Archive for the ‘Toys’ Category

Service of Choosing Gifts

Thursday, December 2nd, 2021

‘Tis the season: Will you, too, be scratching your head to find perfect gifts?

Some of Evan Polman’s findings may shed light on final decisions. He reported them in “That Product Will Work Well for You. But for Me? Not So Much,” in The Wall Street Journal. Dr. Polman is associate professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business in Madison.

“In 15 studies involving thousands of participants, we found that people believe that scores of products—including moisturizer, granola bars, calendars and online classes—will have a greater positive effect on others than on themselves.” The less familiar the product, wrote Dr. Polman, the stronger this belief. [He observed that some think medicines work better for others hence they opt to overdose, which obviously isn’t healthy…but I digress.]

Dr. Polman wrote: “When buying gifts for others, for example, we might worry less about whether something will be as effective as advertised because we assume it will have a relatively positive effect on the recipient.” That’s why, he posited, gifts are less practical and more creative than what most would buy for themselves. “This would suggest that people have a blind spot when choosing gifts for others, preferring gifts that dazzle in the short run but have less usefulness in the long run.”

I don’t think this happens when buying gifts for children who often have their hopes pinned on specific toys or games. Fanciful substitutes won’t do.

His research also has impact on a company introducing new products or entrepreneurs launching a business: “New products—and businesses—often fail, and this could be because marketers and entrepreneurs overestimate the benefits that their products will have for others.”

Given that the recipient already owns the basics, do you look for something special that is considered a treat, even an extravagance, that a beneficiary wouldn’t buy for him/herself? An example could be as simple as a luxury Swiss or Belgian hot chocolate powder vs. a generic grocery store brand that might already have a place in the pantry. Wouldn’t this also explain how people choose gifts, even if they don’t exactly “dazzle,” in Dr. Polman’s words? How do you decide?

Service of Adults Competing in Games That Children Play

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019


Many sports are played by kids which adults adopt and turn into big stakes competitions–think basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey, football, skiing or skating. We don’t think of table games as making such a transition but Scott Simon on “Weekend Edition Saturday” addressed one. He interviewed two men–Larry Kahn and David Lockwood for the segment “Not Just Child’s Play: World Tiddlywinks Champions Reclaim Their Glory.”

Lockwood told Simon “‘Tiddlywinks is not what you did when you were 5 years old. Tournament tiddlywinks is a fascinating combination of physical skill at a micro level and positional strategy.’

“Probability, physics and dexterity rule the game.”


Simon reported that the 19th century game, launched in England as an adult parlor game, got its own tournament at Cambridge University in 1955. In addition to Cambridge University, the professional tournament players hail mostly from MIT and Oxford. Lockwood and Kahn were at MIT in the 1970s where they joined their college team.

One of the challenges for the players today is that the winks are hard if not impossible to come by. Manufacturers aren’t making them. These players fashion their own by sanding down spice jar lids. They pin their hopes on 3-D printing that, once affordable, they anticipate will streamline the process.


So what happened: Did the Lockwood-Kahn team win in Cambridge? If you paid attention to the title of the article in the first paragraph you’d know that they are this year’s champions! While the two like to win they claim that the friendships they make at the tournaments are most important to them.

Lockwood said: “If you get a modicum of success, you’re more frequently willing to continue to play, but it’s also a very frustrating game because you miss these things that you’ve made so many times in the past.”

I’ve heard people say the same thing about all sorts of sports from golf to basketball—haven’t you? Aren’t most sports—with exceptions such as golf, which is expensive, and curling, which isn’t readily available–first played by children? Do you play traditional board or table games anymore? Are the friends you’ve made at your sport as important to you as winning? Do you play computer games? Are the benefits the same?


Service of More Born Every Minute

Monday, May 9th, 2016


Sorry to have to share more scams for suckers but it’s important to get out the word.

Moving right along

Did you hear about the Douglas County, Georgia family that hired a moving company through Craigslist and with the exception of one box, lost all their worldly goods?

Moving van plainThe movers had stolen the U-Haul truck [that the vehicle didn’t have the name of a mover painted on the side would have given me immediate pause]. According to Richard Elliot of WSB TV, after loading the truck the movers “appeared to be heading to the family’s new home in another county. But along the way, the homeowner said, the movers ditched her and vanished.” Estimated loss: $75,000. The box was recovered on a sidewalk by Cobb police two days later.

The homeowner was grateful. She’d said “If I don’t get anything back, I want that box, because it has all of our social security, birth certificates in it. It has death records from my mom and son,” she said, as well as the family Bible. The iPads and phones were missing from the box.

The naïveté of the customers made me sad: Most would have kept small electronic items and personal papers with them or stored them with friends. No wonder they were easy marks. I have to give it to the movers: They cleared the house in four hours. That’s lightening fast. Given my recent experiences in moving, I’d guess they didn’t pack or protect much; they must have tossed the furniture and other belongings in the truck.

Vote by hanging up

Telephone town hallHave you been invited to attend a town hall meeting on the phone with a political candidate? Take care warned Catherine Fredmen on where she shared intel from David Dewey, director of research at Pindrop Security, a firm that sells anti-fraud detection technology to call centers and others.

If you’re enticed by scammers that take advantage of the season and you give your credit card number to donate to your favorite pol, “Not only have you handed over money to an unknown entity, you have opened the door to identity theft.” She advises if the call is unsolicited, don’t play ball.

Not playing around

V TechWrote Fredmen, “Scammers are after more than your credit card number. Instead, they glean personal information to build detailed profiles that can be used for sophisticated forms of identity theft that may not be immediately obvious.” Her example is VTech, a toymaker. She continued: “For example, scammers could exploit the VTech data breach, which compromised the profiles of 6.4 million kids around the world, to hack identities for years. Because kids have no credit history and their parents generally don’t check their credit reports regularly, the theft might not be noticed until the kids grow up and apply for a credit card or financial aid for college.”

Mobile wallets on the move

“Dewey put the security of mobile wallets to a little test,” such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, Android Pay and PayPal, added Fredmen.  “First, he secretly copied credit card numbers and expiration dates from a few colleagues at Pindrop. A little Google investigating revealed the answers to ‘secure’ identification questions (such as a colleague’s mother’s maiden name) needed to activate the colleague’s card under Dewey’s mobile wallet account. Within minutes, Dewey had strolled over to Whole Foods and bought lunch for the office—paid for by his unwitting colleague. (The colleague was reimbursed.)”

Are you familiar with these scams or potential breaches? Know of others?

Android pay




Service of Toys With Consequences

Monday, November 30th, 2015

piles of presents

‘Tis the season. To prove it $billions will be spent between Black Friday and Cyber Monday today–maybe you’ve contributed.

I read about one toy you might want to avoid if children are on your list–hope I’m not too late. I love gifts that involve creativity and no technology. What if the electricity goes out and there’s no way to charge gizmos? What if making something with your hands is a good thing?

BunchemsSo Bunchems sounded like fun. Paul Ziobra described them as “a hot new building toy. Each marble-sized Bunchem has dozens of soft springy hooks that give the multicolored spheres a Velcro-like grip….. Bunchems are meant to be used to build things like bears, snakes and unicorns.” Ziobra wrote that they were introduced at the NY Toy Fair in February, are on Target and TTPM’s top holiday toy lists–the latter is an online toy review site– and, he reported, they are nominated for top toy of the year in the action toy category.

But there’s a sticky snag Ziobra wrote about in The Wall Street Journal article “This New Toy Hit Some Real Snags–in Children’s Hair….. Kids like to build with Bunchems, but some parents have hair-raising tales about the sticky spheres.” He gave some examples of parents who had to use “multiple vegetable oils and hair conditioner, combs, crochet hooks and even forks to get the Bunchems out of the hair.”

Bunchems in hairThe manufacturer, Spin Master, warns about keeping the spheres away from hair and claims that most of the time they easily slip out. A Massachusetts mother knows otherwise. Kids will be kids so some kids end up throwing the balls at each other. After all, they are balls. And they might look pretty in hair so after building with them for a while, young imaginations may decide to enhance a friend’s coiffeur. It took the mother four hours to get 60 Bunchems out of her eight year old’s hair in addition to eight pairs of hands and a whole jar of vegetable oil, heated coconut oil and forks. A set of Texas parents worked for hours with the help of a neighbor to clear their child’s hair of the toys, and that of her birthday slumber party guests.

This toy is recommended for children 4 years old and up. Should there be a board that reviews toys? Can you think of others with such potentially unfortunate repercussions? If you were on the committee selecting the best toys of the year, would this report give you pause about selecting this one?  Should the manufacturer go back to the drawing boards and should Target and TTPM review their decision to place this toy on the top 10 gifts for holiday giving or am I overreacting?

back to drawing board

Service of Snack Toys for Time-Pressed Kids: Scrabble, Monopoly, Rubik’s Cube

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

kids playing games 5 vintage

I clearly remember game nights with prizes–small favors–that my sister produced for the family. I don’t recall whether we played Parcheesi, canasta or gin rummy, but I loved the time together.

I thought of those events while reading Ann Zimmerman’s article, “Toys for Tight Schedules Why Toy Makers Are Creating Shorter-Playing Toys—and One Monopoly Version Even Jettisoned the Jail,” in The Wall Street Journal. She says that the industry calls the category “snack toys.”

Timer 2One manufacturer noted that essential information parents want to see on packaging, along with the age and number of players, is how long it takes to play the game.

Some examples of snack toys that join quick versions of Uno, Yahtzee, Boggle and Rubik’s Cubes include Scrabble Flash which takes 2+ minutes to play and Monopoly Empire. The idea with Monopoly Empire is to accumulate big brands and it takes 30 minutes. Zimmerman wrote: “There is no longer a ‘jail’ for players to languish in while waiting for a lucky roll.” She quoted Jonathan Berkowitz, vice president of marketing at Hasbro that produces the game:  “Parents and children tell us they want a quick in-and-out, frictionless gaming experience.”

Watching TV and TabletZimmerman reported: “A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that children between the ages of 8 and 18 are filling their free time with more screen-based media consumption, from digital games to TV and video viewing. Between 2004 and 2009, young people increased the amount of media they consumed by more than one hour and a half to almost 7½ a day. The number does not include multi-tasking—children simultaneously watching TV and playing digital games on their smartphone, for example.”

About the traditional games played with magnets she quoted a parent who claimed they built motor skills. But Sandy Schefkind asserted the same about games on tablets. Schefkind, the pediatric coordinator for the American Occupational Therapy Association added that “traditional toys add ‘the social-interactive and social-exchange piece that the tablet doesn’t give.'”

I got lost in the next paragraph because the quote seemed to contradict the statistic that Zimmerman attributed to Matel surveys. They “show that more than 60% of parents would like their children to spend more time with traditional toys. ‘There is tension there,’ says Michael Shore, vice president of global consumer insights at the company, ‘because young parents are spending more of their time on social media, modeling that behavior.'”

That’s why I suspect parents are the primary impetus for the portable, fast versions of games that Zimmerman says are also easier to clean up. [What’s to clean up with a game on a tablet?] Time for play of any kind is not top-of-mind for a child who devotes from 1.5 to 7.5 hours a day on “screen-based media consumption.”

kids playing games monopolyZimmerman admitted “as toy makers strive to make games shorter, the opportunity to develop strategic thinking skills may be lost.”

Can’t blame manufacturers for selling what people want to buy but do you think parents realize that snack toys lose benefits of traditional games such as learning to play face-to-face with others and honing strategic thinking? What about discovering patience? How many challenges are solved at work in from two to 30 minutes? Whom can we depend on in future to perfect the stick-to-it-disposition required to perform cancer research, write thoughtful plays, movie scripts and books to reach a reliable diagnosis when symptoms and tests are inconclusive, to repair or create a mosaic, or to accomplish what you do for a living?

Scientific Research

Service of Extremes in Customer Care

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011





I’ve experienced and been told of great and horrible service over just a few weeks. I had to share so I wouldn’t burst.


Counter Blindness

There’s a deli half a block from my office. I hit the sandwich counter late for lunch, close to 3. After standing there totally ignored by two countermen, I left and bought my toasted bagel elsewhere. This happened a day after I noticed that the deli had increased what they charge for a cup of coffee. Mentioned my grumble to someone in the office who reminded me about another deli where I now go. However, only a few days after my experience, he walked out of the second deli for being ignored by three countermen.


Meanwhile, in our midtown neighborhood, every month a trendy, charming, well lit place crops up within steps of these establishments. Wonder if the counter staff notices—and computes?


butcherAnd one more counter contretemps, surprising in this or any economy, happened at one of the pricey food stalls in Grand Central Station—the butcher. I stood as two women dolled out, weighed, wrapped and priced prepared foods. Neither of them looked at me. I called out, “Can someone please help me?” One yelled down the counter where two men stood. The overhead and operating costs must be astronomical between the prime meats, rent and [over]staffing. Nevertheless the place survives.


A Snap that Takes Forever



I had the worst time ordering photos on line from a source I’d used countless times before. I tore out my hair, called a toll-free number, finally got the order to the number I needed, not the 120 copies the computer insisted I wanted, when I was asked for my ExtraCare number, which I punched in.


I was told it wasn’t in the system, which is strange, as I get countless emails from the place weekly. I raced to the nearby store, was told to get a new number—but that it wouldn’t work for four or five days. Nice, but 1) I needed my photos now and 2) the drastically reduced promotion was over that day. I was told to call them [again]. I was about to toss out my computer and scream like a two year old when I backtracked and told the system that I didn’t have an ExtraCare number. Bingo: The order went through. But was it worth the time and frustration?


Bank on It

I took out money from Chase Bank at night and was shorted $20. I reported it to the customer service desk at the branch at which this happened and I’ve been credited for that amount.


Toying with Me

queenssubway1Before walking over in nasty weather, I called to confirm that a Manhattan toy store that carries one manufacturer’s offerings had the items a child had requested. I was told that they didn’t, but I could go to their Queens branch. Not possible, I said. I asked if they’d please get the item from Queens. “No, we can’t do that, but you can buy it on line.” I looked on line and discovered that the shipping would add $10+ to the cost, which annoyed me, plus I would be late with the gift. Word to the wise: I went to the store anyway and discovered that if they are out of one of their exclusive toys, they will order it on line and there is no shipping charge. But gosh.


Let it Snow-Again

I just wrote about the good and bad affects of this winter’s record-breaking snow.


As 19 inches fell last week, the doorman in our building—which has a large outdoor garden entrance—was shoveling two sets of stairs and the brick path at midnight. He’d shoveled the first time at 8 pm. He’s no spring chicken, was well into an unexpected second shift without a clue about an impending third one. And postmen get all the credit.


The morning after, Joan Marbit, who lives in Manhattan and works in New Jersey wrote me: “I thought of you early this morning.  My clock woke me up 5:30 am. I learned that schools are closed and buses are not running.  So, I made the decision not to drive to NJ as the Manhattan streets are far worse than the roads in NJ. At 5:35 am I got out of bed and opened my front door to find my beloved New York Times waiting for me.  My thought:  ‘The Service of What Service.’”newspaperdelivery1


Meanwhile in midtown, we did not get our Wall Street Journal at the office and we were at work. [It came the next day: News/schmooze.]


Service Wasn’t Included, Then It Was

After an earlier snowstorm a few weeks ago, Delta sent David Reich, a colleague, from Newark to JFK Airport so he could get flights to working airports [away from iced-in Atlanta] to his business meeting in Hawaii. The attendant gave him a voucher for the $90 taxi/tolls but he discovered that the tip wasn’t included. He followed up with customer service on his return and they agreed to send him the $20 he gave the driver.


What’s been your recent pulse on the service meter for routine transactions lately?



Service of the Pulse of Christmas 2010

Monday, December 20th, 2010


Here are some observations of this holiday season:

**I passed by a silent Salvation Army bell ringer yesterday and looked to see why he was quiet and if he was OK. He was texting.

inline**An officemate, Bambe Levine, told me about her happy experience at J. Crew. She went to return some boots last week and had 20 minutes to spend before her lunch date. Her heart sank when she saw a line that, in spite of a generous number of cashiers, promised to take at least 40. She asked a manager if she might leave the boots and return to wait in line after lunch. The manager said to her, “Let me take care of it,” and did so immediately.

**Meanwhile, I tried for several days to buy a gift at a boutique in Grand Central Station. Can’t go into too much detail as 1) the recipient reads these posts and 2) I don’t bash brands here. The staff was pleasant yet clueless. I hung around for over half an hour waiting for one to bring the size I requested from basement storage. Nobody seemed to realize that people have other things to do. Eventually, I told the cashier that I had to get back to the office and she suggested I return after work, which I did. The item wasn’t upstairs yet. She promised the basement retrieval man would call me. He never did. I gave it another try on Friday and this cashier couldn’t have been nicer, more apologetic, and she repeated how responsible the man is both before and after she found the gift in the back room. To sweeten my mood [my face wasn’t happy when I had to wait at the back of the line to pay], she gave me her employee discount.

**Unforgiving sticky price labels continue to plague gifts I buy. The hairdryer trick to dry the adhesive so I can scrape off the price works although it takes forever; burns my fingers and gets glue on the appliance. This year, the heat melted some of the packaging which is annoying. Simple solutions: Barcodes on sticky labels combined with prices clearly marked on store shelves just as they are in grocery stores.

**Garish, tasteless trees are the style in office lobbies this year-minus gifts for children that have been there for as long as I can remember. What a sad turn of events. Some tinsel is better than nothing. It could be June in the lobby of my office building where there’s not the tiniest nod to the season. Menorah lights and a simple wreath–I know just the place–would cheer.

xmas2010wreathsmall2**An anemone greenhouse/tree farm outside Rhinebeck, NY has traditionally sold beautifully decorated wreaths. Normally, if you don’t go early in the season, they sell out. We dropped by yesterday on a whim. They still had quite a selection, and the wreaths were slightly discounted.

**ABC TV covered the Santa letters program in “Sad Santa Letters Tell of Economic Woes, USPS Says. New York’s Operation Santa Chief Says More Letters This Year Asking for Coats, Food.” Pete Fontana, who directs the USPS New York Operation Santa, said: “Though many considered last year to be the toughest financially since the economic downturn, it appears that more people are struggling this year, both from the letters and the decreased amount of volunteers who sign up to fulfill some of the writers’ wishes.” There’s a website of participating post offices if you want to pick up a letter and fulfill the wishes of some of the neediest writers. Wouldn’t it be great to win the lottery in time to pick up all those letters and fulfill the wishes?

 Any changes–good and bad–or observations to share about this holiday season?


Service of Classic Toys

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

In an article, “Toy Stories,” in I.D. Magazine’s September/October 2009 issue, four reporters asked designers, creative directors, authors, educators, curators and entrepreneurs to “offer an emotional design critique of an iconic toy.”

Most selected toys from their childhoods. The introduction reports that participants covered “the smart design thinking behind these timeless playthings while also recalling what their treasured toys meant to them personally.” Some of the featured toys were Play-Doh, Crayons, balloons, Lincoln Logs, Spirograph, toy soldiers, dirt, Radio Flyer, cat’s cradle and Naef Toys.

Nobody picked Silly Putty, Slinky, jacks, pick-up-sticks or jump rope–all favorites of mine. I don’t think my life was transformed by any of them or that they pointed me in any particular direction or were symbolic of what I ended up doing with my life.

 They were straight-forward and designed to work again and again and I enjoyed playing with them for years. In fact, I’d be happy to challenge anyone to a game of jacks or pick-up-sticks right now and it wouldn’t hurt me to grab and use a jump rope!


What were/are your favorite toys and what is it that you especially liked about them? Have any of your toys served you well in later life?

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