Comparison Review: Toss Across by Mattel and Ideal Toy Company

A Thinga-passerby made a keen observation yesterday on a 2-year-old product review. The specific product isn’t important.

“I’m hoping to find these this late date of August 2009.  it seems like 9 out of 10 times lately my favorite things, and most good things, have changed for the not-so-better and are also more expensive, or simply discontinued version(s).”

That is a reason I like garage sales. I often find products that are from 2 to 10-years-old, often discontinued or changed in such a way that the newer product is inferior.

Take, for example, Toss Across. The toy was first produced by the Ideal Toy Company in 1969. Today it is made by Mattel. Guess which one sucks.

Photo of a Mattel Toss Across game and an Ideal Toy Company Toss Across game with three small red bean bags with white polka dots from the original Ideal Toy Company version.

Toss Across is a game of Tic-Tac-Toe played by throwing small bean bags at a game board suspended a few inches from the ground. A successful throw rotates a triangular panel between three possible faces: X, O and a neutral face. It’s a great way for you to play Tic-Tac-Toe with a preschooler and not be bored out of your mind.

The Ideal and Mattel versions different in three significant ways:

1) Mattel’s unit is 14″x17″ and made from a soft plastic. Ideal’s larger model is 18.5″x22″ and made of a hard plastic that has a certain rigid toughness to it.

2) Mattel’s unit has the X and O symbols applied as stickers. At garage sales these stickers are often seen peeling off. It’s a game destined for early retirement in a landfill.

Ideal’s unit has the X and O applied with some sort of spray-on paint coating over raised etching in the surface. We bought a 1969 model at a garage sale this weekend for $1. The red and blue pigments are thin in spots — from decades of bean bags scraping across their surface — but otherwise the whole thing is in great shape and should last another 20 years before someone needs to repaint the surface.

(I tested the paint for lead and turned up nothing. Home test kits are limited in their abilities, but legitimate.)

3) The game play dynamics are completely different. Mattel embraces random chaos. Ideal rewards skill.

The Ideal version rotates the X/O panels in a sequential manner. If your opponent has flipped up an X, you’ll need two successful throws to reverse things — once to return to the neutral face and again to flip up the O.

The Mattel version rotates the X/O panels freely either way with one toss moving a panel several revolutions, sort of like a slot machine — no telling what will come up.

Worse, one toss on Mattel’s board often rotates two panels at the same time because the panels are separated by nothing — the bean bag slides between the panels and flips both of them.

On the Ideal unit, the panels are farther apart and separated by a frame. A toss landing between two panels hits the frame and the panels don’t flip at all. You need a precise throw to flip a panel.

Which is better?

You could argue Mattel’s random approach is more fun for kids because nearly every hit results in movement. But that translates to long games because a win is hard to achieve. Or, you have short games with hollow victories because you win by your opponent’s own random movements as often as your own.

I argue that for a 3-, 4- or 5-year-old learning Tic-Tac-Toe, the Ideal version is better. Have a preschooler stand directly over the game board and drop the bean bags, as someone described at If Tic-Tac-Toe rules are too advanced for your kid, toss the bean bags until anyone gets 3-in-a-row of either symbol.

It’s great fun, now found only through eBay and your neighborhood garage sale.

Can you think of other games or toys made worse by changes in design or manufacturing?

This weekend I also picked up an old Uno deck made before the language cards (draw two, draw four, skip and reverse) were changed to symbols.  I prefer my 5-year-old to recognize word formations if not read them. Mattel says Uno is for 7-year-olds. Huh? Since when do 7-year-olds not read?


9 Responses to “Comparison Review: Toss Across by Mattel and Ideal Toy Company”

  1. Theryn says:

    My grandparents had that original version. It may have even been my mom’s. Lots of people got good old fashioned toys when she sold off stuff to move to an apartment.

    Lincoln logs are definitely not as good as they used to be. We had my dad’s old set and it’s a million times better than the lightweight painted and often plastic ones available today.

    August 17th, 2009 at 5:21 am

  2. PisecoMom says:

    Yes, we find this with so many things. Most recently, we noticed that our old version of Race to the Roof has a frame on the game board to keep the room tiles from slipping around, but in our friends’ newer version the board is flat and slick, and that really makes gameplay more frustrating for young kids. I’ll have to keep my eye out for that older Toss Across!

    August 17th, 2009 at 5:44 am

  3. KGS says:

    Tonka trucks! When I was a kid, all of them were metal. Now an awful lot of the big ones are plastic. Safer perhaps, but the feel of them “driving” on rough surfaces is just not the same.

    August 17th, 2009 at 9:30 am

  4. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    I was recently playing Uno with the new cards, and we frequently misinterpreted what the card symbols were supposed to mean. To the point that the game was not as fun.

    August 17th, 2009 at 11:03 am

  5. Noreen says:

    I loved hungry hungry hippo as a kid (my friend had it) and was going to get it for girls until I saw how flimsy the new verson was (I saw it at a garage sale, the new one )

    August 17th, 2009 at 10:50 pm

  6. Noreen says:

    The tonka truck comment reminded me when our daughter was little my husband was so excited to buy her her first tonka truck. When we got to toysrus and saw they are mostly plastic he was so sad. He never did buy her a tonka

    August 17th, 2009 at 10:52 pm

  7. Jen says:

    Noreen, you are so right about hungry hungry hippo! Someone gave muy daughter a new one for her birthday, and it was broken within a day! i emailed the company to complain… it’s ridiculous!

    August 18th, 2009 at 6:27 pm

  8. Emily says:

    Quality really seems to be suffering anymore. Not only are toys made much cheaper, but there are so many recalls. My girls were so sad last year when we had to throw out their Dora talking doll house and accessories, because of the lead paint. Any more I’m thinking making toys out of old cardboard boxes is the way to go. They’re not that flimsier than the plastic stuff in the stores, and when it does break, it’s easy to just get another cardboard box.

    August 22nd, 2009 at 9:22 am

  9. Kathleen says:

    Most toys now come from China, and we all know how GREAT their quality control is…. I LOVE getting older toys for my 3 year old at garage sales. And Thinga’s idea about the lead testing kit is great. Thanks for the tip! I kept my old Fisher Price barn set and airport set from when I was a kid… they are my daughter’s favorite toys.

    August 26th, 2009 at 11:12 am