Why Is a Football Football-Shaped?

Why Is a Football Football-Shaped?

This is a good question to which people give several answers. The first is historical: “Football evolved from rugby, so footballs are shaped much like rugby balls, though they are a bit pointier.” This answer is exasperating because it invites another question: “So exactly why are rugby balls shaped that way?” Still thinking historically, clever…

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The Greatest Toy Never Sold

The Greatest Toy Never Sold

Not every Hall of Fame toy comes from a store. Take the cardboard box, for instance. No company advertises it. Parents don’t line up for it during the holiday shopping season. No one sings its jingle. It costs nothing. Yet the cardboard box offers the imagination a feast. With crayons and tempera paint, you can…

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What Goes Around, Comes Around

What Goes Around, Comes Around

When I was twelve, I cared about only two things, and the bicycle wasn’t one of them. I lived for playing football and reading science fiction, especially that genre’s dark prophet, H.G. Wells. I imagined the future the way he did: filled with invading Martians, human evolution gone awry, world anarchy, nuclear chain-reaction, a sputtering,…

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Barbie, You’re Beautiful

Barbie, You're Beautiful

Barbie. Love her or not, you have to admit that she is important. Here are three reasons: 1) Even as the competition creeps up, she’s the essential doll. Nearly all American girls own one and the average girl will own between eight and ten before she ages out of doll play. (I know we had…

The Frisbee: Spinning the Truth

The Frisbee: Spinning the Truth

Some tall tales are so pleasing that you wish they were true. Not the kind that are just mistakes, like believing that John F. Kennedy was a gifted ventriloquist or that Shania Twain is Mark Twain’s great grand-daughter. I’m talking about plausible old yarns like the one about the young George Washington fessing-up to cutting…

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The Ball: Right Back at You, Jon Stewart

The Ball: Right Back at You, Jon Stewart

When the National Toy Hall of Fame inducts new toys each year, people notice—tens of millions notice. Clipping services send us news of the news. We find out that people are reading about inducted toys in Johannesburg, Tokyo, Moscow, Karachi, and New Delhi. And in Azerbaijan and Vanuatu. Two Irish news outlets fought over who…

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Duncan Yo-Yo: Strings Attached

Duncan Yo-Yo: Strings Attached

There’s something liberating about the yo-yo. I keep one on my desk for emergencies—like when a balky sentence has me hanging. You’d be surprised at how a twisted paragraph will straighten out and fly right after a few tosses of a yo-yo. In his superb novel, Stop Time, Frank Conroy wrote, “To yo-yo you have…

Sesame Street at Forty and Still Counting

Sesame Street at Forty and Still Counting

It’s hard to believe that Sesame Street is turning forty. But then again, it’s also hard to believe that Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger, another 60’s figure, is old enough to qualify for a British “old age” pension. Sesame Street has aired long enough for its viewers now to include great-grandparents and great grand-children. Way…

Comic Book Heroes and the Battle of Good vs. Evil

Comic Book Heroes and the Battle of Good vs. Evil

Joseph Campbell, the scholar of comparative myth whose work inspired the Star Wars saga, reminded us that every archetypal hero of fable and fiction is drawn into an adventure, enlists the support of trusted comrades, passes alone beyond a threshold of ordinary endurance, survives the crucial ordeal, and then remerges steeled and restored. Whether his…

Ouija Board: “Yes, Yes” and “Oh, No!”

Ouija Board: “Yes, Yes” and “Oh, No!”

If everybody knew how the Ouija Board worked, would anybody besides a few psychology students play with it?