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CNN Today

Low-Tech Toys in an Electronic Age

Aired December 27, 2000 - 2:49 p.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: 'Tis the season when the kids are opening up presents, a lot of toys, a lot of techno-toys. If you have had it up to there with all the bells and whistles and batteries and plug-in things, well, we have a low-tech solution for you.

Ed Curran, our gadget guy, goes low-tech with the toys today.

Ed, what do you have for us? And happy holidays for you.

ED CURRAN, CNN GADGET GUY: Happy holidays.

You know, it is so unusual for me to do low-tech, but we talked about all this high-tech stuff for the holidays, and now things are, you know, people are starting to see how many batteries these things eat up. And we said: What is low-tech out there that we can look at. So we have got some wonderful low-tech things.

We will start over here with this. These are called Froebel Blocks, and these were created by Fred Froebel. He is the same man who brought us Kindergarten. He created Kindergarten. And Froebel Blocks, in this case, come in these wonderful wooden boxes here, and inside, all different shapes that teach you about construction. These are cubes. And then the cubes are broken in half. So you learn about he components of the cube, and you learn about geometry, and you learn about how to build things.

Now, the neat thing about Froebel Blocks is that Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect, his mother bought a set of Froebel Blocks for him when he was a child. And he said much later in life that Froebel Blocks are still in my hands. He still thinks back to those times, and gave a lot of credit to Froebel Blocks.

They are available out there, starting at about $20. You can get a set of boxes like this, with all different kinds in there. It goes for about $200. It is really nice. Froebel Blocks, a really neat item. Here is a cylinder, and it breaks into all these little pieces that teaches a child about all the components, really neat.

Now, this, knowing what Frank Lloyd Wright did with Froebel Blocks, in the 1920s, Frank Lloyd Wright's son invented Lincoln Logs. And Lincoln Logs have been around for a long time, since the '20s. I played with one when I was a kid. They are still around.

Here they have some plastic components that go in here as well, and this is a castle that we have built here. You can get sets for $10-15 ion up. And very low-tech play. No batteries, no light sabers here. Here is a big boulder, we put it on our castle and we launch it.

KAGAN: Ed, I did not know that Frank Lloyd Wright's son created Lincoln Logs.

CURRAN: Isn't that amazing.

KAGAN: That is some good little trivia there.

CURRAN: Back in the '20s, John Lloyd Wright, I believe his name was, and he invented Lincoln Logs.

KAGAN: So they are still out there, and a really great toy.

CURRAN: Now another great toy that I have played with when I was a kid if back, it has been gone for about eight years.

KAGAN: Tinker Toys.

CURRAN: Tinkers Toys, yeah.

KAGAN: Love those!

CURRAN: The disks are a little bit larger, we notice, than they used to be. But it is a set of disks, and they have holes on the sides, and holes around the edges here, and it is just disks and rods, and you build all kinds of different stuff. They are really great. They are inexpensive. You can get them $20; there is another set out there for $50. But again a low-tech toy that has been proven, it has been around for a long, long time.

Now, down in front of the Tinker Toys here, we have a great item that goes on your refrigerator.

KAGAN: What is that?

CURRAN: Now, if your refrigerator is like mine, you have got all sorts of stuff stuck to it. Now, look at this, this is called Frigits. You stick them to the face of your refrigerators, you arrangement them any way you want. And then you have got these little marbles. You take a marble and put it in, and you create this kind of Rube Goldberg type of device here.

KAGAN: And then you step on the marble and stub your toe.

CURRAN: That's right. You have to make sure the marbles don't end up on the floor, otherwise you have got problems.

Now, what is a nice project that kids can get into and can learn a lot, and help to develop their motor skills and all that.

KAGAN: Origami.

CURRAN: Here is Origami. This particular box here has all farm animals in it. See the cow here? And we have a pig, and we have other sets that do butterflies and other insects, and that types of things. Origami is the Japanese of folding paper, of course and another great item that is out there.

Now, I have been a fan for a long time of Thomas the Tank Engine. I mean, my son just turned 6 years old, and when he was 3 years old, we would bring him to a train story -- and they would have these -- and we couldn't get him out of the train store.

Thomas the Tank Engine is a wonderful set from Learning Curve Toys. It has these wooden tracks. The Brio (ph) sets are also out there. They are similar in design to these.

And you get your set here, and you set it up, and there are different ways that you can construct. So it really does help to bring about a great deal of creativity with the children, not only in the play that they have, but in all the ways that they use these things. They have magnetic couplers so the cars will couple together.

Now this is Muffle Mountain. It is from the Thomas movie. And after the Thomas movie came out in the past year sales skyrocketed with all these types of Thomas items out there.

Now, Thomas is not inexpensive. They can get pretty expensive. But a set like this, the Muffle Mountain set, the whole set is not laid out here, we don't have room for it, costs about $100. Extremely well made, all made of wood. And you know, it is more than just trains that go around in a circle. Children really play and add a lot to it, make noises.

You know, today's electronic trains, the electric trains you have, make all the noises for you. When I was a kid, we would make the noises. With the Thomas system, you can make the noises and add all that to your play. So, it is really a great system from Learning Curve Toys.

Finally, board games have really been hot. A lot of board games are doing real well out there. Cranium is going very well. "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" is doing well as a board game. Board games are very hot. My wife always enjoyed playing when she was a kid "Mystery Date."

KAGAN: Story of my life.

CURRAN: Mystery Date.

KAGAN: I used to play this too.

CURRAN: Did you? 1965 version here, and I went on eBay and I bought it. You throw the dice, and then you open the door and you see who you get. And it's the dud.

KAGAN: Kind of like looks like last weekend. Just kidding.

CURRAN: Sorry to hear about that. Let's close the door, and see if we do better this time. There you go, you are going skiing. KAGAN: There is the New Year's date right there.

CURRAN: This vintage version on eBay might cost you $100 or so. For a board game in 1965 that cost about $3.35. But it is really great fun. A lot of families are having fun with board games.

Here you go, a lot of items that require no batteries whatsoever, but really stimulate the imagination.

KAGAN: Ed, I know it was hard for you to give up your batteries this week. So what is coming up next week for us here on CNN TODAY?

CURRAN: We have some exciting things. I think we might be able to have a little bit of a preview of some of the things that we will see at the Consumer Electronic Show. The Consumer Electronic Show is coming up the weekend after the new years. We will certainly be out there, and looking for some great new things, some of the things that will help shape our lives during 2001.

KAGAN: Very good. So the batteries will be back.

CURRAN: They sure will.

KAGAN: Ed Curran, in Chicago, happy new year. Thank you very much.

CURRAN: Happy new year.



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