The best toys of all time: Here are your contenders -
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The best toys of all time: Here are your contenders
By Michael O'Connor / World-Herald staff writer

We ran a poll on asking readers which toy most deserves to enter the hall of fame.

The results
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 34 percent
My Little Pony: 18 percent
Pac-Man video game: 12 percent
Nerf toys: 10 percent
Little green Army men: 9 percent
Fisher-Price Little People: 7 percent
Magic 8 Ball: 5 percent
Board game Clue: 2 percent
Rubber duck: 2 percent
The scooter: 1 percent
Bubbles: 0 percent
Chess: 0 percent

* * *

Anyone who zinged a Nerf football or played detective in a game of Clue understands why those toys have staying power.

Nerf balls and Clue are among 12 finalists for the National Toy Hall of Fame, and this year's two inductees will be announced Thursday. There's tough competition among the finalists, such as the high-energy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the always fierce little green Army men.

With Christmas on the way, here are details on these classic toys, along with thoughts from local people who played with them — or still do.


Introduced: 1980s

History: First introduced as an arcade game, it became a huge hit — even bigger than hair bands. Iconic video game and one of the most influential, helping establish the maze chase genre. It was part of pop culture, from T-shirts to a TV show.

Why it endures: The game play — little yellow Pac-Man gobbling dots — is straightforward but challenging. Your heart races trying to avoid Blinky and the other enemies.

Fun fact: The 1982 song “Pac-Man Fever” made it all the way up to No. 9 on Billboard's Top 100 chart.

Player/memories: Me and my friends would make money at a Kool-Aid stand then ride our bikes to a convenience store that had a Pac-Man arcade game. We'd keep plugging in quarters, trying to get the high score so we could put our initials by it. Greg Dawes, 43, Omaha

Nerf Toys

Introduced: 1960s

History: Originated from a game concept based on the “Flintstones” TV show, where players would throw foam “rocks” at each other. That game never was developed, but the idea for the foam rocks led to Nerf toys.

Why it endures: Remember mom's rule about never playing ball in the house? Nerf toys allow kids to play ball, shoot darts and do other fun stuff inside without breaking things or killing each other.

Fun fact: Developed by a game designer who also helped create the game Twister.

Player/memories: I played Nerf hoops and football with friends and neighborhood kids, and loved Nerf darts, battling in the basement gladiator-style. Nothing ever got broken. Eric Rafferty, 29, Omaha


Introduced: This one goes way back, and in America Benjamin Franklin spread the word when he wrote the “The Morals of Chess” in 1750.

History: Originated from the two-player war game in India called Chatarung, which dates to 600 A.D.

Why it endures: Complex enough to challenge the world's top players, but can be learned and enjoyed by kids.

Fun fact: Ben Franklin loved playing chess, especially against beautiful women.

Player/memories: “I like trying to figure out the other player's next move before he makes it.” — Max Hobday, 13, Omaha

Clue board game

Introduced: 1947

History: Developed by a retired clerk during air raids in England during World War II.

Why it endures: Mystery theme makes it intriguing for kids and adults. Was it Professor Plum in the conservatory with a dagger? It's also great family competition. What's better than trouncing mom, dad and your little sister on family game night?

Fun fact: Originally introduced in England under the name Cluedo.

Player/memories: “I like the mystery, and love playing with my parents and brothers. Sometimes I beat them. We sit around the kitchen table and eat popcorn. It's a good family time.” — Reaganne Heller, 13, Omaha

Fisher-Price Little People

Introduced: 1959

History: Fisher-Price first offered them in the Safety School Bus, and over the years they have popped up in farms, zoos, airports and gas stations. Bare-footed parents have been yelping after stepping on these things since the Eisenhower administration.

Why it endures: Just the right size for little hands, and a great way to start imaginative play and improve fine motor skills.

Fun fact: Initially made of wood, now they're made of molded plastic.

Player/memories: “I had a Little People car with round holes for the Little People driver. I would make a city out of toy buildings and pretend to drive around town.” — RaeLynn DeFalco, 20, Omaha

My Little Pony

Introduced: 1980s

History: After its initial run, the toy was reintroduced in 2003.

Why it endures: Kids love to collect things, and this line of mini horses offers plenty of choices. Girls like braiding and curling the ponies' long manes.

Fun fact: Little kids aren't the only ones interested in Pinkie Pie and the other ponies. A group of adult men and some women call themselves Bronies — bro ponies. They watch the show “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” They chat about it on social media, form clubs of like-minded people and buy show-related memorabilia.

Player/memories: “Every time my dad took me to the store he'd buy me a Little Pony. I had dozens of them. I'd play with them down in the basement, pretending they were trotting along the floor. I also had toys that looked like real horses, and they got along well with the purple and pink Little Ponies.” — Karyn Sporer, 30, Omaha


Introduced: Early 1900s

History: The first were homemade, built with things around the house like old boards and a broom stick for handlebars. By the late 1980s, companies started making scooters from lightweight metals and polyurethane wheels. The sleek and fast Razor Scooter was introduced in 2000 and became a big hit.

Why it endures: More daring than a bike, and easier to get the hang of.

Fun fact: Five million Razor Scooters were sold in the first year alone.

Player/memories: “When I'd visit my grandparents I'd look forward to riding the scooter they had at their house. I think it belonged to my dad. My mom liked it because it was safer than a skateboard.” — Don Halverson, 20, Omaha

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Introduced: 1980s

History: Started as a comic book self-published by two struggling artists seeking to satirize comic book heroes and action stars. Leonardo and the other turtles became a massive hit, generating toys, TV shows, movies and video games.

Why it endures: Each turtle has a different personality, helping a wide range of kids identify with them. Michelangelo was a free-spirit, for example, and Donatello appealed to the brainy or artistic kids.

Fun fact: The turtles had their own cereal from 1989-91. Bonus fun fact: The cereal's marshmallow bits were shaped like pizza slices.

Player/memories: “Me and my friends would battle with turtle toys, and one group of turtles would be good and the other evil.” — James Fell, 31, Omaha

Sources: National Toy Hall of Fame, Rochester, N.Y.; U.S. Chess Federation; Guinness World Records; Great American Cereal Book;

Magic 8 Ball

Introduced: 1950

History: A company called Alabe Crafts produced a novelty crystal ball that gave answers to questions, but it did not sell well. Then a billiard company asked Alabe Crafts to produce a promotional fortune-teller that looked like the No. 8 billiard ball, and that became the Magic 8 Ball.

Why it endures: With its answers to yes-or-no questions, the Magic 8 Ball lets you have fun flirting with the future, making it a staple of sleepovers for decades.

Fun fact: That oily looking stuff inside the ball? Diluted propylene glycol.

Player/memories: I'd borrow an 8 Ball from my brother, and me and my sister and cousin would ask it questions, like whether we'd be rich or famous someday. We took it very seriously. - Sierra Pirigyi, 24, Omaha

Little Green Plastic Army Men

Introduced: 1930s

History: Replaced little metal toy soldiers, which had been around since the early 1800s.

Why it endures: Though tiny, these little soldiers have great detail, whether it's a pistol in a holster or an antenna on a walkie-talkie, making them great for make-believe battles. Boys have found lots of awesome ways to have fun with them, like blowing them up with fire crackers.

Fun fact: Since the 1990s, 18 different versions of army men video games have been produced.

Player/memories: Me and my friends competed to see who could have the most Army men. I had a buckets with thousands of them. We'd play in the sand box or in the dirt, building mountains and ridges for our battles. The grass was the jungle. We'd toss pebbles at each other's armies to blow them up. Tim Heller, 49, Omaha

Rubber Duck

Introduced: At least as far back as the 1940s.

History: Rubber squeak toys emerged in the 1800s, but it's tough knowing for sure whether the Rubber Duck paddles back that far.

Why it endures: For one, the ducks are so darn cute. This classic tub toy is a great lure for little kids who might otherwise dash out the front door at bath time.

Fun fact: A California woman has the Guinness World Record for owning the most rubber ducks: 5,631.

Player/memories: When I was a little girl I'd give my rubber duck a beard or hair with soap bubbles in the tub. Amy Forss, 51, La Vista

Soap Bubbles

Introduced: Chemtoy, a Chicago company, started selling a bubble solution in the 1940s.

History: Tough knowing how or when the idea first popped up. One clue: Paintings of children playing with bubbles first appeared in Europe in the 17th century.

Why it endures: Toys don't get much simpler or less expensive. You can get a bottle for about a buck. There's something magical about blowing on the soap wand and watching bubbles appear, then float away, changing shape and color. Grown-ups are some of the biggest fans.

Fun fact: Colors in a soap bubble are from light reflecting on the front and back of the soap film.

Player/memories: I'd sit in the grass in the front yard when I was little and blow bubbles. I loved jumping up and popping them or watching them float high, then pop by themselves. Lisa Hobday, 42, Omaha

Contact the writer: Michael O'Connor    |   402-444-1122    |  

Michael is a general assignment reporter for the Living section, covering a mix of topics including human interest stories.

Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom

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