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Blizzards aside, February is a magical time in NYC. For the four-day duration of the American International Toy Fair, the West Side of midtown Manhattan becomes a land of toys. So for you, dear readers, we search out the best of this jubilant crop.
Last year was the year of the iPhone toy. This year, the so-called “appcessories” (puke) were everywhere, just everywhere. Which is pretty much why we decided — with one remarkable robotic exception — to ignore them.
Toymakers need to stretch their creative muscles and really think outside the box. And that is where the fun can begin.
Hasbro Jenga TETRIS Edition
We’ll admit it: we have a penchant for analog Tetris riffs. Think about it: any game based on stacking (and unstacking) or bricks and shapes is a natural fit for a mashup. This year, Hasbro has replaced the uniform bricks of Jenga with Tetris blocks. The result is terrifying — positively terrifying. But as far as Jenga is concerned, that’s kinda the point. (Available August, $15)
ThinkGeek Princip Interactive LED Futuro Cube
Desk toys feeling a little uninspired lately? What if we told you the Futuro Cube is an entirely new game platform that fits in the palm of your hand? Would that get your attention? Thought so. The cube has an internal accelerometer and processor and nine RGB LEDs on each face. The accelerometer determines how you move the cube and is sensitive enough to know when you gently tap one of its faces. Futuro comes pre-loaded with 12 games, including a version of Snake in which the creature crawls from side to side as you tilt the cube. But ThinkGeek reps tell us they’re working with Futuro’s creator to release an SDK, so hackers can create their own games. (Available now, $100)
Zometool Design Series
With a Zometool building kit, you can construct every shape possible — from a high-rise to the structure of the next vaccine. Each spherical base unit has 62 slots. The slots are three different shapes–triangles, rectangles and pentagons–and each shape has a corresponding stick that fits into it. Because of the angle and proportions of the pieces, you can build mathematically perfect ice crystals, Archimedean solids, or viruses. Nobel prize winners have used previous versions to model their concepts. The Design Series nixes the primary colors, standing in classy black and white.
Tailor Toys PowerUp 3.0
Even the perfectly crafted paper airplane will only fly so far for so long. PowerUp 3.0 is a conversion kit that makes your paper plane electric, so rather than crashing to the ground in 2.5 seconds, it can really soar. The motor attaches to the nose of the plane, spinning the propeller at the back for a flight of up to 10 minutes on a 3-minute charge. A smartphone connects via Bluetooth 4.0 to become a remote control with the range of a football field. Tilting the phone controls the plane’s rudder and on-screen buttons act as the throttle. (Available September, $50)
Wow! Stuff Combat Creatures Attacknids
Attacknids: Six-legged badass robots battling each other. Need to know more? Each robot stands 10 inches tall and has a head that rotates 360 degrees to aim its gun. The interchangeable blasters fire disks, darts, or balls, and plastic armor for each spidery leg flies off when it’s hit. After three direct hits to a plastic switch on the face, the robot shuts down. The electronics are in the robospider’s body, so it can wade through water and mud up to 3 inches high. Battles can last up to three hours on 6 AA batteries, and you control the bot with a wireless R/C handset. (Available fall, about $90)
TT Tech Cloudrobot
Practically every toy we see — from stuffed animals to Nerf blasters — has some sort of (often tacked-on) online component. With the Cloudrobots, though, what’s online is actually real. Users will buy the robots in pairs — the demo had one in blue gloves and one in black — and connect to the online community via an Android or iOS app. (The early models on display work with dedicated controllers, but apps are in the pipeline.) Once you have an opponent, the robots will mimic one another; I throw a right hook with the blue ‘bot, the blue ‘bot on my opponent’s side executes the same move. The bad news: it’ll still be a couple years before the Cloudrobots are available for purchase.
For those of you who want a spectacled robot that speaks with a British accent and responds when he’s beckoned, RoboMe is the ticket. RoboMe is an iPhone-based 12-inch tall robot. To customize his face and voice, the user chooses from different eye shapes, facial hairstyles, and accents within the app. RoboMe also has voice recognition, enabling it to carry out learned vocal commands. An IR sensor detects movement, so your mini-me can follow you around. For remote video recording, the robot using the iPhone’s camera, as long as there’s WiFi. (Available July, $90)
SpinMaster Air Hogs AtmoSphere
The AtmoSphere is a plastic dome-encapsulated propeller that you control with your hand. Instead of a remote control, an IR sensor detects when there is an object 6 inches underneath the orb. When that happens, the grapefruit-sized vehicle hovers in place. That means a user can place his hand underneath AtmoSphere to guide it around the room — getting closer directs it up and gently pushing the sides moves it laterally. It takes 6 AA batteries and has a charging cradle. (Available later this year, $25)
Innovation First Hexbug Nano V2
We love bugs. We also love robots. Robot bugs? Those just make our heads explode. The original Hexbug Nano scurried into our hearts a few years ago. But things just got better. The new Nano V2 has an extra pair of legs on its underside and three tentacles up top. Its motor is also several times faster than its predecessors. What’s that mean? This robot bug can climb through tubes! (Available fall, price not set)
SpinMaster Spy Gear Panosphere 360 Spy Cam
There’s a lot of gear involved in a decent 007 impersonation. Not least of which is surveillance. The Panosphere camera has a curved lens that allows it to capture a full hemisphere of video. During playback, you can pan through scenes using Google-Maps-like click-and-drag. The device holds up to 30 minutes of 720p footage (about 2GB worth), and comes with a suction-cup bracket or puck housing. The Spy Gear line also has microphone-equipped darts and a voice-activated wearable intercom system. (Available fall, $60)