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The Slinky--A Slinky Addict Debunks Some Misconceptions
Written: Jul 4, 2000 (Updated Aug 21, 2001)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:appeals to all ages, a timeless toy, high fun-to-cost ratio
Cons:Kinked slinkies can never be repaired, can be hard to find
The Bottom Line: A slinky is not just a toy; it's a lifestyle!
It’s no secret. I love the slinky.
The story actually starts with one of my business school friends, who kept a small metal slinky in his car. I thought that was pretty cool, so when I saw a small metal slinky at Pic ‘N’ Save for about a buck, I purchased it and put it in my car. On one of our first dates, Lisa played with the slinky but she got a little nervous and tangled the slinky, permanently tweaking it. After I laid a good dose of Jewish guilt on her, she tried to atone for her error by finding me the same slinky. She couldn’t find the identical size and thus began our quest to find different shaped slinkies.
Now, in typical Type A fashion, I’m obsessed with all things slinky. I have hundreds of slinkies. I give out slinkies to friends, co-workers, students, and acquaintances. People give me slinky gifts all the time (e.g., for Valentine’s day, my wife gave me a “Super slinky”—about 3 times longer than a regular slinky). I regularly visit the slinky website (http://www.slinkytoys.com). I have—and proudly wear—the slinky tie. I have the slinky postage stamp.
As a toy, I think slinkies are very much misunderstood. There are a limited number of ways to “play” with slinkies:
* you can walk them down the stairs. This is fun for a few moments but quickly becomes a little tedious and is really not a practical activity unless you have lots of time to run up and down stairs and have a staircase handy! Honestly, my own personal experience is that they really don’t walk down the stairs all that well…or maybe I just have bad technique. Sure, they will walk for a few steps, but usually they become tangled, go off-course, or just lose momentum and stop.
* you can juggle them in your hands. This is a lot of fun if you have the right-sized slinky. Here, the original metal slinky really shines—it makes that wonderful “slink” sound and feels really good. Usually, the plastic slinkies or the smaller metal slinkies can’t compete.
* you can twirl them around. The smaller plastic ones are best for this. I usually do a lot of twirling on long conference calls.
* you can extend them and make waves. This isn’t that much fun to me, but young kids like this.
And that’s pretty much it for your basic slinky. So what makes the slinky so much fun where there are limited ways to play with them? I honestly don’t know.
In my case, the real fun is in discovering new and interesting ways types of slinkies and related products. Again, there are a lot of misconceptions here.
First, “Slinky” is a registered trademark of James Industries. Unless the toy is made by James Industries or one of its licensees, it’s not a true “Slinky.” Thus, you’ll also see them described as “magic springs,” “rainbow springs” and even “rainbow science toys.” Personally, I think James Industries has done a poor job developing their product line, so many of the most interesting slinky-like toys are now coming from Taiwan. However, James Industries has improved on this front in recent years. See their website (http://www.slinkytoys.com) for all of the items they manufacture.
Second, I’ve seen slinkies made in both metal and plastic. The debate over which is better is a little like the debate between paper and plastic grocery bags at the supermarket. There’s no single right answer. I own dozens of both metal and plastic. I like the small plastic slinkies because they are cheaper and more fun to twirl. I like the larger plastic rainbow slinkies because they really expand your mind when you juggle them in your hands (“Dude—the colors!”). I like the larger metal ones because of the sound they make.
Third, slinkies come in a wide range of shapes. Most people assume slinkies come only in a circle shape, but this is far from the truth! Actually, I’m pretty convinced that slinkies have been manufactured in just about every shape we could imagine. Among the more unusual shapes I own: a slinky shaped like the cross-section of a dreidel; a slinky shaped like a seagull, and a slinky shaped like the sole of a foot (hang 10!). I list all of the shapes I own on my personal website.
Fourth, slinkies have been incorporated into a wide variety of toys. Most everyone is familiar now with Slinky Dog from the Toy Story movies, but there are actually a wide variety of these types of drag-on-the-ground toys manufactured since the 1950s, including slinky dog, cat, frog, worm, turtle, train, horse (“Bucko”), etc. (Some of these even come in large and small sizes). James Industries also makes a Beanie Baby-esque “plush” non-draggable version of the slinky animals; there are now 18 of those manufactured by James Industry (yes, I have them all, although they were pretty difficult to find), and they’ve even licensed a manufacturer to make mini-keychains of 6 of these. I’ve now seen many additional plush animals, some made by James Industries and some not, including a plush slinky dog (one of my absolute favorite slinky toys) and plush versions of various college mascots. In addition to the animals, there is the Slinky board game and countless other weird derivations.
I’ve seen a number of reviews discussing how infants and toddlers love to play with slinkies. Personally, I think that slinkies are not a good gift for infants and toddlers. First, they have rough and potentially sharp edges that can make them dangerous. Second, infants and toddlers are guaranteed to quickly tangle the slinkies to the point where they will neither slink nor twirl properly. However, young kids do love to play with slinkies, even if they make up new and ultimately destructive games. For example, one of my peers gave his 3 year old son a slinky, who took great delight kicking the slinky around. Not exactly in the owner’s manual, but the squeals of laughter suggested that this was a fun game to him! I’ve also given small plastic slinkies to my 2 and 5 year old nieces, and they love getting them, although usually they are irreparably kinked within 5 minutes.
Interestingly, slinkies appeal to adults as much as kids. We handed out slinkies to our wedding guests, and one of my favorite moments of the wedding was seeing my grandmother-in-law and a half-dozen of her friends all twirling their new slinkies around.
There are also misconceptions about where to find slinkies. James Industries has never had strong distribution, but slinkies are easy to find if you pick the right stores. You can find a few generic types of slinkies at most reputable toy and department stores like Toys ‘R’ Us, Walmart and Target. You usually can buy slinkies in bulk at good party stores. In the Bay Area, places like Diddams (Palo Alto and now San Carlos!) and Boswells (in San Ramon) never disappoint, but even Party America or similar party stores will have some slinkies. To find the most unusual slinkies, you need to look in boutique novelty or specialty toy shops. For example, I usually have success in toy stores in the little shopping districts in Berkeley such as Elmwood. We also had great luck in downtown Santa Cruz. Finally, the very best source of slinky toys is eBay, but beware! This tends to be the most expensive source, but I’ve bought slinkies on eBay I doubt I could ever find elsewhere.
Finally, there are some misconceptions about pricing. The basic James Industries metal slinky should run about $2-$3 in most toy stores. The typical large plastic rainbow slinky costs between $2-$4 in novelty and toy stores. The typical small (1.5 inch) plastic slinky runs about $0.50-$1; I usually buy in discount at Diddams for $0.40 per (with a 20% discount for buying a gross). The cheapest I’ve found was a pack of 12 1-inch plastic slinkies for $2.50 at Boswells in 1997—these were the primary ones that we handed out at our wedding. The most I’ve paid for a slinky was $33 for a set of 4 plastic Mickey Mouse-shaped slinkies on eBay. Slinky Pets should run in the $7 range, but they are pretty tough to find—we’ve found them at Toys ‘R’ Us and Target, but not every store had them, and we rarely could find a complete set. The plush slinky dog runs in the $10 range if you can find him (we got ours at Kmart); on eBay, I’ve seen him go for twice that.
As you can see, I love slinkies! Play with one yourself, and so will you.
July 5 update: My wife has complained that my review suggests that I found some of the difficult-to-find slinkies without any assistance. In fact, my wife is at least as obsessed about slinky hunting as I am, and I owe many of my most satisfying slinky acquisitions to her resourcefulness, persistence and intuition, all of which are presumably spurred equally by our love for each other and for the Slinky. So I'll take this moment to say a special thanks to my wife for all of her love and help.
August 24 update: I am often asked where I get my slinkies. I recommend Oriental Trading Company (www.oriental.com). I hate the name, but they sell a wide variety of plastic slinkies at a decent price (if you're willing to buy 12 at a time). Search under the word "spring." I recently ordered 10 dozen slinkies from them for $60, including never-before-seen daisy and cross slinkies and ultra-cool animal print slinkies.
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