So, what do you do if you're a Portland father whose young children love going to bed at night with their pointy, plastic robot toys? Well, in typical PDX-DIY fashion, you design your own plush stuffed robots that won't puncture your progeny. Jason Hilbourne's Bunk Bots ($12. Child's Play, 907 NW 23rd Ave., 224-5586, and other local toy stores, bunkbots.com) look almost like gray iPods (he has done design work for Apple) with mouths and eyes where the screen and dial would be, and wrenchlike appendages coming out of their sides. Some of them—the ones with blue eyes—are purported to be good, while their red-eyed doppelgängers intend to take over the world. Gee, who do you think Hilbourne voted for?
2 Earth-Friendly RC
Have you always wanted to get one of those sweet alternative-fuel cars, but found yourself thwarted by your meager barista paycheck? It seems no matter how big the Magic Marker you use to label your tips bucket, people just don’t get the message. Well maybe you can’t drive a real hydrogen car, but you can always maneuver a pretend one. Enter the H2go ($189.95. OMSI, 1945 SE Water Ave. 797-4626), a Jetsons-esque remote-controlled car from Corgi that’s powered by a wee fuel cell. Simply hook the car up to the solar-powered recharging unit, fill it up with water and—GO PLANET!—you’ve got enough energy to operate the car for an hour.
3 Celebrity Pursuit
Sure, Trivial Pursuit is fun, but what’s with those categories? History? Science? And who’s this Charles Dickens cat? I’ve never heard him mentioned on Chelsea Lately. Well, there’s no longer any need to know that boring old crap, thanks to Identity Crisis ($24.99. Fred Meyer, various locations, fredmeyer.com). Players split into two teams and play three rounds of increasing difficulty, attempting to name celebrities based on a series of clues. It’s not in the official rule book, but we find the game is more fun if wrong answers are punished with penalty shots, preferably of cheap vodka.
4 Fine German Automobiles
Darda is to Hot Wheels what BMW is to Ford. The German-engineered wind-up toy cars come with an assortment of race tracks (Upside-down Overpass, $33. Green Frog, 1031 NW 11th Ave., 222-2646) featuring hairpin curves and upside-down loops. It’s the kind of toy you might get for your kid just so you can have an excuse to play with it without being one of those loser adults who buys child’s toys—and doesn’t keep them in their original packaging.
5 Green Tea
If you’re more than a bit dubious of purchasing plastic toys for your tots out of concern for the environmental implications, Green Toys has a solution for you. They’ve released a pretty little pastel tea set ($26.50. Green Frog, 1031 NW 11th Ave., 222-2646) with one foot in the nostalgic past where little girls throw pretend, high-class tea parties, and one planted firmly in the environmentally conscious (and caste-free society?) future. What’s so special about it? This tea set is made entirely out of recycled milk jugs.
6 That’s One Ugly Doll
Uglydolls have been around since 2001, but they’ve gained popularity lately in a major way as the roster of these collectable misfits swells to brigade proportions. The plush dolls make up a Beanie Baby-like extended family of critters and characters, but instead of cute little animals they’re hideous monsters—though hideous in a stylized, aesthetically pleasing, manga-style manner. They come in a few different formats, but the 7-inch versions retail at Lemon Tree (1724 NE 40th Ave., 287-3070) for $12.
7 Homemade Superhero
It’s a dilemma that all socially conscious parents face: How can I be sure the things I buy for my little tyke aren’t made by oppressed sweatshop workers on the other side of the world? Spielwerk (7956 SE 13th Ave., 736-3000) is here to help out with superhero masks and costumes ($60) handmade by American moms. They’re très chic and come in an assortment of colors and styles; plus they’re guaranteed to feature the kind of high-quality craftsmanship you can only get when your product is made by real, live mothers. And don’t worry, Spielwerk assures us that no moms were harmed in the making of these outfits.
8 Space Cowboy
Rody Horse ($50. Spielwerk, 7956 SE 13th Ave., 736-3000) is an armful-sized, inflatable rubber horse with nubby little legs that looks like it comes from the dark side of the moon, measuring 1 foot high from floor to saddle and available in an array of colors. He’s like one of those giant rubber hop balls that kids sit on to bounce around, but smaller and with a better base of balance for toddlers—plus, he looks way cooler. And for all you parents out there wary of synthetics, this Italian-manufactured toy is free of phthalates.
9 Washtub Bass
As a child at bath time, I was content just to sculpt soap bubbles, with maybe a G.I. Joe or Ninja Turtle brought along for good measure. But bathtub technology has come a long way, baby. TubTunes is a line of musical instruments for kids designed to function in the in the bathtub. Our favorite is the flute set ($12. Finnegan’s Toys, 922 SW Yamhill St., 221-0306). Each flute (the set comes with five) can be filled with water, its pitch determined by the amount you put in. Also included is a tiny rack. Set each one to a different note, then snap them all in and your child will be grooving to a pentatonic scale in no time. Just be prepared for the sounds of “music” that will emerge from the tub. Don’t get mad, be patient and understand: Your child is learning.
I’ve had issues for quite some time with Monopoly. I mean, really, is this the kind of game we want to give our youth? One that encourages them to start a business career and then ruthlessly drive out all competitors? Given the current economic environment, it’s important that we teach our kids about good business practices. Anti-Monopoly ($25. Finnegan’s Toys. 922 SW Yamhill St., 221-0306) takes the basic premise of Monopoly and adds a slight wrinkle: Competitors are given the choice of playing as honest capitalists or as ruthless monopolizers, with a different set of rules for each. So what if we couldn’t keep greed and corruption from toppling capitalism on Wall Street? At least we can live out our fantasies of egalitarian utopia in our living rooms.
11 Hey, Remember the ’80s?
We really wanted to include Billy Galaxy (912 W Burnside St., 227-8253, billygalaxy.com), but it’s hard to pick any one goodie from their stock. Why? Well, the vintage toy store only has one or two of each item it stocks—it’s not like there’s a huge backstock of He-Man figurines that you can just order from the manufacturer. So, why feature Billy Galaxy? Because it’s the perfect place to find a gift for the ’80s lover in your life, which at this point seems to be about 97 percent of the population of Portland. So pick up some original Transformers or Star Wars action figures for the hopeless nostalgic in your life. They’ve even got Michael Jackson Thriller dolls in their original packaging!
12 Foam Play
Educational Insights Play Foam (six-pack for $10. Finnegan’s Toys, 922 SW Yamhill St., 221-0306) is kind of like that old Nickelodeon toy Floam, but with a few improvements. It’s still moldable, like Play-Doh made out of tiny congealed Styrofoam balls, but unlike Floam it’s not sticky and won’t dry out. It comes in multiple colors that theoretically can each be used to form the individual parts of larger sculptures, but be warned: Sooner or later your young ones will probably mix all of them together to make one rainbow-colored gelatinous blob. For adults with tactile fixations, it’s also a nice little distraction to keep at your workspace that won’t make as much noise as bubble wrap.
So you want to teach your child about world geography? By all means, get the kid a regular old desktop globe. But know that kids today won’t pay attention to anything if it doesn’t beep and talk and connect to the Internet. SmartGlobe ($129.95. Oregon Scientific, 7355 SW Bridgeport Road, 624-0890) is an electronic, PC-compatible globe programmed to play interactive educational games. It features difficulty levels designed for the 5-8, 9-14 and 15-and-up age groups, covering topics that range from history to current events, languages to geography. It responds to touches from the accompanying magnetic “smart pen” and is formatted to accept downloadable weekly updates.
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