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.

When Chewing is Play: The Dood and His Toys

If you have ever owned a puppy, you know how they like to chew and chew and then chew some more. Puppies are chewing machines. They chew to celebrate when they’re happy. They chew to calm themselves when they’re anxious. They chew to soothe their erupting teeth and ease the ache in their growing jaws.

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Video Games aMuse Me

From Man Ray and Elizabeth Lee Miller to Picasso and Marie-Therese Walter, the story of an artist and his muse proves just as striking as the artwork itself. Today, video games both inspire art and serve as a muse. Three different video game projects recently caught my fancy.

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The Dollhouse: A 2011 National Toy Hall of Fame Inductee

In case you missed the media blitz, on November 10, the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong announced its 2011 inductees: the dollhouse, Hot Wheels, and the blanket. If you read my early November blog, you know that I thought the puppet, one of the 12 finalists for this year’s induction, was a shoo-in—just goes to show you that even insiders cannot always guess well!

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Practical Jokes as Play: The Spritz, the Sneak, and the Penguin

Here's a story about the important lessons I learned about a peculiar form of play from Tommy, a mischievous high school pal of mine.

Practical Joke, Fake Spilled Beverage


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Sledding 101

It’s 6:30 a.m. on a January morning in 1977 when the alarm clock rings to wake my sister and me for school. I crawl out of bed, look out the window, and notice that it snowed overnight. I can barely see the cars on the street with the thick layer of flakes covering them.

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Thank you Fibonacci for Playing with Numbers

What do play, The DaVinci Code, multiplying rabbits, double-entry bookkeeping, and Roman numerals have to do with discovering the secrets of the universe or at least have to do with finding an easier way to do arithmetic?

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More than Just a Toy

As a kid, I had the good fortune of a basement playroom brimming with toys, from a massive pink Barbie Dream House to bins full of Lego bricks and even an air hockey table. Though I enjoyed all these toys, I gravitated to a box full of blank, hardcover books more than anything else in the basement.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic: A Force-Filled Video Game

When I heard about Bioware’s 2011 release of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic (SW:TOR), nostalgia consumed me and I immediately added it to my wish list. This holiday season, the game proved the shiniest toy under my tree.

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Of Rats and Men: Mammals at Play

Have you ever thought about what rats have in common with comedy club audiences? No? I hadn’t either until I met neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp and some of his students.

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Playing a Maddening Game: Golf Under Pressure

In high school I often worked as a caddy, hitchhiking to a golf course in the morning. (Oh, weren’t those the carefree days.) Flat rate for eighteen holes paid $1.75 for carrying a kangaroo bag with a fifth of scotch stashed in the pouch; if you carried double the rate jumped to $3.50. I used to play golf, too, on the free days when courses accommodated their toilers. And the two facts are not un-connected; it was caddying that cured me of golf.

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