With the constant barrage of ads for video games and game consoles (Xbox, Wii, and the like), it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are a ton of other cool, imagination-capturing electronic toys that don’t have a screen at all—and don’t need one either. Here are a few of our favorites.
Slot car sets. If you haven’t driven a slot car since you were about 10, you’re long overdue. Today’s cars are made with digital switches, meaning you can have more than two on a 2-lane track. Our set from Carrera (carrera-toys.com) accommodated up to six, each with its own controller. With digital, the cars move from lane to lane at different switching points allowing for passing and intense action while speeding around the track. Expect to pay around $300 for a good set that includes two cars. But you and your kids will have so much fun that on an hourly basis, the purchase price isn’t all that bad. Be prepared for some serious squabbles over who gets the “best” cars.
Pinball. When bowling became cool again a few years ago, it was only a matter of time before pinball followed. For about $500 you can pick up a vintage game that’s fun to play and makes a great piece of modern art. Games that might have lasted only a few years in a smoky bar (or bowling alley), can last a lifetime in your rec room. Pinballs aren’t maintenance free, but they won’t break you, since the games themselves are simple collections of wires, switches, and cheap bulbs—simple enough to also provide years of lessons in basic circuitry and great joint, dad-kid projects.
Remote control helicopters. These have been on the market for five or six years and boy, has the technology evolved. The earliest ones had rotors that usually snapped during the first flight, ruining any hope for quality time—and making parents wince every time junior took the controls because of the repair costs. New choppers, like the Military Thunder by Swann (swann.com/helicopters), use multiple flexible rotors that make flying a breeze, right out of the box. Apparently, it’s all about the “twin counter-rotating coaxial rotors.” You’d never find that technology in a real helicopter, but it makes the scale models a lot more stable and increases lift. The only downside that we can see (aside from knocking Ming vases off shelves), is that you get only 5-10 minutes of flight time per charge.
Remote-control boats. If you’re near a toy-boat-friendly lake or pond, remote-control boats, like the Balaenoptera Musculus, are great fun. But be sure to spend time researching battery life. You don’t want to schlepp all the way to the park for a 5-minute boat ride and then have to head home to recharge.
Lazer Stunt Chasers (lazerstuntchaser.com). A new—and very unique—entry in the burgeoning remote-control toy market is the Lazer Stunt Chaser, which you can steer by pointing a laser beam where you want the car to go. The cars are two-sided so, with the included flip ramp, they’re up and moving whichever way they land—at scale speeds up to 300 MPH. At a 1:32 scale, Stunt Chasers are a comfortable size. Unfortunately, at about $65, they’re a little pricey, but still a ton of fun for dads and kids.