Doing the Yo-Yo The up-and-down toy is on an up-cycle again

June 06, 1991|By Barbara H. Smith

When was the last time you tried to spin a Yo-Yo? In junior high school 30 years ago, when you twirled a rhinestone-studded Duncan Imperial? Or was it just last week that you "walked the dog" across the office floor?

The yo-yo -- that on-again, off-again craze from the early '40s to mid-'60s -- is back.

Grown-ups were spotted at the Preakness spinning blue yo-yos in their terrace box seats between bets. Kids "rock the cradle" while waiting for the bus to take them to school. And toy shops and manufacturers are cashing in on their return -- Duncan, the giant of American yo-yo makers, reported sales in the millions last year.

Standing behind the counter at the Liquor Locker on Eastern Avenue, 57-year-old Jerry Godfrey attempts a "forward pass" with a new orange and yellow yo-yo, which not only lights up but also plays "It's A Small World After All."

"I just got my 'Duncan Yo-Yo & Spin Top Trick Book.' I'm going for the easy [tricks] first," said Mr. Godfrey, manager of the store.

Mr. Godfrey has added a colorful display of plastic yo-yos to his current inventory. During the past two weeks alone, he's sold more than 100 at $2 and $3 apiece.

Prices can go much higher, though, as Troy Williams and Joe Robinette will tell you. The two 11th graders at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute bought their Yomegas from a Falls River, Mass., yo-yo manufacturer for $20 apiece. The plastic Yomega works better because it has ball bearings, they say.

"You know, in my neighborhood now, every mom-and-pop store is carrying yo-yos -- [but] not the good ones like Troy and I have," claims

Joe, who lives in Remington.

Outside the school -- no yo-yos are allowed in the hallowed halls -- 16-year-old Troy whips his plastic Yomega into a "sleeper." (For all you yo-yo ignoramuses, that means throwing the yo-yo sharply downward so it spins continually.) His yo-yo continues to spin as he crosses the string at the top, forming a "T" for Troy.

"The basis for all yo-yo tricks is the length of the sleeper. The longer the sleeper, the more involved the trick," said Joe, 17, who demonstrates the Trapeze with speed and dexterity.

Originally, yo-yos were tools, not toys. Yo-yo means "come back" in Tagalog, the language of Filipinos. Hunters would perch in a tree, wait for their prey to come along and throw a rock attached to a thong made of plant or animal fibers. If the hunter missed on the first try, the rock was easily returned by a simple flick of the wrist.

Over time, yo-yos became a favorite toy for all ages. The materials used to create the yo-yo changed, with hardwoods and leather cords replacing rocks and fiber. Modern technology has created plastic and aluminum yo-yos.

"What we're seeing here is new packaging of an old toy," said Nicole Sklarevsky, buyer and manager of Child's Play store in Roland Park, where yo-yos recently have been hot items. Even the 99-cent replacement strings, which once sat on her shelf for six months, are now difficult to keep in stock.

The fascination with this simple toy spans generations.

"I love the speed and you're in control," said Nick, an 11-year-old customer at Child's Play. "And you can do it over and over again and it doesn't get boring. And they won't break if you make a mistake."

Mr. Godfrey said he recently sold yo-yos at the May Fest in Highlandtown and couldn't get them out of the boxes fast enough to please the children or their parents.

"The fathers would steer their children away from the new Duncan NEO or [light-up, musical] ones like mine, saying, 'No, no, you should get the Duncan Imperial or the Duncan Butterfly,' " Mr. Godfrey said. "And they gave me a little wink."

The yo-yo's comeback certainly evokes nostalgia. One former yo-yo fan recalls his moment of glory when he won a contest. The judge then carved a palm tree and sunset on his rhinestone studded yo-yo. The fad's new popularity also has sent many scrambling to find their old Duncans, hidden in shoe boxes along with 1950s baseball cards.

So how long will the yo-yo be around this time?

"This, too, is a fad," declares Troy.

Or maybe the expression "what goes around comes around" isn't just a cliche after all. Maybe the person who first uttered those words had a yo-yo in his hand.

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