Small Talk

Can You Solve It?

beyond rubik's cube

There are a lot of totally rad toys that are synonymous with the material world of the 1980s, but perhaps none more iconic than the colorful and ever-puzzling Rubik’s Cube. You might be surprised to learn that Ernő Rubik actually invented the puzzle, which he called the Magic Cube, in 1974 out of wood blocks and paper clips. A few design tweaks and a toy patent produced the re-named Rubik’s Cube that debuted internationally in 1980. Since then, approximately one in seven people have played with a Rubik’s Cube!

A new exhibit at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey takes the toy a step further. Beyond Rubik’s Cube is the first museum exhibit devoted to this iconic toy. An interactive gallery allows visitors to learn cube-solving skills, see the bejeweled Masterpiece Cube, hear a Cube Symphony, create a Rubik’s Cube mosaic, and more. Does the thought of solving the infamous Rubik’s Cube immediately give you a headache? Fear not: the exhibit also includes a specialized robot that is programmed to solve the puzzle in mere seconds- totally rad indeed! The exhibit is on view now through November 30, 2014.

Sailing the Miniature Seas

lloyd mccaffery ship

In 1750, HMY Royal Caroline set sail for the first time. As one of the most extravagant English royal yachts adorned with gleaming sails and an impressive figurehead, she spent her days transporting the royal family. She was so well-built that she wasn’t retired until 1820. Nearly two centuries later in 2002, the Royal Caroline was brought to life again by miniature artist Lloyd McCaffery.

McCaffery was only 12 years old when he stumbled across a picture of a model ship in a book and found his passion. His decades-long career has produced miniature wooden masterpieces like the Royal Caroline. Due to this ship’s tiny scale, one inch in the miniature equals 31 feet on the full-scale vessel, it just barely measures 4.5 inches. It is carved from holly wood, boxwood, and lemonwood. The five figures and crown of the figurehead are less than a quarter inch wide. Seven crew members and three passengers are sailing on this miniature voyage. While 18th century sailors did not have pleasant lives, we’d be happy to brush up on our sailing lingo and hop aboard McCaffery’s Royal Caroline for a day!

Match Box Dolls Make a Comeback

match box dolls

What happens when you mix a Beanie Baby and a Polly Pocket? Well, you might end up with a match box doll!  Popular in the 1970s, these bean-filled dolls are small enough to fit inside of a match box, which doubles as the doll’s bed. Though they didn’t gain much popularity in North America, match box dolls were all the rage in other countries around the world as an inexpensive alternative to the popular toys offered in the United States at the time.

Today, match box dolls are making a comeback in North and South America. After being unable to find a doll similar to the ones she played with growing up in Cyprus and Greece, entrepreneur and mother of three Elizabeth Cross created Stork Babies. Each of these modern match box dolls come with a personality all their own: a Spanish gal named Carisa, for example, encourages everyone to “enjoy the world and all the beautiful things it has to offer, especially ice cream!” Cross’s daughters (ages 6, 10 and 11) act as the company’s Vice Presidents of Design, insuring that the dolls are on-trend and of course maintain maximum cuteness.

Playful Competition

national toy hall of fame 2014

It’s that time of year again! The National Toy Hall of Fame has announced the finalists for the 2014 induction. And it looks as though we might be having a case of déjà vu… this year’s two inductees could be American Girl dolls, bubbles, Fisher Price Little People, Hess toy trucks, little green army men, My Little Pony, Operation Skill Game, paper airplane, pots and pans, Rubik’s Cube, Slip ‘N Slide, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Since the finalists were announced on September 22, almost 7,350 public votes have been cast. Make sure your opinion is included! Learn more about the finalists and vote on the Hall of Fame’s website. Check back there or here on Small Talk after November 6 to see if the bubbles float to the top or the pots and pans make a big bang!

Photo: Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Imagination Takes Flight

mechanical flying toys

From the ancient Greek myth of Icarus, to Leonardo Da Vinci’s fantastical flying machines, mankind has held the desire to fly for centuries. Up until the Wright Brothers finally got it right in 1903, “gentlemen scientists,” inventors and early aviators scrambled to unlock the secrets of powered and controlled air travel. During the era of the steam-powered engine, the idea of a flying machine really, well, took flight.

Toys of course mirror the times in which they were produced. Naturally, as the world became fascinated with flying, tin flying machine toys featuring propellers, wings, parachutes and hot air balloons became a common sight in the 19th and early 20th century. This particular clockwork wind-up mechanical flying machine toy was likely attached to a cantilevered weight on a central base. When the mechanism was wound, the pilot’s legs pedaled the propeller, causing the toy to “fly” in a circle. While this imaginative depiction of early flight makes for a charming toy, we’d still prefer a comfortable window seat and complimentary peanuts.

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