Toys for the Busy Executive

Toys for the Busy Executive

Magic 8 Ball Fortune Teller, 1948-1960, Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New YorkDo you keep a toy on your desk? Perhaps one of those widgets like a Newton’s Cradle with its clacking, momentum-conserving chrome spheres; the mysterious Magic 8 Ball with its looming messages; that perpetual motion drinking-bird thingamabob; or maybe the insoluble Rubik’s Cube? A recent conversation with Julie Lasky, the New York Times feature writer, started me thinking about the device she noted that Germans call a “managerspielzeug” and that in France are known as “gadgets de bureaux.” To us they’re “executive toys”–those silly, diverting doohickeys sold as stress-relievers.

The Vacation: Typically American?

The Vacation: Typically American?

We think of “the vacation” as a typically American invention. The trip to the beach in summer, the fall color tour, the week at the ski resort in winter, and the excursion to the theme park during Spring break mark American calendars and give an exuberant rhythm to the year.

A Drone of My Own: Toys and Technology

A Drone of My Own: Toys and Technology

This Christmas an online commerce company (you know which I’m talking about) failed to cancel an order in my wish-list and so delivered to our front door a foot-long, remote-controlled, battery-powered, blimp-shaped, gyro-stabilized toy drone. At the museum, I’m up to my ears in thinking and writing about play and toys, but playing is another…

Please Christmas Don’t Be Late!

Please Christmas Don’t Be Late!

I count the chance to watch A Christmas Story, a film based on the recollections of the radio raconteur and writer Jean Shepherd, as one of the distinct joys of the season.

Tracking Irony Across Lionel Trains History

Tracking Irony Across Lionel Trains History

The historian’s craft always requires probing the past for significance. Making sense of bygone events obliges investigators to guard against irrelevance and superstition. We historians aren’t numerologists or astrologers, and so we sort out ironies and coincidences from meaningful events.

What Are You Going to Be? (For Halloween….)

What Are You Going to Be? (For Halloween….)

This season of make-believe and dressing up is a good time to think about pretending—one of the cornerstones of play. For kids, make-believe is partly aspirational. If you’re little and you dress as a crime fighter or superhero you take in the fantasy, feeling power surge in your imagination. You have nothing to fear, even…

Can the Dictionary be a Toy?

Can the Dictionary be a Toy?

While on vacation and passing through a park recently, a Scrabble game in progress at a picnic table caught my eye and then my ear.

Wrestling in Lincoln’s White House

Wrestling in Lincoln’s White House

Abraham Lincoln, burdened as only a commander in chief could be in the midst of terrible civil war, beset by feuding or reluctant generals, harried by restive dis-unionists in border states, beleaguered by constituents petitioning for pardons or pleading for favors, under continual threat of assassination, and struggling with bouts of melancholy, found respite in…

The Funny Thing about the Funny Thing

The Funny Thing about the Funny Thing

Parody, a calculated form of play, has been around for a long time. Follow the word to its Greek roots and you dig up the meaning “against song.”

Finding an Identity on the Comeback Trail: Skiing During the Winter Olympics

Finding an Identity on the Comeback Trail: Skiing During the Winter Olympics

On April 12, 2013, in a game against the rival Golden State Warriors, the L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant scored 47 points. Two nights later, trainers abruptly bundled him off to the ER with a snapped Achilles tendon, an injury that had ended many a career. Professional athletes who play dangerous games depend in part on…