Consumer Corner: The best and worst toys of 2010

By MARCELLA S. KREITER  |  Dec. 12, 2010 at 4:38 AM
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CHICAGO, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- With just 13 days for Santa to get his act together, all sorts of Web sites are offering advice on the best and worst toys for girls and boys.

None of the best and worst lists has any real surprises, and all have warnings about eye injuries and small parts that pose choking and gastrointestinal hazards for the rug-rat set.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission last month had some reassurances for parents, noting there were only 44 toy recalls this year compared with 50 last year. Toy-related fatalities also were down, with 12 children less than 15 years of age dying from such injuries in 2009 and 186,000 injuries that prompted emergency-room treatment.

"By limiting metals and chemicals in toys and making the voluntary standard mandatory, CPSC has put safeguards in place for toys to better protect children," Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said. "The increase in injuries is a concern, and we want parents to make safe purchases and for children to be safe at play."

"Protecting children will always be the toy industry's highest priority," said Joan Lawrence, vice president of safety standards for the Toy Industry Association. "Unfortunately, though, most injuries are the result of misusing a toy in a way that was not intended."

Getting high marks from a number of reviewers is Microsoft's Xbox Kinect, a voice-activated accessory to Xbox, rather than a standalone system like Nintendo's Wii. Kinect has a 3-D camera and microphones that put players inside games. The games respond to movements and voices. To turn it off, just say "stop." (Now, if only …)

Also getting high marks is the Fisher-Price iXL. The interactive digital game is aimed at toddlers, offering functions to help youngsters develop such skills as reading comprehension, number literacy, creativity, phonics, writing and spelling.

Boys will be especially taken by Nerf N-Strike Stampede ECS Blaster, which is listed as one of the hot toys of Christmas. The toy comes with 18 Nerf darts. Its one real drawback is that it takes six "D" batteries, which run out pretty quickly, according to the Best Toys Guide.

One a gentler note, the guide's next two nominees are Lego Board Games and Sing-a-Ma-Jigs. There are 10 Lego games to choose from, many tied to popular movie franchises. Sing-a-Ma-Jigs are especially appealing to girls and young children -- six plush toys (the line is expected to expand) that sing when squeezed.

Parents magazine recommends the Hug & Hide Owl Activity Toy for babies, Toddler Fantasy Castle Blocks for toddlers and Sing-a-Ma-Jigs for preschoolers.

Making the top of All the Best Toys Top 20 list are Squinkies (4 and up), which are small, soft and squishy figures that fit in the palm of a hand, the Nerf N-Strike Stampede ECS, Lego's Harry Potter and Hogwarts, Sing-a-Ma-Jigs and the iXL Learning System.

The Huffington Post put together a list of the worst toys for girls, including the Princess Maid dustpan and broom and My Cleaning Trolley. Also making Huffington's list are the Stylin' Studio makeover kit, a Rock and Drool doll complete with bib for "mommy" and Tattoo Barbie.

Crunchgear's Top 5 worst gifts include $600 child-size tassel T-shirts, which place the tassels where the child's nipples would be; the Cast & Create Car Kit, which allows children to make their own plaster casts of race cars, but the stuff it comes with (plaster of Paris, wooden wheels and stickers that fall off) do not produce anything resembling the picture on the box; Video Girl Barbie, which comes with a camera the FBI warns could make producing kiddie porn much easier for pedophiles; Sing-a-Ma-Jigs, because they seem to scream wildly, and kid-sized Vuvuzelas, which make better swords than horns.

World Against Toys Causing Harm has its own naughty list: Wild Planet Entertainment's Spy gear split-blaster, which poses eye injury and other impact hazards; Supasplat Splatblaster, which shoots high-velocity "splatballs" that also can cause eye injuries; Westminster's Buzz Magnets, which pose a hazard if swallowed; Mattel's Kung Fu Panda Sword, which can cause facial and other impact injuries, and Ball Zillion Tug Boat Play Center, which has inconsistent age recommendations and advises against standing on the product, although the box pictures a child standing on it.

The CPSC has some recommendations for making gift-giving safer, advising helmets and other safety gear to go along with scooters and other riding toys, keeping tiny parts and magnets away from young children and keeping deflated balloons away from children less than 8 years of age.

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