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.

A Precursor to Wegmans?

Mary Valentine
The Strong Museum Trustee

Handmade toy produce truck, 2019. Courtesy of the author. When I was a kid I loved to play "grocery." Every Saturday morning, I would hear Mr. Maroni's old produce truck groan as it came up the hill, turned the corner and slowly limped down my street. I would throw open the screen door on the porch, scamper past the glider, and fly down the steps out front to be there just as the big, uncovered wood-sided truck ground to a stop directly in front of my house on Lafayette Avenue.

My mother would follow with her change purse in hand. From the crates of fiery red beefsteak tomatoes and the orange-fleshed yams, to the bright yellow bananas, and the purple eggplant, I got to gently place the chosen pieces into the faded and dented aluminum scale in the rear of the truck, and watch the arrow spin around and stop at the weight of each selected fruit or vegetable. Then Mr. Maroni placed my chosen produce into small paper bags and handed them to me with a smile.

Supermarket set, 1960s, gift of Lisa S. Hartman. The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Then came my favorite part of the game. My mom handed me her change purse, and I got to sift through the shiny coins and choose the right amount to pay for my treasures. I counted out each nickel, dime, and quarter and proudly handed them to Mr. Maroni. Sometimes I would even get change back!

I discovered at an early age that learning was fun, and a big part of that was my mother encouraging me to choose the vegetables and fruit from that old wooden truck. How to pay for my purchases taught me not just arithmetic, but the value of each precious coin and spending it wisely. It also gave me a feeling of accomplishment, independence, and made my mother proud.

The ability to try to make good choices and learn the value of money are traits I have tried to foster in my life. Every time I shop for produce, I still remember my mother telling me to pick out a shiny onion or shake a musk melon to hear the seeds inside that would tell me it was ripe. I use a credit card now to pay for my purchases, instead of counting out change. But I still smile as I approach the produce aisle and recall fond memories of the "grocery game." I think I'll thump a watermelon on my next trip to the store.

A Gift of Scuba-Divers, Sunken Treasure, and Secret Ink

“You are a daring deep-sea diver holed up on Hardscrabble Island, a dying little seaport all but forgotten….” And so begins Infocom’s 1984 text-based adventure, Cutthroats, about a search for sunken treasure.

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Lincoln Logs: A Name that Fits

Sometimes powerful symbols sustain the longest lasting toys. Lincoln Logs, a favorite for nearly a century, is the best example.

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The Top: Start Here

Start with a top. It’s simple, cheap, fun, unbreakable, and memorable; its principles, too, serve as the basis for several other toys. Assembled from a sharpened peg with a wheel attached, you spin the top between a thumb and forefinger and then let it go.

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Why Is a Football Football-Shaped?

This is a good question to which people give several answers.

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The Toy That Starts the Holiday Season

Even though many homes already display bright lights or pine wreaths and most stores are stocked to the gills with Christmas merchandise, some folks can’t quite begin the holiday season until they see the latest Hess toy truck.

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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 turn the cardboard box into an ocean liner, a space ship, a dragster, a covered wagon, a submarine, or a castle.

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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, cooling sun, you name it. When Wells imagined the shape of things to come, he saw frightful scenarios. Disaster loomed.

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Barbie, You're Beautiful

Barbie. Love her or not, you have to admit that she is important. Here are three reasons:

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Holiday Geek Gift List

Although the electronic games of my youth have since evolved into something different, one thing has remained the same: savvy marketers continue to cash in on the popularity of electronic games through non-electronic merchandise. In addition, Internet storefronts allow innovative individuals to create and market their own electronic game-related products.

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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 down the cherry tree. The story isn’t true, but generations of Americans thought it should have been because it fit our Founding Father’s virtues so well.

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