TOYS IN THE ATTIC
Adults don't understand them. Schools ban them. Parents buy them or risk having the only kid on the block without one. These fad toys come out of nowhere, command the attention of America's youth for a moment, and earn their inventors millions. Then they disappear ... only to return years later as nostalgic kitsch purchases, of course.
2017: FIDGET SPINNERS
There's always a "next big thing," and at the moment it's fidget spinners. Although they date back to at least 1993, these devices began enthralling kids and annoying parents and teachers en masse only recently, brilliantly marketed under the guise of soothing fidgety children.
One of many fads proving that tiny toys sell, Shopkins went through 100 million units in the year after their debut. The little characters can be individualized for the child obsessing over them -- and once sold on eBay for thousands of dollars despite costing $4 in stores.
One of several fad toys packaged in tiny plastic eggs, Squinkies rode a wave fueled by mommy bloggers across the country. The squishy little dolls were so popular that at the height of the craze, stores nationwide rationed sales to try to avoid selling out.
2009: ANGRY BIRDS
By 2011, children and adults alike were wasting 200 million minutes every day flinging angry birds at befuddled pigs. The "Angry Birds" game, developed two years earlier, revolutionized app-based mobile games and, like all good toy fads, became a movie.
2009: ZHU ZHU PETS
People once paid thousands to get their hands on one of these $10 fake pets, essentially cheap robotic hamsters. They endure today in different animal forms, but the frantic race to get one is over.
2006: SILLY BANDZ
The most recent in a long line of bracelet fads, Silly Bandz are rubbery wristwear formed into different shapes. Producers were once strapped to meet the insane demand of a million packs per week.
Ganz blended the real with the virtual with Webkinz -- among the first toys that reached their potential only when the child owner visited a website to bring his or her plush toy to online life.
2004: LIVESTRONG BRACELETS
Another bracelet-related must-have, these charity bracelets leaped from good intentions to fashion statement. Adults jumped on, too, but it was not uncommon to see teens wearing five or more at a time. Revelations that Armstrong had spent much of his storied career lying and cheating sent demand plummeting.
2003: JELLY BRACELETS
Madonna originally popularized these colored, rubbery bracelets two decades earlier, but the 2003 craze added rumors they were part of a shocking middle-schooler sex game. The myth was debunked; the craze was just tweens wearing jelly bracelets.
One of the most dramatic -- and profitable -- twists on spinning tops, Beyblades pit friends against each other in battles of customized toys. When the spinning stopped and the fad ended, 150 million of the little hunks of plastic had reportedly spun off the shelves.
2002: FURREAL FRIENDS
Hasbro launched the latest in a long line of pet toy crazes in 2002, grown over a decade to 260 animal breeds and 61 million units sold in 74 countries.
Giant heads. Tiny bods. Excessive makeup. A bit of controversy over appropriateness. Apparently, that's all it takes to sell 125 million Bratz dolls, a fad that generated more than $2 billion in worldwide sales within five years.
Credited with being the first robot toy that responded to stimulus and training, fuzzy Furbies spoke your language -- literally. And the international language of marketing: 27 million were sold within the year after launch.
1996: DEVIL STICKS
People "juggling" one long baton between two shorter control batons has been around from biblical times through 1970s Grateful Dead concerts, but in 1996 a resourceful T-shirt screener began selling and marketing them out of his shop, turning them into a staple of beach boardwalks and contemporary concert parking lots.
1996: POKEMON CARDS
Trading cards once made people think of baseball players, not anime capsule monsters, but with the release of 102 collectible cards based on Nintendo characters, Pokemon fever swept the planet. An equally annoying augmented reality phone game, "Pokemon Go," came 20 years later.
Japanese toymaker Bandai birthed the world's first virtual pet and a virtual pet craze. At the peak, 15 Tamagotchi were bought every minute in the United States and Canada alone -- 40 million worldwide for the year.
Originally designed to seal the inside of passion-orange-guava drinks bottled in Hawaii, the little cardboard circles known as Pogs were soon a common sight in the pockets of kids and the top drawer of principals' desks. At the height of the craze, $10 million in Pogs were sold every week just in California.
1993: MAGIC CARDS
"Magic: The Gathering" debuted at the Origins Game Fair in Dallas, with success so instant that the game's designers sold out what they'd thought would be a year's worth of cards.
1993: SUPER SOAKER
The standard water pistol was rendered obsolete when a NASA engineer unveiled this version that could drench a target 50 feet away. More than 200 million have sold since.
1990: SLAP BRACELETS
Slap bracelets are responsible for millions of jarring popping sounds and more than a few injured wrists, thanks to an avalanche of cheap foreign knockoffs. The first big fad of the 1990s, slap bracelets stand as a testament to the fad power of toys you can wear.
1988: SKIP IT
Bruised shins, America. America, bruised shins. The ball-and-chain-like Skip It (an odd forebear of the Fitbit with its counting ability) has gone on despite being kind of boring and sometimes painful.
A full 30 years before fidget spinners annoyed their way into the mainstream, there were Boinks. Marketed under the vague half-promise they might sort of help a kid concentrate, focus, and stop fidgeting, Boinks are actually just netted finger sleeves.
1987: POGO BALL
More advanced than a Hoppity-Hop but less advanced than a pogo stick, the Pogo Ball became a craze almost immediately. Then it was gone. Initially lauded for encouraging exercise, the Pogo Ball was quickly recognized as a nuisance and an emergency room visit waiting to happen.
1987: KOOSH BALL
Named for the sound it made landing and formed from 2,000 rubber filaments, the Koosh Ball is a squishy sphere that's easy to throw and catch and doesn't hurt when it hits. It sold in 14,000 stores in 20 countries within a year of debuting.
1987: FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS
They date back to ancient Latin America, were reinvented by hippies in the 1960s, and were kept alive in the late 1980s as sweaty, waterlogged, rotting wrist appendages traded by BFFs in middle schools across America.
1987: GROW MONSTERS
Put a small, hard dinosaur into water, wait a few days, and get a big, gross, slimy, misshapen dinosaur -- and a cup full of four-day-old standing water. Grow Monsters were awesome, until doctors warned that if swallowed, they also quadrupled in size in a kid's esophagus.
1985: GARBAGE PAIL KIDS
Gross, disturbing, graphic, and all-around awesome, Garbage Pail Kids were banned from schools, loathed by parents, and loved by kids. The gory, gruesome stickers and cards burned bright, turned into an ill-fated movie, then went away until a 2003 revival.
1983: WACKY WALL WALKERS
If you were alive in 1983, chances are good you saw a miniature rubber octopus crawling down a wall. Cheap to produce and marketed for vending machines and cereal box giveaways, they just had to be thrown hard enough to stick; gravity would do the rest.
1983: POLLY POCKET
Though it's grown over the years, the original Polly Pocket was, as the name implies, small enough to fit in a pocket. Like so many fads, the toy eventually went Hollywood. It become an animated movie series.
1980: RUBIK'S CUBE
This toy fad was the first retail phenomenon of the 1980s, a color-coded, three-dimensional cube that became a frustratingly addictive must-have for kids and adults alike.
1977: CHIA PETS
The brainchild of Joe Pedott might be the most enduring fad of pets that weren't pets. From animals like bulls and rams to human heads and just about anything with hair or fur, these sprouting sculptures were marketing magic.
Arguably Mattel's grossest toy ever, Slime would stay gooey for as long as kids kept returning it to its trash can-style container. Then they could remove it, squeeze it between their fingers and invariably throw it into siblings' hair.
1975: THE PET ROCK
Advertising genius Gary Dahl's work remains part of pop culture 40 years later. One of history's most successful marketing gimmicks, the Pet Rock launched the no-maintenance "pet" genre by selling 1.5 million small rocks in boxes for about $4 each.
1975: THE MOOD RING
Mood rings were supposed to be as individual as the teens who emptied the shelves of them during the "Me Decade." First appearing in New York City, they took the country by storm before disappearing within two years, the lifespan of their temperature-sensitive liquid crystal.
1973: BABY ALIVE DOLL
Swarms of kids demanded Hasbro's so-alive-it's-kind-of-creepy Baby Alive Doll, which opened its mouth to receive food, chewed, swallowed, and eventually requested a diaper change.
1973: OUIJA BOARDS
Ouija boards have been on the fringes of pop culture since the 1880s, but in 1973 one appeared in "The Exorcist" and millions of kids suddenly turned to witchcraft in their spare time, much to the chagrin of parents, teachers, and clergy everywhere.
1973: SHRINKY DINKS
Shrinky Dinks required kids to operate a hot oven (and left open the potential of burns from scalding hot plastic). Although they debuted in 1973, a real Shrinky Dinks craze wouldn't arrive for another decade.
1969: NERF BALL
Billed as the "first ball for inside the house," Nerfs evolved for footballs, table hockey, pool, and table tennis uses. Now they're known for a variety of backyard combat gear.
1966: BARREL OF MONKEYS
Huge swaths of America's youth agreed Lakeside Toys had a game "more fun than a barrel of monkeys" and were soon wasting countless hours trying to hook red monkey tails onto blue plastic barrels.
No ball has ever bounced better than the SuperBall, which could bounce for a full minute when dropped and sail over a three-story building if smashed hard enough into the sidewalk. It sold as well as it hopped, with 20 million bouncing off of shelves in the 1960s alone.
1963: LAVA LAMP
Bubbly, trippy, and mesmerizing, the lava lamp came to symbolize all things psychedelic and countercultural and became a staple of dorm rooms for generations.
1959: TROLL DOLLS
Troll dolls are the Grover Cleveland of fad toys -- they served two non-consecutive terms at the top. Invented in 1959, they became a must-have in the 1960s, went dormant for a generation, and re-emerged as a craze of the 1990s.
Arguably the most iconic fad in U.S. history, the Hula-Hoop sold 25 million in the first four months of production. The famous plastic circles are still around, associated with simpler times.
1955: PEZ DISPENSER
PEZ had been around since the 1920s, and dispensers were unveiled in the early 1950s. But in 1955, they got heads. The earliest collectible dispensers can now fetch $10,000 at auction.
1950: SILLY PUTTY
Intended as a rubber alternative during World War II, this purposeless "solid liquid" in an egg container became one of the biggest toy fads ever, drawing orders for 250,000 units within three days after it was profiled in The New Yorker.
1950: MAGIC 8 BALL
At least as accurate as actual fortune tellers, this oversized billiards ball is filled with dark liquid and floating dice that answers questions -- after a fashion. Sales at the time? Reply hazy. But about 1 million of these still sell every year.
There was a time when 80 feet of coiled wire was an acceptable present to give a child. That time was 1945 and the toy was the Slinky -- which sold 400 in the minutes after its debut department store demonstration, the first of more than 250 million sold.
1932: JOY BUZZER
In the early '30s, kids across America dressed like small grownups, worked grown-up jobs, and didn't tire of jolting unsuspecting people with shock handshakes. The joy buzzer swept America in the golden age of pranks, made by the same company behind exploding cigars, snake nut cans, sneezing powder, and "razzberry cushions."
Probably the first toy to be confiscated by teachers until the end of the day on Friday nationwide, yo-yos were selling 300,000 a day within a year of their release.
Although they have ancient roots, the basic, simple marble became one of America's earliest toy fads in 1884, when an Ohio manufacturer developed a way to produce and market a million -- enough to fill five train carloads -- every day.