Professor Plum with the Nerf Blast a Ball in a tavern in the Forgotten Realms.
The solution to a pop culture-savvy murder mystery party? Maybe, but they're also references to three of the 12 toys up for induction to the Strong Museum's National Toy Hall of Fame this year.
Every year, the National Toy Hall of Fame receives thousands of nominations for toys to stand alongside such luminaries as the stick, Barbie, Nintendo's Game Boy, the Super Soaker, dollhouses, blankets and Silly Putty. Anyone can nominate a toy through the Strong's website, and then the museum consults with a committee of educators, historians and others who have, according to the museum, exemplified "learning, creativity and discovery through their lives and careers."
If you raised an eyebrow at the mention of the stick and blankets above, it's important to note that the Toy Hall of Fame does not define what a toy is but is instead more interested in how kids use these items during play. When selecting a toy for induction, the committee considers four criteria:
- Icon-status. The toy is widely recognized, respected and remembered.
- Longevity. The toy is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over multiple generations.
- Discovery. The toy fosters learning, creativity or discovery through play.
- Innovation. The toy profoundly changed play or toy design.
It's easy, then, to see how sticks and blankets figure into toys as sticks very quickly become swords or batons and blankets become capes and doors and the roofs of forts as kids imagine themselves in various scenarios during play. Even the cardboard box is in the hall of fame as a toy because what kid hasn't seen a cardboard box and said, "That's going to be my house! Or my castle! Or a place where my stuffed animals live!"
With these criteria in mind, here are the 12 toys the hall of fame is considering this year.
1. Bubble wrap. Created in 1957, bubble wrap is great for packing, sure, but it's also great for making loud noises whether you're 8 or 38.
2. Care Bears. While they started as a line of greeting cards in the 1980s, the Care Bears quickly became plushies, figurines and stars of TV and film who taught us all about the value of, well, caring.
Clue has had people answering "Whodunnit?" for decades. (Photo: FreePhotos4U/flickr)
3. Clue. This popular board game was originally developed during World War II and has players trying to solve the murder of the hapless Mr. Boddy at the hands of colorful characters like Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard and, yes, Professor Plum.
4. Coloring books. Coloring books have helped kids develop motor skills by coloring inside the lines (if they want!) and learn any facts included in more educationally geared books.
5. Dungeons & Dragons. A collection of books and weirdly shaped dice, Dungeons & Dragons has encouraged kids of all ages since the 1970s to use their imaginations as they traverse the Forgotten Realms as elven bards, dwarven clerics and dragonborn paladins in search of treasure, glory and maybe saving the world.
Little People are great for little hands without being a choking hazard. (Photo: John Morgan/flickr)
6. Fisher-Price Little People. These at first wooden but now plastic figurines have been brightly colored fixtures for little kids since 1959, be it as bus drivers or amusement park-goers.
7. Nerf. Nerf started as a ball that wouldn't break everything inside the house and quickly became blasters and bows and arrows of foam. Whether or not the house's breakables are still intact is another story.
8. Pinball. This arcade and bar game has its roots in 18th-century France, but that hasn't stopped it from evolving into a brightly colored, noisy and addictive machine.
9. Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. These pugilistic robots first entered the ring in 1965, and they no doubt inspired various actual robotic fights to the death.
10. Swing. A "simple" toy in keeping with blankets and cardboard boxes, the swing is more than it appears. Sure, it's a lackadaisical way to enjoy a sunny day, but balance yourself on your stomach and pick up some speed and suddenly you're soaring through the air.
11. Transformers. These robots in disguise haven't hidden themselves very well since the 1980s, what with their comic books, movies and TV series overshadowing the fun of turning a truck into a robot.
Uno is a game of strategy and bright colors. (Photo: Bob Owen/flickr)
12. Uno. This shedding card game is easy to learn and quick to play, and while the classic scheme of four colors is still going strong, lots of pop culture licensed versions also exist.
The new inductees will be announced on Nov. 10. If I were on the committee, I'd probably end up voting for the swing and Dungeons & Dragons. The swing feels like an obvious but ideal choice given its longevity and ease of access, too. Dungeons & Dragons is a game that's pure imagination, has influenced game design since it hit shelves and places a high value on team-building skills.
Which toys would you vote for?