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.

One-on-One Strategy Games

Growing up in a small town on a street full of houses populated by kids my age, I always found ways to occupy my weekends and summers. Often that meant playing next door with my friend Christine, either on her front porch or in her horse-themed bedroom. Time with Christine usually involved a game or two. We liked all kinds: card games (war, go, and gin rummy), board games (Life, Clue, Monopoly, and Charlie’s Angels), and my personal favorite, one-on-one strategy games. Christine and I were well matched and equally competitive in our game play.

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Saving Our Heritage, One Game at a Time

We CHEGheads and everyone else at ICHEG and The Strong are thrilled that we’ve received a grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) for $113,277! Here’s what the grant is for and why it is important.

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With a Song in my Heart: A Brief History of American Sheet Music; or, How to Search The Strong’s Database

As I write this, Katy Perry’s “E.T.” featuring Kanye West ranks as the number one pop song. Country’s top pick is “Heart Like Mine” by Miranda Lambert, while R&B’s current number one is “Sure Thing" by Miguel.

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Adult Swim Video Games

When Rolling Stone mentioned recently that Adult Swim plans to release a wave of new mobile video games, fans of the channel’s crass cartoons responded with uncertainty. Adult Swim dabbles in the video game industry regularly, and its track record makes it difficult for gamers to determine if these new games will sink or swim.

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The Pogo Bal Paradigm

If you grew up with siblings, you probably recognize that a brother or sister doesn’t always make the first choice for playmate but will usually suffice. As the youngest of three children by five years, I yearned to play along with my older brothers but could never quite keep up. Both seemed more knowledgeable, more agile, and more talented when it came to play. My oldest brother constructed amazing snow igloos and drove a snowmobile. My middle brother excelled at video games and fort building. I envied them both, until one miraculous day, when the tables finally turned.

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By Any Other Name: The Origin of Atari

The year is 1972, and video game innovator Nolan Bushnell and his partner Ted Dabney are fresh from their design of the first commercial arcade game, Computer Space. Before beginning their next big project, they decide to trademark their gaming company, Syzygy, named after an astronomical term for three celestial bodies in a straight line.

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Kids and Cooking: Playing with Fire

Recently, my six-year-old son has taken an interest in learning to cook. For years, he played happily with his toy kitchen, concocting elaborate and dire sounding dishes (broccoli and pineapple soup, anyone?). Now he wants to cook like Daddy.

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The Influence of Dungeons and Dragons on Video Games

My two favorite childhood Christmas gifts were a red three-speed bike and a blue-boxed Basic Dungeons and Dragons set. On the bike, I rode miles from home, shifting gears to climb previously unconquered hills and discover new places around my small Connecticut town.

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More than Words: Theater’s Unsung Heroes

Rolling my artifact cart through the exhibits at The Strong’s National Museum of Play, I often spot guests who are shoo-ins for the stage. These budding thespians linger under the colorful lights in Kid to Kid and the majestic red curtain in Reading Adventureland’s Fairy Tale Forest. There’s nothing like playing at plays—take it from me, since I spent most of my high school years performing in theatrical productions.

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What Video Game Crash?

Think for a moment about some great video games. Consider coin-ops such as Atari’s vector-graphic Star Wars, Bally/Midway’s James Bondesque Spy Hunter, and Cinematronics’ laserdisc Dragon’s Lair.

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