Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history.

Getting Away: Is It a Vacation or Trip?

Vacation, about 1986. Photograph courtesy of Victoria Gray. Vacation. It’s a pleasant-sounding word and an even nicer thought. Most folks sigh at the very mention of it or even get a wistful, far-off look, whether they’re thinking about an upcoming planned getaway or just wishfully dreaming of one (as many of us are these days).

There are scientific studies dedicated to proving the legitimate health benefits of regular vacations, research that most of us would favorably support. On the other hand, I’ve also encountered people who have just returned to town only to utter the phrase “It’s wasn’t a vacation, it was a trip!” while looking completely exasperated, the implication being it was not quite the relaxing getaway they had envisioned. In general, it seems this response corresponds directly to the individual’s travel companion(s). Which makes me reconsider the years of family vacations I remember so fondly as a kid. Were my parents those people who returned to work harried and exhausted, touting our vacation as “a trip!” to friends and coworkers? Were my brothers and I terrible travel companions?!

Card deck, souvenir of New York City, about 1990. The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Regardless of how our individual vacation experiences may stack up, it’s clear that the industry of vacations certainly isn’t going anywhere, a notion substantiated by the trove of vacation-related artifacts housed at The Strong. Postcards, photographs, toys, games, hats, keychains—items of all shapes and sizes. While souvenir trinkets often boast a seemingly idyllic locale, photographs and handwritten postcards are likely to capture a more realistic experience. The museum’s extensive postcard collection holds some beautiful handwritten messages—and a few others. In one such exchange between friends Flop and Chub in 1906, it seems that things have gone horribly awry for poor Chub. The same applies to photos; some are breathtaking and picturesque while others capture those candid moments vacationers might rather forget. Regardless of where or when we go, one thing is certain: vacationers always return with a story. Good or bad, there’s usually at least one. Some are so ridiculous they’ll be told over and over again, regaling others and fueling fits of laughter, shock, or awe.

Postcard, 1906. The Strong, Rochester, New York. So next time you take break from your routine for some time away, be sure to bring back the best souvenir of all: a story to share. We could all use a little getaway from the day-to-day, even if it’s just a momentary escape in our minds. Would you call it a vacation or trip? It doesn’t matter. You’ll likely have an audience either way.

Domestic Hobbies: Flattening the Curve from Home

It feels so long ago when I last wrote about domestic hobbies as play. It was indeed a different world—if we told our past selves what our lives look like now, we wouldn’t believe ourselves.

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Toy Fair 2020: Things That Make You Go Eww

In 2018, the toy industry saw a significant increase in toys related to potty humor. Some critics speculated that this was based on the popularity of the smiling poop emoji on the iPhone, while others associated the trend with the new generation of parents raised on South Park’s Mr. Hankey, The Simpsons, and Family Guy. Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., author of Playful Parenting, noted that the sensory experience of using the bathroom combined with the “hush-hush privacy and secrecy” creates the opportune moment for children to get a reaction from adults.

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Michigan in New York

Mary Valentine The Strong Museum Trustee  

When I was a kid, Sundays were my favorite day of the week, because my dad was home (he worked Monday through Saturday) and we got to play the card game Michigan.

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Playing with Almost Nothing

In these days of lockdowns and social distancing, resourcefulness has become a watchword in so many facets of our lives. All of us are working to become a little more adept at making the most of what’s immediately at hand in our homes. Fortunately, when it comes to play, sometimes the primary raw material turns out to be ingenuity—something that doesn’t require a trip to the store or an online purchase.

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A Soft Spot for Blanket Forts

You look up from your work email after hearing muffled giggles and the sounds of shuffling furniture, with a vague feeling that every single blanket in your house is being dragged to a central location. Don’t be alarmed, though—it’s just someone building a blanket fort!

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Building a Settlement: German-style Games in North America

January brought the start of a new year and also the start of a new project. I began to inventory and process the Mayfair Games archival materials that were donated to The Strong museum in 2017. In an effort to learn more about the company, I started reading about the board games, card games, and role-playing games it produced. I quickly learned that Settlers of Catan, one of Mayfair Games’ most recognizable titles, not only ranks as an awesome game, but also has a history that changed the gaming industry.
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Screen Time…Then and Now

With many of us spending more time at home right now, it’s likely that our screen time—time spent in front of our televisions, laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc.— has increased a bit.

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Activity Sets: Playing with Glass, Foil, Plastic, and Goop

Spending most of my time at home with my young children has revealed that I’m not especially innovative when it comes to crafts. Thankfully, there are people willing to experiment with materials to develop activity kits and craft ideas for kids. Their work has resulted in some notable successes, as well as a few questionable developments over the years.

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Playing with Sidewalk Chalk Brings Us Together While We’re Apart

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Family Aggravation

However much you care for them, there’s no denying that families can be aggravating. That said, in my experience growing up, aggravation wasn’t an emotional response to stresses in our household—it meant Aggravation, my family’s favorite board game.

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