We're not here this holiday season to say that Toys R Us, or Toys R Big Business, or Toys R Oh-So-Wild-Weird-and-Wonderful.
We've heard those tunes before.
We're here instead to insist that Toys R Basically Scientific. Fact is, most of us first learn about things physical through toys. They're our earliest laboratories, wherein we conduct simple experiments in free-fall, rotational momentum and all the rest. Ooohh! Aaahh! Bump! Ouch! Watch it! How'd it do that? That's neat!
So, welcome to our little back-to-toy-basics quiz, with a peek into the workings of a shelfful of classic toys. If you (or your kids) ever wanted to know a bit more about how a Slinky moves, or what puts the bounce in a Super Ball, read on.
Answers are gift-wrapped on Page 16, but no lumps of coal are to be found anywhere.
1. How does a spinning toy top stay upright?
2. What if you lean the top? Will it still stay up?
3. Rev up a friction racing car by scooting its wheels over the floor repeatedly, then put it down and let 'er rip. What's the mechanism that drives such cars?
4. Why does a kite fly?
5. Is a kite's tail just for looks?
6. Is it really dangerous to fly a kite in a thunderstorm?
7. What holds a bubble together as you blow it up?
8. What creates the delightful color in a bubble?
9. You may have noticed that bubbles often start out floating upward, then level off and start to sink. Why this up-then-down pattern?
10. When you blow up a balloon, why are the early puffs the toughest?
11. How do they put a cat's eye in the center of a marble?
12. What keeps a Frisbee gliding smoothly through the air?
13. Before plastics and the other fancier modern ballstuffs, what were play balls made of?
14. What makes a Super Ball -- "the most fantastic ball ever created by science," its makers boast -- bound so wildly?
15. What brings a "sleeping" yo-yo (from the Philippine language of Tagalog, meaning "come-come") back up into your hand when you jerk the string slightly?
16. Some years ago, an engineer accidentally knocked a large torsion spring off a table on to the floor. He noticed with fascination that it didn't fall all at once -- like most objects -- but wriggled and shook as if it had been poured off the table, descending in waves. Suddenly, he got an inspiration for a novel toy, which later became famous. Can you guess which toy?
17. At the height of the hula hoop fad of the 1950s, planeloads of the loopy things were actually hijacked and sold. Can you explain the trick to keeping a hula hoop rotating around your hips?
18. How does a skateboarder change directions in midair?
19. Here's a bit of a toy riddle: What bounces when you drop it, shatters when you hit it, swells up after being cooped up in a container, and flattens slowly if left on a shelf?
20. How do you stop on a dime when roller skating?
BILL SONES is a freelance journalist.JEARL WALKER, Ph. D., is a professor of physics at Cleveland State University and author of "The Flying Circus of Physics, with Answers."