The Best of the Best
5) THE 24-INCH BALROG Purists quibble over whether this 2-foot high figure of the scariest creature from the first Lord of the Rings movie is a statue or a toy. All I know is, it's big, monstrously ugly, wields a fiery whip, emits loud roars and I really want one.
4) SUPER SOAKER Originally called the Power Drencher, this breakthrough in squirt-gun technology has essentially become the generic term for any pressurized water gun. Super Soakers are to squirt guns what assault rifles are to pistols. Keep out of reach of drunk frat boys, though.
3) TONKA TRUCKS Durability was the prime virtue of the Tonka vehicles: You could beat the ever-loving crap out of them, and they'd survive well enough to, say, send a hapless pet for a ride down the driveway. I miss my yellow construction backhoe.
2) ROCK 'EM SOCK 'EM ROBOTS Hardly the most versatile plaything ever made, these brawling 'bots offer aggressive kids a means to vicariously wail on each other. Who doesn't love the idea of robots that fight, or the satisfaction of knocking your opponent's block off?
1) LEGOS These colorful plastic building bricks can do practically anything and support wild ancillary versions, like Lego Harry Potter characters, without losing their playability. Plus, they reward youthful ingenuity, proving educational in practical terms.
The worst of the worst
5) DIGITAL PETS THAT DIE I know, right? Tamagotchis and the online avatars of Webkinz stuffed animals have devoted followers, but who really needs the pressure of caring for a creature that doesn't actually exist? For that matter, the very creation of something that can die without being alive sets off an insoluble existential quandary.
4) BIBO One of the most bizarre items in the Archie McPhee novelty catalog, Bibo is a leering, jug-eared freak of indeterminate species with a phallic antenna on its head. The Bibo alarm clock emits a grating, life-sucking cry, "Biiiii-bo! Biiiii-bo!" It's so awful it almost has its own glamour as the toy you love to hate.
3) JARTS Death from above! Banned in the late 1980s in the U.S. and Canada, lawn darts were a lot of fun for games seemingly designed to rain injury and disfigurement down on their players. Foot-long darts with heavy metal points on the end? "Eyeball Poker-Outers" would be a suitable name, too.
2) GROWING UP SKIPPER Nicknamed "Growing OUT Skipper" when my sister had one, this 1975 version of Barbie's kid sister would go through puberty when you rotated her arm. Not only would she get taller, her bust would change from flat to perky. That's how it works with real girls, right?
1) SLINKY It's been popular for years and has possibly the best, longest-running jingle in advertising history. Nevertheless, the helical spring proves surprisingly limited for such an enduring item. You can make them walk down stairs (alone or in pairs), and then what? All too soon, one of the coils gets cattywampus and it ends up in a tangled snarl at the bottom of the toy box. And they taste terrible.