From Luxury to Affordability

From Luxury to Affordability

One of the most interesting stories of the history of play in North America is its economic “democratization.” Broadly speaking, over the course of the late 19th century and throughout the 20th, a rising standard of living allowed more North Americans to devote extra time to playing.

Badminton May Be Savage, but Croquet Is Wicket

Badminton May Be Savage, but Croquet Is Wicket

Here’s a surprise: blogging can become a kind of high-order play. I rediscover this every time readers send me witty ripostes; I learn a lot from these comebacks too.

Will the Postmodern Skateboard Find the Sweet Spot?

Will the Postmodern Skateboard Find the Sweet Spot?

Invented in the 1950s to simulate surfing on land, the skateboard enjoyed a second wave of popularity 20 years later as a West Coast drought obliged residents to drain their backyard swimming pools. The drought resulted in a wealth of vacant, dry, sloping, and gently-curved concrete surfaces that tempted skateboarders to sneak in and show…

Brian Sutton-Smith—He Helped us Find Our Way on the Playground

Brian Sutton-Smith—He Helped us Find Our Way on the Playground

I first heard of Brian Sutton-Smith when I was an undergraduate at Bowling Green University in Ohio. Though he had by then moved on to Columbia Teacher’s College, the campus still reverberated with stories of the inspired teaching and impish good humor of this prolific young scholar, a dashing New Zealand import fully in tune…

Solving the Mystery of the Angel of the Asphalt

Solving the Mystery of the Angel of the Asphalt

A friend sent me this striking image a collector had reproduced as a postcard in 1993, and titled “Angel of the Asphalt: A Miracle on Maplewood Drive.” The attribution on the back guessed its original date at 1954. Irony had accumulated over those four decades between the original and the reproduction. The collector, in a…

Toys for the Busy Executive

Toys for the Busy Executive

Do you keep a toy on your desk? Perhaps one of those widgets like a Newton’s Cradle with its clacking, momentum-conserving chrome spheres; the mysterious Magic 8 Ball with its looming messages; that perpetual motion drinking-bird thingamabob; or maybe the insoluble Rubik’s Cube? A recent conversation with Julie Lasky, the New York Times feature writer,…

The Vacation: Typically American?

The Vacation: Typically American?

We think of “the vacation” as a typically American invention. The trip to the beach in summer, the fall color tour, the week at the ski resort in winter, and the excursion to the theme park during Spring break mark American calendars and give an exuberant rhythm to the year.

A Drone of My Own: Toys and Technology

A Drone of My Own: Toys and Technology

This Christmas an online commerce company (you know which I’m talking about) failed to cancel an order in my wish-list and so delivered to our front door a foot-long, remote-controlled, battery-powered, blimp-shaped, gyro-stabilized toy drone. At the museum, I’m up to my ears in thinking and writing about play and toys, but playing is another…

Please Christmas Don’t Be Late!

Please Christmas Don’t Be Late!

I count the chance to watch A Christmas Story, a film based on the recollections of the radio raconteur and writer Jean Shepherd, as one of the distinct joys of the season.

Tracking Irony Across Lionel Trains History

Tracking Irony Across Lionel Trains History

The historian’s craft always requires probing the past for significance. Making sense of bygone events obliges investigators to guard against irrelevance and superstition. We historians aren’t numerologists or astrologers, and so we sort out ironies and coincidences from meaningful events.