Top 25 "It" products of all time: #15 -- The yo-yo

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When I was a lad, Duncan Yo-yo would from time to time send out yo-yo virtuosos to give demonstrations on our playground. We'd watch mesmerized as these wizards would loop their toys, set them to sleep, throw forward passes, toss them under a lifted leg, and create rocking cradles. We would, of course, immediately hound our parents until we, too, owned a yo-yo, which, on the finger of one such as me, never became anything more than a hunk of wood on a stick.

Nonetheless, the yo-yo continues to sell, on what the industry discovered is a dependable five-year cycle that has held up since its introduction in the 1920s. The toy continues to show up in books, television and the movies, and has enjoyed a rebirth as a competition sport.

The oldest know yo-yo was made around 500 B.C., as pictured on a Greek vase. This terra-cotta version was used as part of religious ceremony. Records indicate (I'm skeptical about this one) that Philippines once used it to hunt from trees, striking down at animals as they passed below.The yo-yo's popularity derives from, I suspect, its low cost and high "hey, look at me!" value. For young boys without a lot of money, it was a way to attract girls that worked way better than pencils in the nose or farts produced in one's armpit. The devices also have a pleasurable hand feel, smooth and sized perfectly for one's palm, like a good river stone made for plate glass.

I'm not surprised to learn that the modern yo-yo has evolved far beyond the simple 'two discs connected by a stick' models of my young. New competition models use silicon and bearings to reduce friction, weight rings to give the discs greater momentum, and break pads for tricks that call for a sudden halt.

I'm not sure that many appreciate one of the keys to the toy's longevity, though, which is its name. The word 'yo-yo' is simply fun to say. Just try to say it without smiling. And thinking of Sylvester Stallone.

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