Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kids II Inc. Recalls Crib Toys

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with Kids II Inc., announced a voluntary recall of Baby Einstein Baby Neptune Soothing Seascape Crib Toys due to a choking hazard. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.

The Baby Einstein Baby Neptune Soothing Seascape crib toy is a plastic molded turtle with a toy aquarium body that has woven fabric straps that attach to the side rails of a crib. The toy turtle has a stuffed fabric head and feet. Model number 30858 is printed on the label on the leg of the turtle. Only crib toys manufactured in October 2007 with date code BJ7 printed on the back of the battery compartment, are included in the recall.

Recalled toys were sold at discount department stores and on-line retailers nationwide from November 2007 through January 2008 for between $25 and $30.

For additional information, contact Kids II toll-free at (866) 203-6788 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit the firm’s Web site at

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Puma Glow Rider, A Truly Bright Idea

This glow-in-the-dark bike seems like such an obvious idea that we can't believe it has never been done before.

The bike, when released this Spring, will be part of Puma's Urban Mobility line, which are athletic products and programs geared toward city slickers. The Glow Rider's steel frame is coated in glowing paint that charges during the day and glows when the sun goes down. The bike has also been designed to partially fold - making it easier for apartment dwellers in walk-ups - and includes an innovative, built-in lock system for locking outdoors. No word yet on the price but rumors have it starting at over $1600.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Video Games Due This Week

Nintendo DS
Barnyard Blast: Swine of the Night
Bomberman Land Touch! 2

Nintendo Wii
Action Girlz Racing
Bomberman Land

Bomberman Land
Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice

King's Bounty: The Legend
Pacific Storm: Allies
The Sims: Castaway Stories

Chessmaster Live
Rez HD

Monday, January 28, 2008

Toy Wooden Block and Train Sets Recalled By Christmas Tree Shops

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with Christmas Tree Shops, of South Yarmouth, MA, announced a voluntary recall of Big Wooden Blocks and Jumbo Wooden Train Sets due to violation of lead paint standard. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately.

The Big Wooden Blocks contain 30 or 60 colorful block pieces in 11 geometric shapes. The Jumbo Wooden Train Sets contain 70 wooden pieces including trees, stop and railroad crossing signs, a red wooden engine and green train cars.

The following style numbers and UPC numbers are printed on the packaging of the toys:

Big Wooden Learning Blocks – 30 pieces Style # 7210 UPC #14559211
Big Wooden Learning Blocks – 60 pieces Style #7211 UPC #14559235
70 piece Jumbo Wooden Train Sets Style #13275A UPC #14217340

All items were sold at Christmas Tree Shops located in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions from October 2006 through November 2007 for between $4 and $20.

For additional information, contact Christmas Tree Shops at (888) 287-3232 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at

Friday, January 25, 2008

PBS Launches PBS Kids Play

Last week, PBS opened the beta test for their new Internet-based educational service, PBS Kids Play! The new site is designed to provide kids ages 3 to 6 with a source of instruction in essential subjects and skill areas in math, science, language, literacy, social studies, creativity, and healthy development.

The site uses interactive games and activities featuring characters from PBS programs including Curious George, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, The Berenstain Bears, Super Why! and more. The familiar characters will guide kids through the site and activities, which are designed to meet nationally recognized educational standards and benchmarks.

PBS Kids Play! is loaded with features designed to both assist kids and provide parents with a feeling of safety and control. The learning activities on PBS Kids Play! adapt to each child based on his or her individual progress and unlock new opportunities as the child advances. Preschoolers will also be able navigate the site through the use of the text-free system of buttons. For parents, there is the ability to set time limits on how long a child can use the site, 24/7 technical support, and the site operates as a desktop environment running full-screen that does not allow sharing of personal information or communication among users.

PBS Kids Play! is a downloaded service. During the beta test, running until later this quarter, the service is free with a limited number of activities available. There will be a monthly subscription fee of $9.95 or $79.95 annually when PBS Kids Play! officially launches.

To check out the service and get involved with the beta test, visit

- J. McKinney

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chocolate Miis

Sure Valentine's day is a sham holiday designed to force us to open our wallets during an otherwise dreary time of year for retailers. But it's also a great excuse to eat too much chocolate. If that special someone in your life happens to be a gamer, he or she probably isn't really going to want that cute Teddy bear with the T-shirt that says "I love you beary much" on it. What they really want is a chocolate Mii heart.

These chocolate hearts are made of 2.1 ounces of dark, white, or milk chocolate and feature two Mii characters with heart-shaped Red Hots on their shirts. You can choose the Mii combination that suits you best from two boys, two girls, or one of each and every combination comes in a box that looks like a Wii with the inscription, "Wii belong together, you and Mii" on it.

Chocoalte Mii's are the creation of Paul Pape Designs, and although they are no longer accepting new orders, 500 boxes will be made available on February 1 at

-J. McKinney

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tater of the Lost Ark

I can't imagine Harrison Ford is too excited about the Tater of the Lost Ark, Mr. Potato Head but I sure am.

The Tater of the Lost Ark is the latest Hasbro mash-up of popular film characters with the classic Mr. Potato Head. Tater of the Lost Ark comes complete with whip, fedora, leather jacket, and gold idol and is scheduled to be released in May. I'm hoping to get a first hand look at the action-spud next month at Toy Fair.

- J. McKinney

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Star Wars Lightsaber Lamp

I can totally picture this Star Wars Lightsaber Lamp illuminating my Star Wars collection display case. Yes, I really have a display case filled with Star Wars collectibles and no, I don't care what you think of me for admitting that. Just take a look at the lamp.

The LightSaber Lamp is available in two colors, Luke Skywalker green and Darth Vader red. It is powered by AAA batteries rather than a diatium power cell like the real thing, which means it probably won't give off too much light. You can get your very own Lightsaber Lamp for $23 from NCS by clicking here.

- J. McKinney

Monday, January 21, 2008

New Video Games Due This Week

Nintendo DS
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
Command & Destroy
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
Mega Brain Boost

Nintendo Wii
Kawasaki Jet Ski
Endless Ocean
One Piece: Unlimited Adventure
No More Heroes

Pacific Storm: Allies
Pirates of the Burning Sea

Burnout Paradise
PixelJunk Monsters

Rainbow Islands Revolution

Xbox 360
Burnout Paradise

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cranium Cadoo Board Games Recalled

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with Cranium Inc., of Seattle, announced a voluntary recall of Cranium Cadoo Board Games. The surface paint on the die contains excessive levels of lead, violating the federal lead paint standard.

Only the die found in Cranium Cadoo board games with lot numbers 2007195 through 2007244 are included in the recall. The Cranium Cadoo game is packaged in a square cardboard box with an orange background. The seven digit lot number is printed under the plastic tray on the bottom half of the box.

The recalled games were sold at Fred Meyer, Kmart, Shopko, Wal-Mart and specialty game stores nationwide between October 2007 through January 2008 for about $20.

Consumers should immediately dispose of the die and contact Cranium Inc. to receive a free replacement die. For additional information, contact Cranium Inc. at (877) 272- 6486 between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday or visit the firm’s Web site at

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Apple Unveils it's Latest Object of Desire

The big news coming out of the Macworld Expo in San Francisco yesterday was undoubtedly the introduction of the new MacBook Air. Touting it as the world's thinnest notebook computer, Steve Jobs unveiled the new computer during the company's press conference.
The MacBook Air features most of the same great computing specs of the MacBook but introduces a full-size, backlit keyboard and 13.3-inch widescreen display. Under the hood, it boasts an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of memory, and the latest wireless capabilities. With prices starting at $1800, it may also be one of the most expensive laptops on the market.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Force is With Marc Ecko

One of the coolest gifts I received this past Christmas was a rhinestone studded Boba Fett T-Shirt, similar to the two pictured below.

This T-shirt and the other two in the photo are part of Marc Ecko's Star Wars Collection streetwear for men, which is sold at select Macy's stores,, Marc Ecko Cut & Sew stores and Against All Odds. The collection presents iconic Star Wars images infused with Marc Ecko's trademark urban look on T's, hoodies, and other knits.

- J. McKinney

New Video Games Due This Week

We haven't posted about new game releases since before the holidays. If this week's new titles are any indicator, we haven't missed much.

Here is a look at what's new in stores this week:

Nintendo DS
Barnyard Blast: Swine of the Night
Corvette Evolution GT
Miami Nights: Singles in the City
Nanostray 2

Nintendo Wii
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Hard Evidence
Furu Furu Park
Samurai Warriors: Katana

Carrier Strike Force
Rail Simulator
FlatOut: Head On
The Sims Carnival -- BumperBlast
The Sims Carnival -- SnapCity

FlatOut: Head On

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chris Byrne Interviewed by Crain's New York

Our very own Chris Byrne, the Toy Guy himself, was recently interviewed by Elisabeth Butler Cordova of Crain's New York as part of an expert panel discussing the retail industry outlook for 2008. Following is an excerpt from the article. You can read the entire article by clicking here.

"As 2007 takes its final bow, Crain’s asked four retail experts, from the toy, real estate, department store and specialty boutique sectors, to share their insights on what New Yorkers can expect from the industry as it heads into the New Year.

What will be the biggest challenge for the industry in 2008?
For the toy industry, there are two. First, ongoing effort will have to be invested in recovering from the recalls of 2007. There needs to be huge education for consumers about safety and Chinese toys. Second, the challenge will be maintaining margin and product value in the face of rising costs."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Shims Bargain Recalls Pacifiers

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with Shims Bargain Inc., of Los Angeles, CA, announced a voluntary recall of “BabyTown” Pacifiers. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.

From the CPSC:

"These pacifiers fail to meet federal safety standards for pacifiers. The pacifier shield is too small and could easily enter the mouth of an infant. Also, ventilation holes are too small and not placed to allow for the insertion of a tool to remove the pacifier when lodged in the mouth of a child. Finally, the package fails to display the required warning instructing consumers not to tie a pacifier around a child’s neck, which would present a strangulation hazard."

The recalled pacifiers were sold at Dollar stores nationwide from March 2004 through December 2007 in a 4-pack of assorted colors. “BabyTown” and model #39864 are written on the product’s packaging.

Consumers should take these pacifiers away from children immediately and return them to the store where purchased for a full refund. For additional information, contact Shims Bargain toll-free at (866) 540–3334 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hong Kong Toy Fair Day 3

And Now...The Toys

One of the remarkable things about the Hong Kong Toy Fair is its sheer size. Walking non-stop for the better part of four days, one can only see superficially the hundreds of thousands of toys on display here. More than 2,000 exhibitors from 30 countries and territories, each with a booth chock-a-block full of items that the companies are hopeful will find a market.

Now, many of the toys we see here will never be released in the U.S. So, for example, while Tomy has an impressive line of Thomas The Tank Engine toys, the company doesn't have the license for U.S. distribution. Others simply aren't going to make it. In fact, one of the fun sidelines of this 4 days of sensory overload is finding the toy or toys that get our "What Were They Thinking????" nod.

This year, that has to go to The Original Farting Gnomes. We tried to snap a picture, but the manufacturer was afraid of having the idea ripped off. It didn't seem polite to say, "Don't worry about that!" Still, you can imagine a fairly traditional gnome standing about 14 inches tall. And, boy, does it make bodily noises. The company is convinced that children around the world will find this hilarious, and who are we to suggest they haven't got their finger on the pulse of play? Stranger things have made huge hits. That's all we have to say on that subject.

Even after three days, there are no real emerging trends, and no breakthrough products. Coming off a year that was tough for virtually everyone in the toy industry, it looks like the companies here are largely playing it safe. (These companies are different from the major U.S. manufacturers, which we'll write about during The American International Toy Fair next month.) So, you'll see a lot of radio control cars, a lot of die-cast cars and a lot of fashion dolls. Many of these, again, would most likely not get to the U.S. market.

One trend that looks like it's going to continue this year is music play. The success of Guitar Hero (volumes I-III) has inspired many companies to adapt that game play into some plug and play games that don't require a console and to other instruments, most notably drums. This is a play pattern that looks like it's going to be here for a while.

We'll write more about safety and how that's impacting virtually everything here tomorrow, but the other major trend that we're seeing at least in some categories, is "green" toys. This is a trend that began to gain momentum last year, as we saw tons of wooden toys and even biodegradable plastics. This year, we've seen lots of companies using soy-based fabrics for plush and stuffed animals, as opposed to the petroleum-based synthetics that have been the norm for the past
several years.

One of the things that's always fun when traveling is to look at how toy retailing is different around the world. In the U.S., people are used to places like Toys "R" Us or Wal-Mart or Target, but here in Hong Kong, it's very different. There are street vendors who sell everything from robots to plush toys, and the famous markets have a lot of lower-priced toys brought in from China. There's a huge Toys "R" Us here where many of the tourists and some of the locals shop, but here in Hong Kong (as well as in parts of China), the traditional department store is where much of the shopping gets done.

Sogo has several outlets throughout the region, and it has everything from luxury goods and world famous brands to food, stationery, apparel and things from local manufacturers. The toy department is situated amidst a floor that is largely devoted to anything for children. The actual area for toys is small, and very brand-driven. Thomas the Tank Engine, Barbie, Transformers, Power Rangers, Fisher-Price, Hello Kitty and many brands that are familiar to kids around the world fill the departments. Oh, and since the Olympics will be here this summer, there are whole lines of toys based on the mascot for the games.

Of course, one thing never changes. You can always find kids excited and mesmerized by the choices in front of them. That's something that's consistent wherever anyone goes. It's the magical part of the toy industry that one never wants to forget.

- C. Byrne

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hong Kong Toy Fair Day 2

Hello Kitty Rings in the Year of the Rat--And Bring Good Luck to the
Toy Industry

It might seem a bit incongruous for a cat to be preparing to celebrate the Year of the Rat, but here she is. Hello Kitty is everywhere in Hong Kong, from stand-alone Sanrio boutiques to boutiques in one of the main department stores, Sogo, to every street vendor. Hello Kitty is very popular here. I resisted buying a piece of Hello Kitty luggage, thinking that the embarrassment of toting it around might be offset by the ease with which it could be spotted on a luggage carousel. In the end, I opted not to get that, but Hello Kitty is featured on all kinds of goods for the New Year. Not only is the character considered cute, but it's also good luck.

And good luck is what the toy industry is going to need this year. Bottom line: Sure, there will be plenty of good toys, but they're going to cost more. According to representatives of toy companies, many factories have been holding down their prices but changes in Chinese labor laws and steadily increasing costs, as well as increased prices for raw materials mean that prices are inevitably going to rise. No one quite knows how much, and it will naturally vary by the product, but it's the talk of the show.

The other major issue that's being talked about is product safety. Of course, there are remaining concerns about this critical issue, and both China and Hong Kong have committed huge resources both to ensuring that the problems of last year are solved and that there is more attention to the safety and quality of toys coming out of the
region. Big signs throughout the city under a program called "Toys to Trust," highlight the regions five decades of making excellent products. And lest you wonder, even with increased testing, that's not what's costing the price increases. Increased testing, depending on the toy, will cost about a penny per piece, according to some
executives here.

The big issue is that we really need a global standard for safety. With every country having different standards and even different retailers have different standards, testing is not as efficient as it might be. The resulting chaos doesn't necessarily result in safer toys. But there is good news coming: The International Council of Toy
Industries is getting close to setting that global standard--and to getting manufacturers and retailers to agree to it. That would mean that kids all around the world would get the highest level of protection.

Now, we need to get our government involved. You can help. Go to and write to your representative. Let him or her know that they can do something meaningful to protect kids and ensure that toys meet the highest standard in the world. You can also educate yourself by going to and learn about all the work that's being done to make sure that toys are safe and toy manufacturing adheres to the highest ethical standards in the world.

Tomorrow, we'll look at some of the toys!

- C. Byrne

Monday, January 07, 2008

Blogging From The Hong Kong Toy Fair

The 30th annual Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair opened here this morning, with slightly less fanfare than usual. That's because the convention center is undergoing another expansion. The building was officially opened 11 years ago for the handover of Hong Kong from the British to the Chinese. At that time, the Toy Fair filled the adjacent building, with exhibitors literally squeezed in under the escalators, and virtually pouring out into the hallways and even the streets.

At the 1996 Toy Fair, I got to go up in the as-yet unfinished building and stand where the handover was going to take place. It was impressive then, and the building is just as impressive today. If you look at the front, you can see that it was intended to represent a bird in flight, and the dramatic curves make a beautiful and light statement as it juts out into Hong Kong Harbour (As they spell it here. The British influence is still huge in many things here.) Yet as massive as the building is, the fair is outgrowing it, and the new addition will be done by 2009.

So what's this Toys & Games Fair all about? Well, this is the second largest toy fair in the world, and it really marks the beginning of the "toy year," if such a thing can be said to exist. More than 2,000 exhibitors from 36 countries and territories take booths here to try to interest retailers--and people like me--from all over the world in their products.

Across the harbour (Hey, we're in the spirit of the place.), many of the larger U.S. companies have their big showrooms, and many of the representatives and senior executives have been here since the day after New Year's, meeting with big retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's, Toys "R" Us and others. You may feel as though you just finished with toys for the holidays, but believe it or not, Wal-Mart is going to be making decisions this week about many of the toys that you'll be seeing on the shelves for Holiday 2008. The toy cycle never stops!

Hong Kong is also overrun with people in the toy business. Everyone from senior executives, to designers, to people who work with the factories are all here, and they're all working pretty much 24/7 to get their lines ready to show. And to capitalize on the trends.

And what are those trends? Well, they vary, from a new emphasis on safety for everyone to new products. There's a lot to see, and only four days to do it in...and one's already gone.

Come back tomorrow for a look at some of the trends that are emerging in the first days of the fair.

-C. Byrne

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Resolve to Play Better in 2008

Happy 2008!

And all our best wishes for a play-full year for the kids in your life--and the kid in you.

Even with holiday sales depressed overall, 2008 still looks like it's going to be a great year for play. Early reviews, in prototype form, at the toys kids will be clamoring for 12 (shocking short) months from now resist categorizing in trends, except for the most facile of minds, but at least for the major companies that have previewed their lines, the watchwords are good play. It's early days, of course, and we head to Hong Kong at the end of the week for more peeks at what's on the drawing boards, but we're encouraged to see the level of true play--driven by imagination and a child's individual creativity seems to be on the rise.

So, we're excited about the year ahead. There's lots to look forward to. For one, it's the 40th Anniversary of Hot Wheels, one of the classic toy brands of all time precisely because it embodies all the elements of good play. We're not violating any agreements, and we want to be the first to tell you that what we've seen of the 2008 Hot Wheels line is about as exciting as it gets in terms of play and ingenuity--and it's not just online stuff.

In thinking about the year ahead, it seems like it might be a good time for some resolutions about play. I don't much care for resolutions for the most part. They often provide an idealized view of what's possible, and can't be carried through, leading to that much more frustration. So, let's call these, perhaps, reminders.

1. Plastic is irrelevant. The experience is what counts. At the end of the day play happens when the child's imagination connects to a concept or idea. We've all seen kids who can pick up a stick and create a magic wand. The play is what happens in the child's imagination. Where the toys are relevant is how they inspire that imaginative process. They function as visual and tactile inspirations for kids. Whether it's Polly Pocket or Nerf, the best play experiences begin with a child's imagination of him or herself in a specific situation. Remember, the three most important components of play--experience the world in new ways, explore new possibilities and realities and express one's individuality.

2. Balance is essential. Kids naturally seek diverse play experiences. Make that possible through what you purchase. Sports, arts and crafts, board games and, yes, video games are all important play experiences. Kids get different things from each of them. So make them available and kids will engage in them.

3. Remember, all play is learning. Many parents and caregivers get bogged down in ABCs and 123s. But play serves very important functions in socialization. Board games reinforce turn taking and cooperation. Drawing and painting and construction toys provide experience in conceptual thinking. Even certain video games provide experiences in deductive reasoning and problem solving. These are essential skills that will foster confidence and ability in school.

And, the last two are just for grown-ups.

4. Educate yourself. One of the things that was so upsetting about the spate of recalls last year--over and above the scares about toxicity--was how little real information was available. The mainstream news media again and again used emotional tactics that obscured facts. Sentences in print articles like "the toy was covered in lead," were false, particularly when a closer reading would show that one area of paint was affected. Now, lead has been illegal in paint on toys for 30 years and it's right to be concerned and perhaps even outraged. Still, rational thought and realistic risk assessment would provide you with peace of mind. (For instance, lead must be ingested and metabolized to pose any risk. There was a lot of misinformation out there about how kids could touch lead paint, touch their mouths or eyes and be exposed. That's not true. And were it true, the paint on your cell phone, which potentially contains lead, would be more of a cause for alarm. Oh, and we have no patience with the several parents who told us they didn't have time to go through all of their children's toys to see if they were affected.

A corollary to this is to encourage you to pay attention to things like age grading and educate yourself about all risks related to toys from tripping and ingestion to riding a bike without proper protective gear.

There has been a lot of emotionalism around issues related to toy safety in 2007, and that's a completely understandable and human reaction. At the same time, emotions will only take you so far if you're trying to create a safe environment for your kids. Rational thinking based on facts is always going to put you in a better state to take appropriate action in any situation--not just related to toy safety but in anything you do in life.

5. Model a playful approach to life. This is a gift you can give yourself and the kids in your lives today. How you approach the world and how you communicate that in your thoughts, words and actions will empower your kids to be the same way.

If you choose, resolve to be more playful this year. That doesn't mean be silly, superficial or childish or abandon your role or responsibilities, but it does mean encountering the world with a sense of possibility and a willingness to see where events take you. If you watch preschoolers, particularly, as they play, they almost always make up positive things, things that intrigue them and they fearlessly embrace where their imaginations can take them. Try it for yourself. You'll be amazed at how freeing it can be.

Wishing you all the best for the New Year--and a new sense of fun and excitement!

-C. Byrne