Sometimes, the only way to get ahead in this world is to go back -- way back. Just as the Black Friday shopping season has become increasingly frenzied, so have toys become more sophisticated. Electronics and computerized gadgets that didn't exist even a decade ago now rule the roost. Does Santa even read letters from kids who opt for e-mail or text messages over pen and paper?
Yet for all our Information Age bravado, some toys simply can't be improved with a microchip or a semiconductor. What follows is WalletPop's unscientific (but way cool) list of 10 retro toy classics that have withstood the tests of time and fun. One thing we noticed: Nearly every toy on this list was introduced by a mom-and-pop operation, with many of those same companies still making the toys today.
Best of all: You don't have to program them, hook them up to a TV or employ any wireless connection. Your mind, heart and imagination will do just fine. (Note: Best prices may not reflect tax and shipping.)
Radio Flyer Classic Red Wagon
The Chicago-based company, founded by Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin, is run today by his grandsons and still cranking out copious quantities of Little Red Wagons. While the product line has expanded, the one known as "Model 18" still sells by the wagon-load, if you will.
Retail price: $89.99
Best price we found: $70 at Blain's Farm and Fleet
Schoenhut Toy Pianos
Forget Rock Band, Guitar Hero and synthesized note mashers for just a moment. Nothing with joysticks and screens has yet to duplicate the plinkety-plink charm of a toy piano, and this holiday season, these kitschy keyboards are everywhere. The brand of repute, since 1872, has been Schoenhut, whose products run the gamut from a 37-key "concert grand" (almost $200) to the more basic Schoenhut 2522R -- probably closer to what you remember.
Retail price of Schoenhut 2522R: $77.95
Best price we found: $43.65 (no sales tax) at hineschoolingsupply.com
What is it about Chicago that produces all these classic toys? The suburb of Evanston, Ill. gave us Tinkertoys in 1914, and the wooden-spool based building sets have yielded some surprising contraptions, including a tic-tac-toe playing computer. Speaking of which, you'd need a computer to calculate how many Tinker-Windmills kids have built out of these things over the decades. You may even want to have a go yourself--when the kids aren't around, of course.
Retail price, Tinkertoy Classic Jumbo Set (102 pieces): $24.99
Best price we found: $17.89 at Mills Fleet Farm
What hath the 1980s wrought! Leg warmers! Mullet haircuts! Corny dance routines in John Hughes "Brat Pack" flicks! Men At Work ... and of course, the original Rubik's Cube, first sold by Ideal in 1980. Thirty years later, I'm still trying to solve it. People who can do it in three minutes or less have earned my unending spite and envy. You can call it a toy -- and indeed it's a classic. I call it an Instant Inferiority Complex.
Retail price: $11.99
Best price we found: $7 at kidsderby.com
Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots
In traditional sci-fi, robots are logical machines of cool calculation. In this game, introduced in 1964, androids try to knock each other's blocks off. As kid's toys go, it's a work of sheer primitive genius with a name straight out of a Swingin' '60s "Batman" episode. Biff! Bang! Pow!
Retail price: $19.99
Best price we found: $11.99 at Toys R Us
Maybe it was the psychedelic vibe of 1967 that inspired Hasbro to unleash this ditty, where kids use translucent plastic pegs in many colors to make ultra-pixellated pictures. Sure, you can play Lite-Brite online today, and even print out your pictures. But trust us, it's not the same as sticking those poky pegs into the plastic chassis. Far out!
Retail price: Vintage sets from the 1960s and '70s are plentiful and available used at online auction sites such as eBay.
Typical price range: $35-$45
Classic Etch A Sketch
Two knobs. A silver screen. Doodles that always produced comical results whenever you tried to draw a circle or a slanted line. Introduced in 1960, the Etch A Sketch is so basic, about the only mystery to it is, "What's all that silver sandy stuff in there?" We're not tellin' -- though we'll gladly help you find the best price on this beloved kids' drawing toy. (OK, if you must know ... it's aluminum powder.)
Retail price: $17.99
Best price we found: $4.99 at kidsderby.com
1945 Collector's Edition Slinky
Ah, the helical spring that walks down stairs as if possessed. Introduced in Philly, the Slinky was priced at $1, and have stayed cheap since. People have found the most novel uses for these things -- from radio antennas to physics gadgets in NASA experiments. Still it remains, to quote the indelible jingle, fun for a girl and a boy.
Retail price: $8.00
Best price we found: $5.69 at Hobbylinc.com
Magic 8 Ball
"Ohhhh Magic 8 Ball, will I save a bundle this Black Friday?" And the response is ... well, you'll just have to buy one and shake it hard to find out. Speaking of hard, it's hard to believe these fortune-telling orbs have been around since 1946. Each one contains a 20-faced die with fortunes ranging from "It is certain" to "Outlook not so good." Always wondered: What's the inky black liquid inside? And what would happen if I mixed it with the silver powder in an Etch A Sketch? Hmmmm. "Outlook not so good."
Retail price: $9.99
Best price we found: $8.08 at Amazon.com
Duncan Imperial Yo-Yo
Product number 3124IM-RD, also known as a the Tournament "77" model, has had its ups and downs--get it?--but has never gone out of style. It was the fad yo-yo of the 1950s, had a big resurgence in the 1970s, and still walks the dog after all this time. It's amazing that such a simple toy can yield such feats of aerodynamic prowess. Dare we say anything about strings attached?
Retail price: $3.49
Best price we found: $2.99 at underbid.com
Black Friday: Best deals on this season's 10 hottest retro toys