Friday, March 30, 2007

Flawless Victory!

Of all the things I saw and heard at last year's E3 (May 2006), one juicy tidbit lodged in my brain. While visiting the Midway Games booth, a rep from Midway mentioned, in passing, that there was talk of a new Mortal Kombat movie being made. Almost a year later, some more details of that movie are emerging and it seems that it is definitely going to happen.

It's still too early to talk about release dates but it appears that a script is in the works. The only specifics made public so far are that the new movie will be a restart for the brand rather than a prequel or sequel to the two films released in the 1990's.

-J. McKinney

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Who Needs The Kwik-E-Mart?

Yesterday, the Internet was a buzz with the news that 7-11 planed to convert 11 store locations into Kwik-E-Marts, the "convenience" store prominently featured on The Simpsons.

While nothing official has been announced, if this plan goes through the selected locations will have their storefronts refitted to resemble Apu's famous exterior. Inside, the stores, shelves may be stocked with products inspired by the show, including Frosted Krusty O's cereal, Buzz Cola and Squishees.

The proposed tie-in will be part of the promotion behind the much-anticipated "Simpsons Movie," due in theaters July 27.
-J. McKinney

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Summer Toys--Get 'Em While It's Hot

Most of the kids we know are counting down the days till summer vacation. For the past few weeks, we've been having a countdown of our own--the countdown to the release of the Summer Toy Wishes Hot Dozen list. We work with the magazine all year long and help with the selection of this list, and it's TOP SECRET until it's released.

Well, today's the day! And here they are (in alphabetical order)

(Hasbro/Ages 3 and up/Approximate retail price: $19.99)
It was the 1970s all over again when Baby Alive became one of the hits of last holiday season. Well, that’s because this classic never goes out of style and seems brand new to each generation of little moms. And now there’s a new Baby Alive to love and care for. Just fill the sippy cup with “juice,” place the straw in the baby’s mouth, and watch her sip away. And, just like a real baby, inevitably, you’ll have to change her diaper. This is nurturing roleplay at its best.

(ToyQuest/Ages 5 and up/Approximate retail price: $399.99)
Yeah, you’ve seen these inflatables for a couple of years, but you’ve never seen one like this. Connect the blower, connect the hose and get ready for twice the fun as two kids at once can slide and splash their way to the bottom. This amazing backyard waterslide features a cascading waterfall and soft-bottom landing pad. Check out the entire Banzai line.

(Mattel/Ages 3 and up/Approximate retail price: $24.99)
Barbie’s always been magic, and the Fairytopia collection has been a major hit since it was first introduced. Now there’s a whole new way to bring the magic to life right in your living room. This high-tech Elina doll interacts with a DVD game by acting as the remote control in an adventure. Kids can fly Elina from the left to the right to make her capture magical gems and travel through Fairytopia.

(Bandai/Ages 4 and up/Approximate retail price: $24.99)
Ben 10 is one of the hottest new action heroes on the planet these days. The star of the Cartoon Network show is a normal kid who one day found a mysterious Omnitrix. He strapped it on and suddenly was able to morph into all kinds of different alien creatures—for whatever challenges might arise. Now kids can bring out their inner aliens with this cool voicechanger. Speak into it and your voice comes out just like Four Arms, Heatblast or Grey!

(Crayola/Ages 4 and up/Approximate retail price: $14.99)
You can be the Jackson Pollock of the driveway with this incredibly versatile and creative sidewalk paint sprayer. It’s easy to use, makes all kinds of great big designs and it washes off with just a spray from the hose. Fill it with Crayola’s special sidewalk paint and squeeze the trigger to deliver streams and swirls onto driveways and sidewalks. Spray pink or blue, or mix it together to make purple! Plus, this is a time to be outdoors and creative! Check out some of the cool activities Crayola has for you and your family this spring and summer.

(Hasbro/Ages 5 and up/Approximate retail price: $24.99, refills $5.99)
What do kids love about Spider-Man? The ability to spin their own amazing webs with the flick of the wrist, of course. Now they can with this advanced Deluxe Spinning Web Blaster that straps onto the wrist and shoots an amazing spiral web that really looks like a web. Of course, it’s just silly string, but the effect is about as cool as it gets!

(Imperial/Ages 3 and up/Approximate retail price: $9.99)
When it’s time to get wet, who better to have a backyard romp with than Dora the Explorer? The design is perfect for little kids, and Dora spins 360 degrees sending a gentle spray of water to keep kids cool while they’re off on their summer adventures. Be sure to supervise kids and make sure they put on plenty of waterproof sunblock.

(Mattel/Ages 6 and up/Approximate retail price: $24.99)
Want to know who really won that race? Now you can know exactly. The Hot Wheels Racing Timer is an easy-to-assemble unit that you set on the ground as you lay out a racecourse. (The race starts and ends in the same place.) Take off on your bike or on foot, and the first person across the finish line hears the crowd’s applause and hears the announcer reveal the clear winner. A digital LCD screen displays time and speed for up to two racers. It’s a great way to enhance the kind of classic, active play that Hot Wheels have represented for decades!

(Spin Master/Ages 3 and up/Approximate retail price: $4.99-$19.99)
It became one of the surprise hits of last holiday season, and kids can’t get enough of this amazing compound that looks and feels a lot like regular sand, but Moon Sand feels like sand and molds like dough. Pop it in the oven (with parental supervision, of course), and you can preserve your creations as the heat makes them solid. Pop it in the oven again and the sand returns to its dough-like consistency. How does it do it? We have no idea. We just know it’s a lot of fun. New sets include more accessories and activities like making mosaics and molding and new colors including sparkles.

(Jakks Pacific/Ages 4 and up/Approximate retail price: $3.99-$9.99)
Hard to believe that after 10 years, Pokémon is still one of the hottest characters out there. Believe it. Beautiful styling and collectible matte-vinyl finishes make them great for display as well as play. The basic figures are three inches tall and come in single packs (with a marble) or multi-packs (with a surprise). Deluxe figures are five inches tall and have special abilities; Pikachu’s cheeks light up and Blaziken has fiery wrist bands. Kids are going to want to catch them all!

(Hasbro/Ages 4 and up/Approximate retail price: $7.99)
Spider-Man 3 is going to be one of the hottest movies of the summer. Everyone’s talking about the latest installment in the mega-hit action movie series. And now all the characters come to life in a finely detailed and beautifully sculpted collection of figures that feature Spidey in different guises from the movie. Kids will love to collect them or recreate the exciting adventures of Spider-Man 3. We particularly like the black costume Spider-Man, which shows him in a way we’ve never seen him before.

(Bandai/Ages 8 and up/Approximate retail price: $14.99)
It’s official: Tamagotchi is a craze. And each version seems to get better and better with more things to do, more interactivity and cooler characters. Version 4 is no exception. It’s the most technologically advanced virtual pet yet, and kids have more control than ever over the destiny of their digital charges. In addition to the traditional nurturing play, now there’s even more “real life” play, as kids choose what classes their pets can take, what job they have and what salary to earn. (And where to spend it when they shop!)

Toy Wishes is available today at Toys "R" Us stores, and free with a purchases (check details at store), and it will be on newstands everywhere in a week or so.

So, let the summer fun begin!

That Little Droid Did It! UPDATE

UPDATE: Visit now to vote on your favorite Star Wars Commemorative stamp. The winning stamp will become its own stamp sheet.

A few weeks ago the USPS deployed hundreds of R2-D2 mailboxes (pictured) around the country. The mailboxes, which feature the likeness of everyone's favorite little droid, are fully functioning letter drop boxes but also provided a hint at the Empire's, oops I mean government's, next phase of a deal with Lucasfilm.

That hint is the web address, which leads to an exciting announcement regarding the release of 15 commemorative Star Wars stamps.

Today at 10 a.m. (PST), USPS Executive Director of Stamp Services David Failor will join R2-D2, Darth Vader, and Imperial stormtroopers in front of Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theatre to reveal the designs for the new stamps commemorating 30 years of the Star Wars saga.

-J. McKinney

Monday, March 26, 2007

New Video Games Due This Week

Below are a few of the biggest titles due in stores this week. Don't look for a standard movie rehash in Disney's Meet the Robinsons game. It's actually a well thought out and fun game that stands alone from the movie. Another game you might want to check out this week is Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits, which features Circus Charlie, Contra, Gradius, Roc'N Rope, Rush'N Attack, Time Pilot and more.

Title (Platform)
Command and Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars (PC)
Disney's Meet the Robinsons (PS2, DS, Wii, Xbox360, GBA, GC, PC, PSP)
The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox360, PC)
Jetpac Refueled (Xbox360)
Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits (DS)
Metal of Honor: Vanguard (Wii, PS2)
Pogo Island (DS)
The Red Star (PS2)
The Settlers (DS)
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent (PS3)
Virtua Tennis 3 (PSP)

4 Mutant Turtles Defeat 300 Angry Spartans

TMNT, the CGI-animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, pushed the testosterone-driven, "historical" flick, The 300 out of the top spot at the box office this past weekend.

Taking in $25.5 million, TMNT beat the original 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles release, which earned $25.4 million, according to figures from Exhibitor Relations.

Infantino Recalls Infant Sling Carriers

Infantino LLC, of San Diego, CA, has announced a voluntary recall of the SlingRider Infant Carriers.

This recall involves the Infantino SlingRider carriers with item numbers: 141-210; 151-210; 151-528; and 151-534. The SlingRider consists of a fabric carrier with a strap attached that is worn by the user to carry an infant up to 20 pounds. The carriers are sold in black or khaki. “Infantino” is printed on the plastic slider located on the strap. The item number is printed on a label inside the SlingRider Products labeled “Made in Thailand” or “New 2007 Design” are not included in the recall.

Consumers should stop using these carriers immediately and contact Infantino to return them and receive a free replacement product. For more information, contact Infantino toll-free at (888) 808-3111 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT Monday through Friday or go to the firm’s Web site at at

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Family That Plays Together, Stays Together

For years, family game nights have been a great opportunity for parents and kids to spend some fun, quality time together. If your kids would rather play video games over board games you might want to check out Xbox's new Family Game Night.

The latest Xbox 360 gaming community, Family Game Night, will spotlight a new family friendly game every Tuesday on And just because the kids happen to be away at college doesn't mean they can't get in on the family gathering also. With Xbox Live, you can play UNO with Johnny in Philly, trade piñatas with Susie in San Diego or challenge Grandpa in Great Falls with Project Gotham Racing 3!

Of course you don't need an Xbox to play video games with your kids. The Nintendo Wii has some of the best family fun titles and second generation systems like the PS2 and GameCube still have some of the greatest games ever created. So why not take a look at your kids game collection and pick your own night for a Family Game Night.

-J. McKinney

Thursday, March 22, 2007

February Was a Hot Month For Nintendo

According to independent sales data released by the NPD Group, the Nintendo Wii was America’s best-selling video game console in the U.S. again in February, nearly selling out all available systems and totaling more than 335,000 units.

The only game system that sold more units in February than the Wii was Nintendo's DS, with a sell-through of 485,000 units.

Together, the two Nintendo systems represented 54 percent of all hardware sales in February, more than those of all other manufacturers combined.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Playful Perspectives: Is "Riding Bikes" Character Building?

Welcome to a new feature on The Toy Guy's blog. We're calling it Playful Perspectives and its the first of what we hope will be many partnerships with Ty's Toy Box and their tireless blogger the Toy Box Mommy. We give you two pespectives and hope to enhance your point of view so you can make choices that work for you and your kids. It's kind of like the "sparkling drop or Retsyn" that made Certs "two, two, two mints in one." (Remember that?) Or not.

Either way, since we're all about making the world a better place to play™, we're excited to be all on the same page, metaphorically, to share some insights that might be useful to you. We hope you'll let us know if we're doing okay, and what else you'd like to hear about.

So, as you can read from Ty's Toy Box Mommy, Cartoon Network has announced a new deal to make bikes based on the property and mega-hit show Ben 10. There is absolutely nothing new about this. For years companies have been putting their most popular characters on all kinds of products, including bikes. Such characters as Barbie, Dora the Explorer and othes have been staples of this business.They've owned the girls' licensed bike business, and there hasn't been that much for boys in this category. (Let's forget for the moment that Ben 10 has a very strong girl following. Typically, while both genders tend to like properties and watch the shows, products tend to skew towards one. In this case, it's boys that like the stuff.)

The thing about Ben 10 play that works is that it's all about roleplay. It's about fantasizing that you have special powers, and that you can summon aliens and overcome being a kid. This is a really important function of boys play. When your life is all about "Eat your peas." "Do your homework." and the parents are in control, it's great to fantasize having super powers. Ben 10 is just the latest in a series of properties that have allowed boys this imaginative power, and it's important because using it they can try on different personas, respond in different ways to situations all under the protective guise of play. We're particularly excited about Ben 10 because it gives a platform for this kind of play in a way that contemporary kids can relate to and a mythos that resonates with them.

The marketers and manufacturers and the good folks at Cartoon Network are betting that this deal will build their character franchise. And it might. After all, they wouldn't be making bikes if they didn't think they could sell. That is the magic of the free economy. There are all kinds of terrific Ben 10 toys that have made this one of the most successful show/product launches in years.

But do they need the bikes? Well, that's for you to decide. Certainly for a child who wishes to express an affinity for the character, this is a great way of doing it...kind of like an adult who wants to brand him or herself with a specific car. It's a natural human emotion: we communicate to the world about ourselves through the products we buy and use. That's an inherent part of our consumer culture. So it's really going to be a case-by-case decision.

However, we'd invite you to think about this: Children fall in and out of properties fairly often. So, consider whether or not this is going to be a long-term property and whether or not you're willing to replace the bike when the child grows out of the property. For starter bikes, this can be a good idea because kids outgrow them physically sometimes faster than they outgrow the characters. There are many ways to express an affinity with a character, and the imaginative life and relationship with the character is less dependent on a bike than it is on an action figure.

Now, the most important thing of all: bikes are great. Kids should have bikes. They get them active, they provide mobility, and they can work within the child's social structure. I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, to my friends and me, "riding bikes" was the activity. All we knew when we started out was that we were all going to be on our bikes. We could end up down by the river, or riding around the park, or creating imaginative adventures. (In my somewhat to the left of normal childhood, recreating the bike scene out of The Sound of Music was also something we did, with limited success, since Cathy Harris could never keep up on her little bike and ruined the formation.) I had the bike I got at age 12 through college. It was a black, three-speed English bike that we bought at Wilmington Dry Goods for not a lot of money, but it served me well. (I'd probably still have it if my younger brother hadn't "borrowed" it, left it out in the rain for a while and rusted it. AAARRGH)

I realize that today's tween kids don't necessarily have the freedom to just take off that we did. We all know that the world has changed, and safety is the paramount concern. Today's kids aren't likely to be able to take off at 6 A.M. on a summer morning and come home for lunch and then again for dinner. But the unstructured play, the freedom it gave us, and the mobility were all incredibly valuable lessons. It's important for kids to be able to create a social structure in which they can operate that is free from adult supervision. How else are they going to learn to be in community as they grow up? The lessons we learn on the playground help shape who we become as adults--and that's why they're so important. For us, it was the ability to take off on our bikes that allowed that. It's important to find and create those experiences for your kids.

The other amazing thing to consider about bikes is that the costs have stayed fairly stable over the years. Twenty years or so ago a good 10-speed bike cost over $100. (Obviously high-performance bikes cost a lot more.) Today, you can still get a very good bike for the same or less. That's pretty incredible.

So here's our final thought on this: bikes are great. Kids should have bikes. You can get a good bike for a very reasonable price. It's your decision whether you want to buy a bike with a character that your kid will outgrow, or spend your money on a bike that your kid can grow into and can keep for a long time. We can't advise you on that personal decision. What we do recommend, however, is that you seriously consider making a bicycle part of your child's play mix. As a springboard for imagination and an active, empowering play experience, there are few things more effective. Don't forget helmets and protective gear, and make sure that as much as they want the freedom of the open sidewalk, younger kids should always have adult supervision as they ride.

That's my take. Now go check out what Ty's Toy Box Mommy has to say. I think you'll like our freewheeling interchange!

- C. Byrne

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

They Like Us, They Really Like Us

Pardon the "Sally Field Moment." But Ty's Toy Box Blog wrote a very nice interview with The Toy Guy. Starting tomorrow, the lovefest continues as we unveil a new feature: Playful Perspectives, in which The Toy Guy and Ty's Toy Box Mommy join forces to give you different takes on toy-related issues. Bookmark us both!

This Week's Poll

Now that all three of the latest generation of video game systems have been out for a few months we want to know which is your favorite.

What is your favorite latest generation video game system?
Microsoft Xbox 360
Nintendo Wii
Sony PS3
Free polls from

New Video Games Due This Week

It looks like some choice game titles are springing this week including new Castlevania, Dragon Ball Z, Godfather, and Elder Scrolls. Also due this week is Ubisoft's first TMNT game, based on the new computer animated feature film - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Title (Platform)
Armored Core 4 (Xbox360, PS3)
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Xbox360)
Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai - Another Road (PSP)
Earth Defense Force 2017 (Xbox360)
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PS3)
Frontline: Fields of Thunder (PC)
The Godfather: Blackhand Edition (DS)
Quickspot (DS)
Silent Hunter: Wolves of the Pacific (PC)
Silverfall (PC)
TMNT (Xbox360, PS2, PSP, PC, Wii, GC, DS, GBA)
Test Drive Unlimited PC, PS2
UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 (Xbox360, PS2, PSP)
Virtua Tennis 3 (Xbox360, PS3, PSP)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Transformers Movie Saved from an "R" Rating--Fun Rescued from Near Disaster!!!

How's that for a bit of melodrama.

Well, in Hollywood it is where everything is just a little more dramatic, from making a movie to doing the laundry.

But it was serious business last week when Steven Spielberg went to bat to save this movie from a dreaded "R" rating. Based on the 25 minutes or so of this movie that we've seen, this is going to be one of THE movies of the summer. Plus, it's the only one that makes perfect sense from a toy standpoint. After all, these guys started out as toys. The way to play with them is built right into the story line. It's been genius from day one, and it still is today.

And, sure Transformers were originally were intended for kids 6 and up, but there's a whole generation of kids who have grown up with these characters who are very (to put it mildly) excited about Transformers: The Movie. All I have to do is wear my movie t-shirt to the gym (They gave them to us during Toy Fair; isn't that cool?) and more often than not guys come up to me and tell me how much they love Transformers and how they're looking forward to the movie. It's got blockbuster written all over it. Moreover, the execs up at Hasbro are practically giddy when they talk about this.

Think about it: This is a property that was created by guys up at Hasbro, more or less on the fly and has become one of the most enduring boys action properties of all time. Grown men still mention these as one of the favorite toys, and perhaps only Star Wars gets grown men talking like excited kids faster. In fact, I know guys in their early 30s who can virtually repeat entire episodes--that's how important to kids that show has been.

Needless to say, there's a lot of excitement, but the movie was headed into dangerous territory last week when the MPAA got a first look at the movie and was planning to give it an "R" rating. Apparently, according to Dreamworks, Steven Spielberg himself stepped in and got the PG-13 rating.

Why does this matter? Well, from an audience standpoint it probably doesn't. Haven't you seen a lot of kids at "R" rated movies lately? Haven't you seen "PG-13" movies with language that could turn a hair or two? And it's not just that it's the bad words, it's the intention behind the language. The MPAA Guidelines like the infamous Hollywood Production Code of the 1930s is something that can often be gotten around. And taste and appropriateness are always in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to movies, we always recommend that parents and caregivers make sure that what they take their kids to see are consistent with their values. You're the consumer, so choose what you consume. And from all we've seen over the years, a rating isn't going to stop someone from buying something they want.

But it does matter when it comes to toys. We've had a sneak peek at some of the toys coming out for the movie, and they are some of the most incredible Transfomers toys ever. You will not believe the sophistication, creativity and fun that Hasbro has built into these. However, when there is a movie with an "R" rating, you get the folks coming out of the woodwork to protest that companies like Hasbro and Dreamworks are trying to destroy our children! And it makes mainstream retailers leery about carrying these products because of the PR storm that these people kick up. So Hasbro and Dreamworks have dodged a bullet on this one.

Yet, before I give this up (I can really get like a terrier at times with these kinds of issues), can we look at what the "R" rating was for? It wasn't for bad language, violence or sexual content. (Transfomers are pretty sexless as far as we can tell. The Tin Woodman from The Wizard of Oz was more likely to have libidinous feelings. After all, he started as a human.) It was for intensity!

But isn't this intensity exactly what kids go to the movies--and this movie in particular--for? The entire ethos of the world of Transformers is based on power and conflict. This is an essential element of boys play, and as far as we can tell has been so since boys made wooden swords and dreamed of becoming Knights. It's a mammalian trait, and it's not going anywhere. Will it upset some kids? Sure. But I've seen kids carried out of Snow White because they were scared of the Witch. Heck, Strawberry Shortcake sends me screaming from the room, but that, again, is just personal taste.

The point is, you don't ride a roller coaster expecting to be on a merry-go-round. You want to gambol around your magic forest with Care Bears, by all means do so. You want some kick-ass special effects and a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, then stay tuned for Transformers: The Movie.

Hooray for Mr. Spielberg for sticking to his guns. Summer's going to be a lot more fun because of him.

- C. Byrne

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Elite Operations Toy Sets Recalled

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that Toys "R" Us has voluntarily recalled “Elite Operations” Toy Sets manufactured by Toy Century Industrial Company Ltd., of Hong Kong.

This recall involves three styles of “Elite Operations” brand toy sets. The military-style play sets contain light and sound vehicles, action figures and accessories. Models included in this recall are: Super Rigs Transport Vehicle (Item # 087286), Command Patrol Center (Item # 920625) and Troop Carrier (Item # 773967). The item numbers are located on the back of the packaging above the barcode. Toy sets sold prior to January 2006 are not included in this recall. No other “Elite Operations” brand toys are affected by this recall.

Consumers should immediately take the toys away from children and return the product to the nearest Toys “R” Us store for full credit.

For additional information, contact Toys “R” Us at (800) TOYSRUS (869-7787) between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, or visit the firm’s Web site at

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New Video Games Due This Week

Title (Platform)

Call of Duty: Roads to Victory (PSP)
Carol Volderman's Sudoku (PC)
God of War II (PS2)
College Hoops 2K7 (PS3)
Great Invasions (PC)
Hans Christian Andersen: The Ugly Prince Duckling (PC)
Mind Quiz: Your Brain Coach (DS)
Model Train 3D (PC)
QuickSpot (DS)
Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle (PC)
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 (Wii)
Top Spin 2 (PC)
Tortuga- Two Treasures (PC)
Wiffle Ball Advance (DS)

We're (Not) In the Money...But That's Okay

In the classic musical "42nd Street", which takes place during The Great Depression, a group of slightly hard-boiled choroines find a coin on the streets of Manhattan. The jubliant discovery that it's a dime touches off one of the biggest production numbers in Broadway history and stops the show for a good five minutes.

I was reminded of that number last week when all work in our office stopped dead as one of our colleagues decided that we should all go into a pool for $2 each for the Mega Millions jackpot. While we didn't win--well actually we won $7, which we re-invested in the following drawing and lost it all-- there was no singing or dancing in the hallways of our office. Nonetheless, the anticipation of easy money and what a windfall might do prompted one of the most entertaining and diverting half hours of recent weeks, which says a lot since we spend a lot of time playing with toys.

Quite frankly, it's vritually impossible to buy that much fun for two bucks any more. And while there was a 1-in-175 million chance of winning, speculation about what would happen if it did became a game for all of us, and a hilarious break from work. The fantasy of winning a jackpot is the ultimate use of the imagination and in our case demonstrates just how play enhances life. It creates an altenative reality that we can live in for a few moments, a means of interpersonal connection and a platform for communicating in ways that people don't usually. For adults, it's an important reminder of the liberating power of the imagination, and it is harmless fun, as long as one can afford the ticket and the odds are kept in perspective.

At the same time, all the fantasies about winning the lottery shouldn't derail us from planning for a future that doesn't include a multi-million windfall. Several years ago, State Farm insurance found in their annual survey that many Americans included "winning the lottery" in their financial planning. This year, the survey shows that Americans aren't planning and haven't considered what they'll need to be able to retire comfortably.

We have developed a "jackpot" mentality in the U.S. today. It's nothing new, but with all the reality shows and lotteries and casinos, game shows and so forth, the risk is that we focus on outcomes and not on process. Like the kids who say that they are going to be rock stars and find themselves in the 40's still living off their parents' largesse, the dreams that come true are the ones we work for. (We know at least one where this is actually the case, though it's often lampooned in comedy.) Sure, there is such a thing as luck, but you can't build a life around waiting for it. If getting rich were as simple as picking the right briefcase out of 26 choices, we'd all be "in the money."

Unfortunately, real life is more mundane than that, though mundane is not necessariy a bad thing. Outcomes are never guaranteed in whatever we do or try, but they are impossible without engaging in process. American Idol is a perfect representation of that...if you look below the surface. These young people start out raw and make the cut based on talent, which is a gift that no one can control or predict. What happens during the weeks of the show is a process of developing talent, training a voice and creating a pop star. As you cast your votes for your favorites, don't overlook the level of work, commitment and dedication to the process it takes to win.

Let's make sure that we and the children in our lives understand that fully engaging in the process of going after what we want is the best use of our time. While the specific outcomes may be out of our control--and there will be triumphs and disappointments along the way--the process is what living is all about, and who would want to shortchange that.

As for us, we're back at work, and it's not so bad.

- C. Byrne

Monday, March 12, 2007

This Week's Poll

It's down to the final 12 on American Idol this week. Will you be watching?
You know it! I never miss an episode.
No but I'll find out what went down.
I stopped watching after the auditions.
What is American Idol?
Free polls from

Wacky Wii WarioWare

What a difference one week can make. This time last week I was posting about the disappointing Nintendo news regarding the delay of Mario Party 8. Well over the weekend, I had the chance to spend some quality time with Nintendo's WarioWare: Smooth Moves, and this may be my favorite Wii title to date.

WarioWare: Smooth Moves is a bizarre collection of insane mini-games that require you to master a bunch of "forms" (moves) with the Wii-mote. Before each level you are given a tutorial for a new form that will then show up throughout the game. One such form, The Samurai, has you holding the Wii-mote like a sheathed sword that you must quickly unsheathe and slice the air with. In the Big Cheese form, you start with your hands on your hips like a CEO. There are also multiple personal grooming games that, among other things, require you to shave and insert false teeth. I told you it was insane.

Look for a full review of Smooth Moves at soon.

-J. McKinney

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Happy Birthday Barbie!

Its hard to believe the iconic doll (who doesn't look a day over 18) is celebrating her 48th birthday this week.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Requiem for a Super Hero

We can hardly believe it!
Captain America is dead!

Shot by a sniper as he leaves a courthouse in the upcoming issue of the eponymous comic, the striped spandex super hero first introduced in 1941 is headed for comic book afterlife. As reported on Yahoo, it's curtains for the crimefighter.

Though he's always been a second-tier super hero and an action figure most likely to get lost at the bottom of the toy box, he's still had his passionate fans. Perhaps not as many as Batman or Superman or Spider-Man, but a respectable following. A jingoistic figure for American patriotism and a metaphor for the dominance of the U.S., perhaps he had to be taken out. But shooting him? Couldn't they just have sent him to rehab or put him on trial for, say, perjury?

Of course, at least in comic land, death is not necessarily the end, and perhaps they'll find a need to reanimate him in the future. So, don't be sad, kids, Captain America is probably sharing a laugh with Walt Disney right now in that cryogenic no man's land.

-C. Byrne

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Wave 2 of the Star Wars Transformers

The latest collection of Hasbo's Star Wars Transformers have been revealed.

Wave 2 includes Saesee Tiin/Jedi Starfighter, Mace Windu/Jedi Starfighter, Clone Pilot/Republic Gunship (pictured), Darth Vader/Tie Fighter and Emperor Palpatine/Imperial Shuttle.

Look for all these items in stores for spring.

New Video Games Due This Week

Title (Platform)

Burnout Dominator (PS2, PSP)
Def Jam: Icon (Xbox360, PS3)
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (PS2)
Major League Baseball 2K7 (Xbox, GBA)
MotorStorm (PS3)
NBA Street Homecourt (PS3)
Pimp My Ride (PSP)
Rayman Raving Rabbids (DS)
The Sacred Rings (PC)
Sonic Mega Collection Plus (PC)
Titan Quest: Immortal Throne (PC)
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (Xbox360, PC)
Wario: Master of Disguise (DS)
Worms (Xbox)

Monday, March 05, 2007

This Week's Poll

What's Your Take on the Pussy Cat Dolls?
Love them!
Leave them!
Free polls from

Party Foul

I just returned from the Nintendo World store with some very disappointing news - the release of Mario Party 8 has been postponed.

Nintendo World employees acknowledged that the game was scheduled to be available today but are unaware of the new release date. The only information on states that the game will be out in the second quarter of this year.

While MP 8 is the game I have been most excited to play on the Wii, fortunately, I still have Wii Play and WarioWare to tide me over. I'll keep you posted as soon as I learn the new date for MP8.

-J. McKinney

UPDATE!: According to, Mario Party 8 won't be available until June, 2007.

Hello Dolly...Err...Dollies

Okay, how about we accept on face value that "Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the New Doll," a new reality show debuting this week on the CW, is not an exploitive show glamorizing if not sex, then sexuality?

The Pussycat Dolls is, for those of you who don't know, a girl group which combines music and strutting in skimply clothes. The producers say it's about empowerment and "third wave feminism," according to a report in the "New York Times." Just for giggles, let's accept that premise, too.

After all, the free market means anyone can put anything out there they want any time. The market will always decide. So there's no real reason to worry. After all, Shakespeare's Juliet, an original empowered teen who took control of her own desires, said, "Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Oh, but wait. Juliet killed herself when her romantic desires were thwarted. Oops.

Like many young people, Juliet lacked the ability to put her experience into perspective and by acting outside of the context of her social structure--and getting a well-meaning but credulous friar to provide the illegal "mortal drugs"--Juliet removed herself from the influence of those who might have helped her make a better choice. She lost her perspective and took her own life.

"What is he blathering about now?" I hear you saying. Simply this: external influences abound and are out of your control. What is wthin your control is the context you can create for your kids around such acts as The Pussycat Dolls. And it's your job to provide that, whatever it is.

Teaching kids to be savvy consumers of media is one of the best things we can do as adults in today's culture. Media surrounds them and becomes part of their experience and socialization. Without your participation, the media takes on the power to shape perceptions, which in turn can drive behavior--and the consequences may not be healthy. Moreover, understanding, particularly with teens, the inherent propensity to see things in black and white, all of nothing, is important for adults who may have forgotten that. Sharing your values and your beliefs with the young people in your life is also essential, as is making your life an example.

The Pussycat Dolls may, in fact, be role models for some young women. I can't, however, stop thinking about the young women who starve themselves, exercise compulsively or strain to fit the ideal. It's a full time job at a time of life when other things might be more important for the future. But the pressure to conform to standards, particularly among tweens and teens, is powerful. Nor can I stop thinking of the young women we talk to who are bullied about their clothes or their weight or, most scary of all, the fact that they're smart and love school. We know several young women who are repeatedly ridiculed for being good at science...because they want to be doctors. They get little validation from the mass market--and, sadly, that's just the way it is. Adults have an easier time with that, though it's never really easy. They need to know that they have value and that their dreams are just as valid, if less public, than being considered "The Next Doll." It's tough on parents, but we have to ask: Do we want girls to be fully rounded individuals? Or do we want them to be dolls?

I can respect, to an extent in our entertainment-driven society, the desire to represent women, or men for that matter, as playthings, particularly when there are buckets of money to be made, which--let's face it--is the primary raison d'etre for The Pussycat Dolls. Let's just keep it in perspective, okay? And, most of all, let's be honest about our motives and scrupulous in paying attention to the effect of such acts on the young people in our lives. And let's make sure that they are valued as individuals and that we take the time to listen and reflect with the knowledge of how difficult it can be for young people either to fit the mold, sturggle to fit into it or to be outside it altogether. Stay involved. Share your opinions. And, above all, listen. That's really all that's in our power to do, anyway.

-C. Byrne

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Teach Me to Play

It's happened again.

Parents are asking how they can play with their kids? This question always takes me by surprise because it seems like playing is as natural as any of the other instinctive and mammalian things we humans do. But it's not when our minds get in the way.

Parents want to know what they can do to create "productive" play. They want play that has a specific "outcome." They don't want to "waste time." Well, I suppose when you put it that way, you could get stressed out.

Despite all the marketing emphasis on results from educational toys, play in its purest form is the very antithesis of outcome-driven activity. Play is about the process of discovering, expressing, interacting with no predetermined outcome. It is more like a science experiment than a business function. The primary benefit of play is not the result, but the process. The gift of play is that it allows us to be in the moment, to respond to what is presented to us. And, quite frankly, this is a much more important thing to learn than the alphabet sequence. That comes when it comes, but setting up a lifelong ability to respond to what is happening in the moment is, as MasterCard would say, priceless.

So, the first thing parents should do is let go of expectations. I know that's hard. With time in short supply and many things competing for attention, today's parents want every moment to be productive. That way madness lies, but never mind that for a moment. Let's start by recalibrating the perception of productive as time spent interacting with a child with no phone calls, no buzzing Blackberry and no outside intrusions.

For the youngest children, simply sitting down with them is sometimes all that needs to be done. Let the child guide the activity. Yes, if they hold up a block, you can say, "That's a red block," but what happens next should be the child's choice. Put it on a pile; throw it. It doesn't matter. You can simply respond to whatever that choice is. Nothing is being asked of you.

For older children, let them pick the activity. And let them shine. (This is the premise of all Cranium games, and worthy to be adapted across the board not just in play but in our culture. At least in healthy ways.) Yes, you're there to respond, to be a sounding board and to contextualize, but that's it.

That's why we love board games for part of the family play mix. They provide a context for social experience and a chance to model things like appropriate behavior when you lose (or win) and a chance for kids to realize that though they may have lost (or won) this time, the very nature of life and its unpredictable nature means there's no guarantee of what the next time will bring.

It's also important to know when to get out of the way. When kids are playing among themselves, it's often important for parents to be present, of course, but in the background. Kids need to practice making up their own games, communicating among themselves and learning both how to cooperate and resolve conflicts.

For parents, that can mean that your job is as simple as just showing up and being present to the experience. Your values and your "house rules" may provide a framework within which to play, but let the process of play take care of itself...and enjoy it.

-C. Byrne

P.S. The photo is the younger set of my nieces and nephews at a recent family gathering. They had all independently shown up with their Pokémon toys, and played happily for an hour or more as the adults watched from the kitchen. Note to toy industry: Pokémon is still super hot and its still a wonderful property with its structure, characters and as a platform for social interaction among kids.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Just 3 More Days Till Wii Party

Mario Party 8 makes it's Wii debut on Monday, March 5!

I mapped on the fastest route from our offices to Nintendo World and did a run through yesterday.

I'll give you my first impressions of the game as soon as its in my hot little hands and check out later for a full review.
-J. McKinney

Princess Leia is the #1 Nerd Crush

In a recent Maxim Online poll, readers voted Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars: Episode VI—Return of the Jedi, as the number one hottest nerd crush. Loin-clothed Leia trumped other Sci-Fi vixens including Trinity from the Matrix, Tomb Raider's Lara Croft, Seven of Nine from Star Trek and Arwen Undómiel from The Lord of the Rings.
-J. McKinney