Twister, puppet, Super Soaker inducted into National Toy Hall of Fame

The puppet has been around for thousands of years, delighting children across cultures and generations. Now it has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. 

The puppet was picked by a panel of experts this year along with the venerable Super Soaker water gun and Twister board game as the latest inductees in a growing list of more than 50 toys in the Rochester-based Hall of Fame.  

Other toys on that list include the Rubik’s Cube, Frisbee, Scrabble and Silly Putty. 

The Strong National Museum of Play, where the Hall of Fame is based, announced the class of 2015 on Thursday.

“I think it’s unique that this year’s inductees represent three different types of play,” said museum curator Chris Bensch, describing the three as imaginative, structured and active. “It’s good to have recognition of these three kinds of play in an era when it seems screen play dominates.”  

The puppet, he said, was an obvious choice for the Hall of Fame’s panel of 24 advisers. “It was a matter of catching up with this thousands of years old play thing that’s been in every culture in the world,” he said. “It’s one of those non-branded toys that bridges styles and generations.” 

The Super Soaker was invented by one of the few black toymakers that have become well known in the field, Bensch said. 

Inventor Lonnie Johnson was a Tuskeegee Institute-trained mechanical and nuclear engineer in the 1980s and was working on a  heat pump for NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter when he came up with the idea, according to the museum. As he tinkered with the pump, connecting it to a home faucet, he realized he could add a tank and make a blaster. He made a deal to license the toy to Larami Corp. (later purchased by Hasbro); today approximately 200 million Super Soakers have been sold, the museum said. 

“The pressure really made all the difference” between the Super Soaker and your typical squirt gun, Bensch said. 

Twister took a more convoluted path to market, having been conceived as a shoe polish promotion by toy inventor Reyn Guyer in 1964 and later developed with two salesman into a game called Pretzel. Milton Bradley Co. picked up the game, renaming it Twister and getting it to market by 1966. 

But the game, which was described as “sex in a box” when it debuted because it forced participants of the opposite sex into potentially indecent postures, was nearly dead on arrival. Sears even considered it too racy for its catalog — a death knell at the time to any product. Then Johnny Carson played the party game with Eva Gabor on The Tonight Show and everything changed — sales for Milton Bradley skyrocketed and more than 3 million were sold over the next year. 

“Thanks to their PR folks who had placed it with Tonight Show it got visibility while Milton Bradley wasn’t even thinking about it anymore,” Bensch said. 

In an interview published by Mental Floss magazine in 2011, Guyer reflected on the game’s success. 

“Ideas that become iconic tend to break rules or norms. Twister broke the rules in a social setting,” he said. “People had not up to that point been granted the possibility of being that close and enjoying it in a group setting.”