Listen to this article

Judging by the Christmas trees I saw at Target on Halloween — or maybe it was Fourth of July? — the holiday shopping season has begun.

I have just one question: What mouth-breathing nonparent invented the toy called "Bop-it"?

If you are not familiar with this noisemaker, you are lucky. It’s a game with a series of commands issued by an electronic game-show-host voice, who shouts "Twist it!" or "Bop it!" as your child punches buttons, pulls handles, twists cranks, etc.

I grew to loathe it on a two-day drive to Disney World a few years back, when my daughter and her friend played it nonstop. Every once in awhile, Mr. Bop-it instructed them to yell "Ahhhh!" — whereupon I’d slam on the brakes thinking we were about to hit something.

I wanted to toss it on the highway and crush it with my van. Not that I’m violent or anything.

Which brings to mind other toys over the years that I wish we had never purchased. Most involved noise of some kind.

Here are some other entries on my "Why did anyone invent this toy?" list:

The Rescue Heroes plane

Actually, this line of toys was pretty cool, with "action figures" (not dolls) representing good role models. And they had cool names, like rock-climber Rocky Canyon, pilot Ariel Flyer and astronaut Roger Houston (my favorite). Gotta love toymakers with puns.

They also had computer chips that synced with various vehicles. You’d put the action figure in a police car or firetruck, and he (or she) would issue a relevant command: "We’ve got to get to the fire!"

The plane had its own noises, too, including the beeping sound vehicles make when they back up. In this case, it tended to go off whenever it felt like it — say, at the exact moment I was tiptoeing out of my son’s room just after I’d gotten him to sleep.

We never solved that riddle, and every once in awhile when I walk through the basement, I hear it go off. Creepy.

Zhu Zhu Pets

They do have fun accessories, like little tunnel-homes and an actual gerbil elevator. But I have more than once mistaken them for the real thing. This tends to be at night, when my kids are asleep, and I’ve been known to bump them and set off a full 10 minutes of chirping and squeaking. Ugh.

We have a basket of Zhu Zhu Pets and accessories tucked away in a cabinet. It’s just one step from the donation bin.

Rock ’n’ Roll Elmo

First of all, imagine Elmo, and that voice. *Shivers*

My son received this as a well-meaning gift when he was 6 months old. We played it for him, and he started crying. Enough said.

Clue Jr.

Disclaimer: I love the real Clue. Great game. Played it as a kid. Always wanted to be Miss Scarlett, when in reality I was probably more like Mrs. White.

So I happily bought it for my own kids, although I’m not sure about some of the updates. (Professor Plum is no longer on the faculty but is a billionaire video game maker.)

My big mistake was buying the junior version a few years back. Hasbro tried to make it kid-friendly by eliminating the whole murder aspect and substituting a birthday cake instead. Not exactly the same level of suspense. Even my kids thought it was silly.

More donation-bin fodder.

Monopoly Empire

Not the original version of this classic game, of course, although I’ve been known to resist playing it, too. (To be fair, it takes approximately seven hours to finish. It’s always my kids’ first choice, and I almost always resist. All that financial scheming makes my brain hurt.)

We’ve invested in three other versions of Monopoly over the years, including Monopoly Star Wars: The Clone Wars (cool Jedi tokens) and baseball Monopoly, which lets you arrange the teams in any order you’d like. We had a slight tussle when my son put the Cardinals behind the Braves and Rays. The Cubs are on Mediterranean.

But last year, my daughter persuaded me to buy Monopoly Empire, where Boardwalk and Park Place have been replaced by Coca-Cola and Samsung. On the plus side, she notes, it’s a much shorter game.

The drawback, from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: "Is there a better way to teach kids that whoever owns the most brands wins?"

The new list of TOADY nominees came out this week (see below) with new advice about what we shouldn’t buy this year.

My daughter has her eye on Monopoly Electronic Banking, because you can use credit cards besides cash. It probably makes noise, too.

I think we’ll pass.


Julie Wurth blogs about families and kids and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at (217) 351-5226, or

2. Mini Mall by miWorld

"Immerse your daughter in the mind-numbing commercialism of America’s shopping meccas without having to drive her to one," the campaign says. They can build anything they want as long as it’s a chain store.

3. U-verse app by BabyFirst

This kids’ art app for AT&T U-verse customers allows artwork created by baby on a tablet or phone to appear on TV over the "BabyFirst" channel. "There’s no evidence that one screen benefits babies ... so why not try two?" the campaign says.

4. Barbie Loves Girl Scouts by Mattel

"Help the Girl Scouts teach your daughter she can be anything ... as long as she looks like Barbie!" the campaign says, criticizing the $2 million dollar "payoff" from Mattel to Girl Scouts USA.

5. Anything app by Cartoon Network

"Worried your child doesn’t have an attention span long enough to consume his recommended daily dose of branded content?" the campaign says. This app, for boys 6-11, features 15-second clips from network shows.


1. Two Zhu Zhu Pets on Black Friday, 2009, at a Toys "R" Us in Camp Hill, Pa. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

2. The 2011 version of Let's Rock! Elmo toy from Hasbro's Playskool brand. Charles Sykes/AP Images for Hasbro, Inc.

3. The 2-in-1 iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad. AP Photo/CTA Digital

4. The LeapBand, from LeapFrog. AP Photo/LeapFrog