Let the Force Be with You

Let the Force Be with You

Here’s a little story about the difference between transportation and “being transported” while at play. Cooking up the story requires three ingredients, Mario Kart (the video game), your memory of the first Star Wars film, and a bicycle. OK, let’s start with Mario Kart. One afternoon a few years ago a group of neighborhood 12-year-olds…

A Tide of Tub Toys

A Tide of Tub Toys

Here’s a story about global toy distribution that’s driven by natural forces rather than consumer trends. There are few things I like better than heading to the beach to get lost in a good book. I read every day for my job at the museum, but my beach reading is play. Mark Twain was right…

Quidditch for Muggles

Quidditch for Muggles

How does a fictional game become real on college campuses? It starts with J. K. Rowling’s fabulously successful Harry Potter series (1997–2007), which has sold more than 400 million books in 67 languages and has accounted almost on its own for a revival of reading in a generation of otherwise distracted kids. Of course, adults…

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Sixfinger, Sixfinger, Man Alive! How Did I Ever Get along with Five?

Sixfinger, Sixfinger, Man Alive! How Did I Ever Get along with Five?

If you’re the right age and you spot Sixfinger among other Cold War spy toys on the museum’s second floor, it will bring back a flood of memories. I was too old in 1965 to have owned the Sixfinger toy, but not too old to be intrigued by the fantasy behind it. From movies and…

Food, Fashion, Florence, and Fooling Around

Food, Fashion, Florence, and Fooling Around

Here’s a little story about how foreign travel is the kind of play that keeps you on your toes. Many years ago, my wife and I traveled with friends to Venice, Florence, and Rome. The middle destination, Florence, has a thousand-year tradition of entertaining tourists and, to put it mildly, they’re pretty good at it….

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Haven’t We Seen this One Before?

Haven’t We Seen this One Before?

Work and play aren’t opposites, far from it. Here’s a story about how it’s sometimes hard to see the difference between a task and a pastime. On the recent Memorial Day weekend, my “honey-do” list included fetching our fluffy puppy from the groomer; he’d been overdue for his seasonal trim. Walk-ins flooded the salon because…

The Spirit of the Game?

The Spirit of the Game?

A game is never only a game. Here’s a story about how play and culture and history are never far apart and how it’s easiest to discover this when you encounter unfamiliar rules. Some years ago my daughter’s soccer team traveled to a tournament in Canada’s beautiful capital, Ottawa, to make a brave stand against…

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Bode’s Wild Play: Skiing in a Whirlwind

Bode’s Wild Play: Skiing in a Whirlwind

Watching the Winter games in Vancouver has me thinking about that cowboy Bode Miller, America’s best and most versatile skier ever, and what his riotous style says about play and competition at the highest levels. Miller has chalked up an unmatched list of victories in each of the different alpine events— 32 World Cup trophies…

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Lincoln Logs: A Name that Fits

Lincoln Logs: A Name that Fits

Sometimes powerful symbols sustain the longest lasting toys. Lincoln Logs, a favorite for nearly a century, is the best example. We long admired the pioneers for their hard work and ingenuity as they turned the trees of the new world’s forest into simple and sturdy log cabins. The inventor of Lincoln Logs, John Lloyd Wright…

The Top: Start Here

The Top: Start Here

Start with a top. It’s simple, cheap, fun, unbreakable, and memorable; its principles, too, serve as the basis for several other toys. Assembled from a sharpened peg with a wheel attached, you spin the top between a thumb and forefinger and then let it go. The spin creates angular momentum that increases the mass of…

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