New toys battle recession with low prices

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All that talk from industry honchos about making toys more affordable? Turns out they weren't playing.

A WalletPop hike through the American International Toy Fair on Tuesday in New York City revealed plenty of cool stuff for the budget-minded. Many are derived from old-school simple pleasures.

Yo-yos are back, they say. Bugs never went out of style. That's why Razor's Pocket Pros line of high-performance yo-yos with a real dead spider or scorpion encased in acrylic ($7.99) is irresistible.

The company also developed an automatic-return yo-yo ($10.99) for the very young. All spin into stores in March.



While we're on the subject of creepy-crawlies, HEXBUG showed off mazes and other habitat accessories for its "micro robotic creatures" at the fair, which ended Wednesday. But I say stick to the actual HEXBUGS ($10.99 to $14.99) and have kids can use 'em with Legos, blocks or any other obstacles they already have. Fueled by the same technology that makes cell phones vibrate, HEXBUGS jitter as bugs do while propelling forward. These techno-industrial chic insects come in brilliant colors.

Stalwart Crayola introduced Spira-Chalk Blasters, chalk-holders ($9.99 a pair) that spin like tops on the playground, creating elaborate spiral designs. The crayon-maker also displayed what it says is the first washable dry-erase crayon ($4.99 for a set of seven).

Even the old-fashioned jump rope got a subtle but significant makeover. Just Jump It www.jjitoys.com has created a line of colorful lariats woven ($5.50 for one) so they don't require handles of any kind. No twisting or bunching. Lots of eye-catching hues.

In another promising development for low-cost fitness fun, the Myachi all-body sack continues to play off its holiday success. Its NBA-endorsed Kobe Bryant and Lebron James sacks ($7) stand out from the bunch. What I like about the game is that trying to keep the rectangular sack airborne with all parts of the body --- much like Hacky Sack required of feet -- actually has a relationship to the demands of basketball.

On the more cerebral side is a new dice word game called ZIP IT ($14.95), from the Bananagrams folks. It's a race between two players to create crossword connections using letters on any side of dice. The first to finish their dice wins. So cleverly low-tech, the zipper pouch that the dice come in can keep score with every zipper notch. It will be available in three months, the company said.

If your children need a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" fix that isn't one of the books, let 'em know there's a "Wimpy Kid" jigsaw puzzle ($8.99) from Pressman coming out March 10 in advance of the March 19 movie.

The toy industry seems to have put the pieces together that the recession hit Mom and Dad hard -- and they might not be bouncing back for a while.

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