A look at the lighter side

Several times a day, The Associated Press issues news digests, which are rather detailed listings of the stories and accompanying photographs and other items that will be available to subscribers.

We use those budgets to help determine the news from the state, the region, the nation and the world that are available to supplement our local coverage and provide readers with a good sense of what is happening all around them.

Lately, those budgets have been dominated by some topics that have become a little stale – the battles over who gets the blame for the government shutdown; report after report about the sheer ineptitude and, in some cases, downright incompetence of the Washington officials who are charged with administering Obamacare; and, sadly, the massive destruction and loss of life that hit the Philippines last week.

When you’re faced with that heavy stuff day after day, news cycle after news cycle, it can get to be a little tough to handle. That’s why the story that appeared on the second page of the Nov. 7 news digest stood out as we were working to map out the editions we would publish that Thursday.

There it was – the paragraph explaining that this year’s selections for the National Toy Hall of Fame would be released later that day.

The finalists were impressive, and sparked the interest of everyone who was a part of that meeting – bubbles, chess, Clue, Fisher-Price Little People, little green army men, the Magic 8 Ball, Nerf toys, Pac-Man, My Little Pony, rubber duck, scooter and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

That list alone was enough to lighten the mood of the newsroom, and sparked conversation that would last off and on through Friday afternoon.

We were stunned, for example, that the Magic 8 Ball and little green army men had yet to earn enshrinement into the hall, which has been in existence since 1998.

That discussion only intensified on the afternoon of Nov. 8 after we learned that this year’s selections were chess and the rubber duck. Solid toys, for sure, and no doubt deserving of their honors. They now stand proudly beside icons including Etch A Sketch, the Frisbee, Candy Land, Silly Putty, a jump rope, Teddy bears and marbles, to name just a few of the 53 total enshrinees.

Like all hall of fame selections, though, those who are not honored with spots are much more hotly debated than those who are in.

City Editor Jody Wisbith, for instance, went through the list of toys in the hall and determined that she had at one time owned all but a few of the hall of famers. She still spoke fondly of the Mystery Date board game (not in the hall) and was just as stunned as News Editor Fred Rossano, Copy Editor Paul Giannamore, reporters Dave Gossett and Linda Harris and myself were to learn that while toy trains were in the hall, slot car racing tracks were not.

Everyone agreed that the classic dice and strategy game Yahtzee has reached icon status, and we were all stunned to learn that it, too, has yet to win enshrinement.

None of us could believe that Tudor Electric Football was not in the Rochester, N.Y.-based hall. We all remembered the countless hours spent meticulously lining up the plastic players and then watching most of them spin in circles when the vibrating field was turned on.

Another consensus glaring omission was Rock-Em, Sock-Em Robots, a rather simple game in which two players each manipulated a plastic robot inside a plastic boxing ring. Players operated plungers which moved the arms of each robot, and the goal was to be the first to knock off the head of your opponent, concussions be damned.

The discussions were interesting, and helped to reinforce the simple criteria listed for induction into the hall. Toys that are recognized, the hall’s website reads, inspire creative play and have enjoyed popularity over a sustained period.

As we remembered in the newsroom, the best toys can be the simplest, the ones that spur your imagination, require some hands-on interaction and teach cognitive skills.

And, while we congratulate the rubber duck and chess, we hope that Magic 8 Ball can earn enshrinement before it moves over to the old-timers ballot.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)