I always tell people that as a child, I didn’t really place a lot of importance on actual toys in my day-to-day play. Sure, I was lured in by their flashy advertising and begged for the newest and greatest ones just as much as my peers, but ultimately, my play was often conducted without much in the way of props. (Because, you know, what use do unicorns and dragons have for ballerina dolls and blocks and Teddy Ruxpin, really?)
There are some toys, though, that I remember vividly and fondly from my childhood. Funny thing is, none of them were mine. They were my best friend, Amanda’s toys. I think this is due to the fact that while her toys were technically no better than mine, they were still someone else’s and therefore exotic and fascinating.
Ok, I actually had my own set of pipeworks, but Amanda’s were better (and I’ll tell you why presently.) Pipeworks, for those who weren’t fortunate enough to have experienced them, were these uniquely awesome building toys. The sets consisted of plastic pipes, different types of connectors that held them together, panels, wheels, etc. And the best part was that they were kid-sized. So you could make jungle gyms and tables and cars and all kinds of awesome things with them, then climb on them, or eat on them, or “drive” in them Flinstones style. Like I said, I had a set, but Amanda’s set came with wheels, which was obviously a huge plus. Her set also came with her older brother, who was occasionally very useful. I recall him being a very good troll when we used the Pipeworks to build a bridge and reenact The Three (ok, two) Billy Goats Gruff.
Casio Muppet Keyboard
As children, Amanda and I spent a lot of time performing for nobody in particular. We would sing, host pretend radio shows (and sometimes record ourselves) and play song after song on her Muppet keyboard. The toy came with a song book, but it also had a light up guide system and backup music to assist you in butchering the hits from the TV show. Here’ s a video of some other doofus playing The Rainbow Connection on the very same keyboard, using much the same hunt-and-peck method that I recall using on it as a child. Ah, memories!
I’ve been around computers my whole life. My father worked at IBM for many years, and I’ve been using computers since before they were cool. But we had PCs, exclusively, while Amanda’s family, with her graphic artist mother, had Macs.
I always felt a bit guilty playing with it, because being the child of an IBMer meant that you were under no circumstances supposed to enjoy using a Mac over a PC, but Amanda’s family’s computer did the most fantastic things. This was about 1994 or so, and we were about twelve, and the computer had a talking moose who we could make curse and recite nine inch nails lyrics in an awful robot moose voice. It also had Hyperstacks, which we used to create clickable maze-like choose-your-adventure style games. I remember sitting at that computer for hours, drawing rooms and then using the program to make it possible to interact with the objects in the rooms in various ways. I guess this seems a lot less cool now due to the proliferation of the visually-based internet, but back then, this was super cool. Trust me.
Binary Teacher Toy
Wow, this sounds supremely nerdy, but Amanda had this great toy that I realized years later was manufactured for the purpose of teaching your adorable little future computer scientist the principles behind binary numbers. I believe that the toy was either the one featured here or something very similar. Now, I’m not sure why I thought this toy was so great. I don’t think I really “got” the concept of binary numbers from playing with it. But it made enough of an impression that when I think of the toys from my youth, I fondly remember the act of maneuvering those little marbles through the tracks.
I know this doesn’t sound safe, but here it is: Amanda’s family’s kitchen floor was covered in hot lava. Well…. Sometimes it was hot lava. Sometimes it was a lake. But it was always covered in something treacherous. Good thing we had lots of pillow boats to get across it, or we would have starved to death, not being able to get to our lunches and all. Thank the gods for those pillow boats….