Monday, August 17th, 2009
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).”
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.
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.
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 FeelingRetro.com. 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?