Despite a strict "no toy guns" rule in our house, I've managed to convince my wife that Nerf products don't count (other dads who'd like to learn how, eMail me for a strategy session). With their beautifully rendered techno designs and remarkably intricate mechanics – the latest holds 144 darts on a rotating rack before launching them 75ft – I'll always have a designer's appreciation for what the Hasbro team accomplishes for less than $30. But until recently, there's been nothing but friends (watch those eyes!), pets and fragile household objects to shoot at. Enter the N-Strike Tech Target… a battery operated "dart board" that senses where each round hits and automatically keeps score in a variety of skill-testing games. With catchy voice prompts, energetic music and sound effects keyed to the action, this literally keeps
me my kids occupied for hours on end. A wonderful alternative to video games: non-violent, and a level of physical interaction the most advanced onscreen target practice can't match for fun. About $19.99 http://www.hasbro.com
If your childhood was anything like mine – and I don't necessarily wish that on any of my readers – you may have some fond memories of getting sick back in the 70's. Extra TV time with Sesame Street and The Electric Company, Gilligan's Island, Brady Bunch, Lost in Space (are you seeing the pattern of care here?) and cherry Sucrets to calm that sore throat. Aside from the addictive taste and numbing properties of the lozenges themselves (powered by Dyclonine, a mild anesthetic), the appeal was all in the package… smart little tins closed with a satisfying snap, and encouraged the rapid consumption of their contents with the promise of holding your spare marbles, allowance or sticker collection. But those memories got a cold slap in the face in 1994 with the introduction of charmless plastic containers, and I hadn't thought of the brand since. Fast forward to RiteAid last week, where I discovered Insight Pharmaceuticals' new tins that capitalize impressively on the brand equity of Sucrets' famous packaging. My 7 year old loves the retro taste, and I get a kick from sharing an inexpensive bit of nostalgia with my son. Updated graphics and crisp debossing aside, some things don't change – he's already trying to figure out how to get his hands on the box for his pog collection. Four flavors, $3.99/pack. http://www.sucrets.com/
A review of dental floss, you ask? Not only is Reach a product I'm eager to recommend, its a great example of how the much-overused "I Word" can be accomplished through small, incremental change as opposed to the huge leaps many associate with the term "innovation". Reach Total Care isn't a complete rethinking of floss or dental hygiene, and it didn't have to be. The team at J&J did a fantastic job identifying real opportunities to make a better version of a relatively generic product, and delivered on that insight with improvements which count. By utilizing a stretchy, elastic-like material for the floss, it's virtually tear proof – yet slides easily between even the the most tightly spaced teeth. And the slightly rough-feeling "Micro Groove" technology (I'm a sucker for a good trademark) claims to grab twice the plaque of the other leading brand, all while feeling super comfortable wrapped around your fingers – no need to cut off circulation, its stretchiness creates a secure grip on its own. Neat little package too. Available in several varieties including Mint, Listerine, Flouride and Whitening for about $4.99/pack. http://www.reachbrand.com/our-floss
I've never been one to get worked up about birthdays, but realizing that my 20/20 vision was going downhill fast hit me pretty hard. I eventually came to like my regular frames, but drug store readers always left me wanting something better at a reasonable price. Enter Nannini's Flat Specs… designed by Georgio Nannini's Modena-based eyewear company in 1995 (and still manufactured with precision in Italy), ingenious hinges allows these lightweight, comfortable optics to fold into a slim 10mm case which disappears in any pocket. Available in five magnification levels and a range of colors, Flat Specs would be an incredible value at twice their price of $22. Looks like Brad agrees – and if there's a celebrity in this town who truly appreciates good design, it's Mr. Pitt. http://www.perannum.com/ReadingGlasses.aspx
Apologies for such delayed posts, I know its been a while between drinks… keeping this blog up-to-date is high on my list of New Years resolutions. So back to it with a timely review of advanced Xmas technology – GKI's incredibly well designed artificial trees. At first it seemed odd to post about a product created to replicate something real, but after living with one of these beautiful simulations for a few weeks I've come to appreciate the level of engineering and artistry it takes to achieve what GKI offers. Essentially commercial-grade trees now available for the home (GKI has manufactured holiday lighting for stores and public displays for decades), the truly natural look and feel belies their complex integrated LED lights, robust structure and streamlined setup / takedown system. I'll skip the moral rant about cutting down living things for short term entertainment purposes – there are high costs incurred by people and the planet making these things in China – but if you're convinced "there's nothing like a real tree," take a look at www.gkilights.com for another option next year. $200-$600 depending on size and complexity, our gorgeous 7" Spruce cost $275 delivered and should last a lifetime.
I hadn't been camping for over 30 years, but my memories of that last outing are still all too fresh… rain, mud, the most disgusting latrines imaginable. And that damn tent. Back then it was one of those heavy canvas, army-style jobs that looked like a tent any kid would draw if you asked them to draw a tent – essentially a triangle of canvas held together by a fragile framework of metal rods. It took two people a frustrating 1/2 hour to set up, perhaps more to take down. Fast forward to last weekend, when trepidation about showing my kids how to set up camp turned to absolute confidence as Coleman's Instant Tent literally jumped out of its carry bag and into full bloom in about 60 seconds flat. And this isn't a toy – well built, with quality materials and features to rival most any tent at the campsite – the genius behind the design lies in the integration of an external collapsable frame that "pops" open via a central hub on the roof (and the reverse when its time to pack up.) There's nothing at all to assemble. Available in 4, 6 and 8 person versions, Coleman's Instant Tents make camping more accessible to everyone. $139-189
After playing with these addictive electronic insects for a few days, I'd say Innovation First is really onto something special. I've posted a video, as they truly defy adequate description in words or pictures – you have to experience their frantic motion, seemingly intelligent interaction and eerily lifelike behavior in action to appreciate the concept. But as I have to write something, here's my best effort at describing Hexbug Nanos: imagine the Ant Farm you had as a kid (before you knocked it off the shelf) morphed into a Hot Wheels racetrack… amazing fun. Individual bugs about $10, expandable "Habitats" (which include one or two bugs) $15 – $50. http://www.hexbug.com/nano