The puppet, the board game Twister, and the water gun brand Super Soaker were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame Thursday morning at The Strong Museum in Rochester, N.Y.
The museum dedicated to the history of toys received more than 500 nominations for inductees this year, which an internal committee whittled down to 12 finalists. The committee considered factors like name recognition and how long products have been on shelves — which means at least 20 years, enough time for parents and their kids to have grown up playing with them. Finalists were then reviewed by a national advisory committee of child development experts, historians, authors, and illustrators, who ranked their top three choices. Fifty-nine toys have been inducted so far.
Puppet got the most votes by far “probably because it has been around for centuries and [people wondered] why hasn’t it been in the Hall of Fame yet,” says Chris Bensch, the museum’s vice president for collections. The classic playthings date back to ancient times when they were to reenact educational stories like The Iliad and The Odyssey, Chinese and Japanese folktales, and Christian teachings. Then they became a regular form of entertainment at carnivals, fairs, and theaters — think Punch & Judy in the 19th century (though Punch first appeared in 1662). Throughout the 20th century, television brought puppet shows into people’s homes, through popular shows like Howdy Doody, Sesame Street and Jim Henson’s The Muppets. But in the end, curators say the puppet’s appeal is timeless because it can be made out of anything (like a sock) and be used to act out whatever story comes to mind.
Twister is what Bensch calls a “breakthrough toy” because, before Reyn Guyer and a team developed it in 1964, “there had never been a boxed game that made people the playing pieces.” Originally named “Pretzel,” the game requires players to put their hands and feet on different colored circles on a white plastic sheet, depending on what color the spinner lands on. When it hit shelves in the ’60s, it was seen as risqué because it forced people to get so close together, so some stores refused to list it in catalogues. But the museum says it went mainstream after Tonight Show host Johnny Carson and actress Eva Gabor played it, putting “a mental image in Americans’ minds of how much fun this game could be.” Bensch also says the induction comes just in time for the game’s 50th anniversary next year.
The Super Soaker water gun is also hailed as a game-changing toy. Experts told TIME for its list of “The 13 Most Influential Toys” that squirt guns were initially just “cheap, throwaway toys.” But then NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson invented the Super Soaker, which he licensed in 1989 to the Larami Corporation (acquired by Hasbro). Recent versions can shoot anywhere from 30 to 50 feet of water into the air.
Overall, Bensch says he hopes these inductees, which all originated offline, will “remind” children and their families to “balance the screen play that seems to dominate kids’ lives.”