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Checking out summertime toys

someone's got to do it

August 16, 2005|by ALAN SOKOL

Who would have thought spending an entire afternoon at Pangborn Park with my twin brothers would be loads of fun?

When I received this reporting assignment from Herald-Mail Lifestyle Assistant Editor Chris Copley, I predicted the mission would be boring, but I found it to be more fun than I thought possible.

My task was to review a bunch of new toys and outdoors activities, comparing traditional games like croquet and capture the flag to modern alternatives like Hart Enterprises' Moon Shoes and Pro Performance Sports' Speedminton.

Hey, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

Call it a play date

We met on a hot Sunday afternoon in Pangborn Park in Hagerstown. When I first arrived, no one was there. I felt like I had just washed ashore on a toyless desert island.


But then I saw hope. A car pulled up on the other side of the trees. I ran over, and saw my editor and his kids, Rowan, 16, and Fedora, 13, and French exchange student Sophie Colleau, 15, who was staying with them. The Copleys took a number of large and colorful boxes from their vehicle and brought them over to a picnic table. The boxes contained a medley of new summer toys.

After we settled in, Chris, Rowan and I played catch with a Flashlight, a flying disc by Playhard Inc. It lights up for night throwing and glides through the air surprisingly well, way better than my old flying discs at home. Could this be advanced technology at work designed to make me forget my old toys? If so, it's working.

My brothers, Kevin and Mark, immediately grabbed the Moon Shoes - "mini-sized trampolines for your feet," according to the box. Kevin pulled out the parts and began assembling the shoes.

After refreshments, Fedora, Sophie and I played Speedminton - like badminton on steroids. We knocked the birdie back and forth a few times, with the result that it kept going too far, even though we weren't hitting it very hard. In a bigger area or with more aggressive players, this would be a very high-energy game suitable for even a professional athlete - like women's tennis champ Maria Sharapova, whose picture is on the box.

Bombs away

Rowan started filling water balloons for the Aqua Sling, a giant slingshot for water balloons made by The Fun Company. The Aqua Sling kit comes with a filling spout and a bag of small balloons (biodegradable, according to the package).

The Aqua Sling didn't appear very intimidating at first glance, but when we first launched a balloon, it went a good 50 feet and hit the ground with a satisfying smack. With two people holding the slingshot bands and one launching the balloons, we soon learned to make fairly accurate shots.

This is not a toy for face-to-face water warfare. The launched balloons didn't hurt much when shot at someone from a distance, but direct shots should be avoided at point-blank range.

The Aqua Sling was a hit with everybody, especially when Rowan figured out how to launch it all by himself. Long legs and big feet do come in handy, sometimes.

To the moon!

It was about at this point that Kevin finished assembling the Moon Shoes' trampoline-like structure. A series of thick rubber bands provide the bounce, but the springy plastic boots don't bounce as high as some would think. Perhaps they would work better on the moon.

Next, we assembled the AirZooka, a bucket-shaped device that launches a powerful puff of air a surprising distance. Using a sort of slingshot-membrane mechanism, I could shoot my fellow toy-testers from 20 feet away and see their hair poof with the invisible impact.

We took a break to cool off from the heat. After some chips and juice, we set up the croquet game for a round of wickets. For modern kids out there, croquet was very popular as a yard game in the 1800s and is still a fun backyard game that requires no batteries. My editor won our game, I took second, and Mark took third. Players took turns wearing the Moon Shoes during croquet.

From toys to teams

Next, we set up a capture the flag arena and split into teams. Since we had seven people, our teams could not be evenly divided. So the side with three people took the AirZooka, to extend their reach, and one person on the team with four people had to wear the Moon Shoes.

Adding the AirZooka and Moon Shoes to this traditional game provided a few new twists. Trying to shoot a ball of air at someone bouncing on Moon Shoes was probably not envisioned by the original founders of the game.

Pangborn Park has a pond with ducks and geese. During a timeout in capture the flag, a mother duck with her 10 ducklings crossed the arena. We kept a watchful eye on her to make sure she wouldn't take the flag.

After capture the flag, Rowan, Mark, Kevin and I took the Aqua Sling and attempted to see who could fire a balloon the farthest. But we forgot to check the distance; we were having too much fun.

Final assessment

The afternoon started winding down, and we finally put the toys back in their respective boxes, took them in the car, and my editor and his entourage headed off into the sunset.

So did things stack up?

I liked the Aqua Sling the most. The Moon Shoes were a bit disappointing from lack of bounce. It seems that many of the new games are simply classics - like a slingshot - with modern technology that adds to their appeal. Also, don't discount classic games, such as croquet. They were fun 100 years ago, and they remain fun even now.

Bottom line: It was great to play outdoors, no matter what we did.

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