sits around whittling while being taciturn. I think he's trying to grow up to be Ron Swanson, who would probably approve of the toys on this list.

I wish I had a box.
posted by Biblio at 9:19 PM on December 9, 2011


AC/DC: There's big money in Balls

I have to go with Ball.
*wipes off profuse sweating*
In fact, I just got Ball for my kids. Makes them happy. The instructions are a bit weird though.
"Do not taunt" WTF is that about?
But it is fun to watch it suddenly acceperate throug the living rom.

Man, I gotta take a break, my hearti s racsing herrreeeeeeeeex dddddd
posted by Smedleyman at 9:25 PM on December 9, 2011


Hammer. Nails. Scrap lumber.

Nothing else is needed.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:38 PM on December 9, 2011


Hammer. Nails. Scrap lumber.

Nothing else is needed.


Well, except for updated tetanus shots and a good supply of bandaids.
posted by emjaybee at 10:43 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know Matches is a controversial pick nowadays, but I think if you really try to engage with it in the context of its time, it's undeniable.

MATCHES always went well with CIGARETTES. Later, we coupled that with BOX OF WINE.
posted by sharpener at 12:59 AM on December 10, 2011


You can also use Snow to make dams and redirect water. My middle school Biology teacher once mentioned that he'd seen me doing that in the schoolyard after school. Now I know he said it with envy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:55 AM on December 10, 2011


I can't recall ever playing with anything that was specifically marketed as a toy or game. But I had endless fun with the objects adults used.

Old fashioned label maker. The kind that embosses words into little plastic adhesive strips. That thing was awesome. Also, a printing calculator that goes CHOMP-CHOMP-CHOMP.

I knew someone who's dad procured the box for an MRI machine that went in at the local hospital. Imagine a refrigerator box, but like 5 times the size, and much sturdier. It sat on their porch for at least a year and was a major attraction.

An egg slicer (with the array of little wires). I could STILL play with that all day.

A double-A battery, two wires, and a tiny incandescent light bulb. The best part was adding another battery and watching the bulb explode.

A magnifying glass. A prism. A magnifying mirror. Anything that plays with your vision, really.

A shortwave radio. Hearing snatches of voices in languages you don't understand is endlessly fascinating.

A pair of dice quickly leads to all kinds of interesting games.

A digital camera. We didn't have those growing up, but I lent a 4-year-old cousin one recently and she played with it all day. No one had ever trusted her with one before!

A length of rope tied tightly between two trees.

Free reign of the kitchen for a day.

I made my own bed when I was 13. As in, I told my dad what lengths of wood to cut, drilled the holes, screwed the thing together, and even painted it. Fell apart on the first night. of course. We fixed it up so it would actually hold together, and it lasted another 12 years.
posted by miyabo at 10:13 PM on December 10, 2011


An egg slicer (with the array of little wires). I could STILL play with that all day.

Ah ha! Maybe that explains the 8 year old grandkid's fascination with the hinged tea spoon steeper, the tea ball, the masher and my (expensive!) whisks.

Leave my kitchen utensils alone, you brat!

Also, anything you can pry apart that has ball bearings in it.

Hasn't anyone mentioned blanket forts yet? Teh best!

Also great fun was going to the place where the one kid had a fancy three swing metal swing set and together swinging hard enough to rip the anchors out and dump that sucker over. Her dad eventually banished me from the back yard after we made a mud bog out of 3/4 of his lawn.

Good times.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:13 PM on December 11, 2011


We were adults. We did not include any children in our adventures with the 8 foot cardboard tube.

It was the largest tobacco pipe any of our friends had ever seen.
posted by bilabial at 3:14 PM on December 12, 2011


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