TIME Appreciation

The 13 Most Influential Toys of All Time

As the holiday season approaches, we interviewed toy historians and experts (hello, dream job!) to rank the playthings that made the biggest impact on the toy industry—and the world at large.

  • 13. Cabbage Patch dolls

    Cabbage Patch dolls
    Vince Talotta—Getty Images

    These dolls were the first toys not tied to a popular TV, movie, or comic that “everybody had to have and nobody could find,” says Jim Silver, editor of TimetoPlayMag.com. A December 1983 TIME article described parents knocking over display tables, grabbing, and shoving each other just to get one for their kids. By billing each doll as unique (each one came with adoption papers and a birth certificate), the makers of Cabbage Patch dolls were able to create an urgent sense of demand—a strategy mimicked by Beanie Babies, ZhuZhu pets, and more.

     

  • 12. Leap Pad

    LeapPad
    Amazon

    Introduced in 1999 to help kids master reading, this talking book was the first toy that aimed to make learning fun. “Kids thought they were playing,” says Silver. “And they could do it on their own without their parents.” It also paved the way for VTech’s orange and purple V.Smile, which debuted in 2004 to help preschoolers hone motor skills through a Winnie the Pooh game, as well as countless other educational gaming consoles (including a new launch of its own). But still, “if you go down the learning aisle, LeapFrog and VTech dominate it,” says Silver.

  • 11. Rubik’s Cube 

    Rubik's Cube
    Pat Greenhouse—The Boston Globe/Getty Images

    More than 350 million have been sold worldwide since it was invented 40 years ago in Budapest by architecture professor Erno Rubik, making the cube one of the best-selling puzzles of all time. (There are a maddening 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 different ways to twist and turn it.) Today, there are annual tournaments held to reward the fastest solvers, and the Transformers toys have adopted a similar mechanism. “People love play that involves mastery,” says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of Global Toy Experts. “The harder you work at it, the better you get at it.”

  • 10. View-Master

    View-Master
    Steve Russell—Toronto Star/Getty Images

    Invented by Harold Graves, president of Sawyer’s Photographic Services, the stereoscope was unveiled at the 1939 New York World’s Fair as a way to view photos of tourist attractions in 3D and got its big break when it landed a licensing agreement with Disney. Think of it as a precursor to the Internet, says Tim Walsh: “People who couldn’t get to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty could feel like they were standing in front of it.” The old-school device still exists in some form—Mattel’s Fisher-Price makes a version—but its lasting impact is more visible in gadgets like the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

  • 9. Star Wars figurines

    Star Wars
    Darron R. Silva—AP

    Ever wonder why every summer blockbuster seems to come standard with a line of toys? Credit Star Wars‘ 1977 marketing campaign, which encouraged people to buy empty boxes with coupons redeemable for collectible Star Wars-themed toys. That “opened up the collectible category and made collecting cool,” says Silver. Likewise, the popularity of Marvel toys can be traced back to Mego, which helped license action figures for Marvel and Star Trek characters.

  • 8. Doc McStuffins

    Doc McStuffins
    Amazon

    The toy line based on the Disney Junior animated TV star who is doctor to her stuffed animals was the first black figure to become popular among kids of all races, boasting $500 million in sales last year. “This is a big statement about how the world is finally changing,” says Silver, “because it means kids are buying the doll not because of the color of its skin, but because of the character of the person.”

  • 7. Super Soaker

    Super Soaker
    John Blazemore—AP

    This pump-action water gun literally blew its competition out of the water, so to speak. Before NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson invented and licensed it to the Larami Corporation (later acquired by Hasbro) in 1989, “water pistols were cheap throwaway toys that you gave to somebody at a birthday party,” says Tim Walsh, author of Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them. “The Super Soaker changed the summer toy aisle, so now there’s an aisle of Super Soaker-esque water pistols that shoot 30-50 feet of water into the air.”

  • 6. Easy Bake Oven

    Easy Bake Oven
    Hasbro/AP

    Cooked up in 1963 by Kenner Products (now part of Hasbro), it was the first toy that allowed kids to make edible food, a brand new category of play. Now stores feature devices that make s’mores, sno cones, cotton candy, cupcakes, and most recently, cake pops.

  • 5. Chatty Cathy

    “The fact that dolls talk started with Chatty Cathy,” says Silver. She was the first portable, interactive doll that said things like “Let’s play house” or “I love you” when children pulled her drawstring. Mattel made it from 1959 to the mid-1960s, paving the way for the 1986 launch of Teddy Ruxpin, the first interactive stuffed animal or plush toy—kids inserted a cassette tape in its back, and it would talk—and mega-popular talking plushes like Furby, Tickle Me Elmo and Hasbro FurReal Friends.

  • 4. Nerf Bow and Arrow

    Nerf Bow and Arrow
    Mark Lennihan—AP

    The NERF “Bow ‘N’ Arrow” launched the toy blaster market when it was introduced in 1991. “Up until the 1980s, NERF had always been the hoop and basketball, so the bow and arrow changed NERF’s entire brand to where it is today, which is more of a blaster with foam darts,” says Silver. Today, the brand (owned by Kenner Products and now Hasbro) counts on the popularity of The Hunger Games’s bow-hunting heroine Katniss Everdeen to sell blasters, especially to girls, while its influence market-wide can be seen in the emergence of Zing Toys, a line of foam darts and slingshots, and the “secret” line of blasters Mattel revealed in April that are designed to fire more accurately than NERF ones.

  • 3. G.I. Joe

    G.I. Joe
    William A. Rice—MCT/Getty Images

    No one thought boys would play with a doll—until Hasbro introduced G.I. Joe in the middle of the Cold War as an “action figure” named after Government-Issued Joe, the World War II nickname for regular soldiers. “He’s an everyman, but he’s a hero—a singular individual who gets things done,” says Patricia Hogan, curator at the Strong Museum of Play. Joe paved the way for other action figures, specifically spies like the female private detective Honey West and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., as people were fixated on espionage during the Cold War. But his most enduring impact may be his bendable frame. “You couldn’t bend Barbie’s knees or her elbows—she just sort of stood there while you explained what she was doing,” Hogan says. “But a kid could pose G.I. Joe doing almost anything. There were a lot of action figures that came out after Joe that didn’t have that kind of articulation, and they did not sell nearly as well.”

  • 2. Barbie

    Barbie
    Stan Honda—AFP/Getty Images

    Sales may have dropped recently, but Mattel still claims a Barbie doll is sold every three seconds, which would make the billion-dollar brand the world’s most popular doll for girls. And she’s a pretty good role model, having held more than 150 careers—including doctor, scientist and lawyer—since her debut in 1959, and always keeping an active lifestyle. “Barbie was the first incarnation of the adult version of a doll that would allow girls to envision, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ besides a mom,” says Walsh. She also embraced cultural diversity before many Americans did. Barbie’s first African-American friend debuted in 1968, and the first African-American version of herself debuted in 1980. “She has staying power because she’s changed and grown with the times,” says Hogan. And she has even surged ahead of them: Barbie has, after all, become President of the United States.

  • 1. LEGO

    Lego
    Kazuhiro Nogi—AFP/Getty Images

    Never mind that LEGO is the world’s biggest toy company—bringing in $2.3 billion in the first half of 2014 compared to Mattel’s $2 billion—and that it has spawned action-figures, TV shows, a fan conference and, most recently, a hit film. Since its debut in 1958, LEGO has also redefined the potential of playthings, allowing kids to build permanent structures from scratch, in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and “take them anywhere they want,” says Silver. That has had a massive impact on the toy and gaming industry—Minecraft was born from its creator’s experience playing with LEGO—and especially its younger players. As Walsh puts it: “I hear more stories about people who have become architects and engineers because they had a love for building with LEGOs” than I have heard people say, ‘I became a lawyer because I had a lawyer Barbie.'”

TIME viral

Taylor Swift Mashed Up With Aphex Twin Is Surprisingly Catchy

Taylor Swift Switches On Westfield London Christmas Lights
Taylor Swift switches on the Christmas lights and performs for fans and shoppers at Westfield London in London, England in 2012. Mike Marsland—WireImage/Getty Images

Courtesy of cartoonist David Rees

If you’re in the mood for more Taylor Swift after listening to her newly released album 1989, try this SoundCloud playlist by cartoonist David Rees, who remixed Swift songs with tracks by the electronic musician Aphex Twin. You will probably be surprised by how well Swift’s “You Belong With Me” goes with Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14th.”

On the rationale for the playlist, collectively dubbed #AphexSwift, Rees wrote in a Tumblr post, “Taylor Swift made her name by writing big-hearted confessional songs for tween girls. But a lot of Aphex Twin’s music (especially on the Richard D. James album, from which most of these tracks are culled) is also super romantic.”

You can listen to the eight tracks here:

MORE: Find the Perfect Taylor Swift Lyric for Your Mood

MORE: Taylor Swift Is Over ‘Boys’

MORE: Review: 1989 Marks a Paradigm Swift

TIME viral

This Woman Nails 25 Celebrity Impressions While Singing CeeLo’s ‘Forget You’

Fun party game

It’s hard enough to impersonate one celebrity well enough to impress friends and family. Imagine doing 25.

Meet actress and singer Christina Bianco, who sang CeeLo Green’s “Forget You” like 25 different celebrities at the Hippodrome in London on Sept. 7. Each time a star’s name is called out, she switches voices. Watch her go from impersonating Drew Barrymore to Kristin Chenoweth to Bette Midler, all in one breath. Her Celine Dion, Penélope Cruz, and Bjork impressions are especially spot-on.

Bianco is also known for singing Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in the voice of famous divas like Demi Lovato and Adele, with YouTube videos that have racked up nearly 5.6 million and nearly 7 million views respectively.

Come to think of it, this might make a fun game for your next party.

TIME Bizarre

Dallas Man’s Halloween House Decorations Look Like Ebola Patients’ Quarantined Apartments

Too soon?

A Dallas man’s Ebola-themed Halloween decorations are going viral.

Dressed in a protective suit, James Faulk set up biohazard barrels and bags of “biowaste” surrounded by yellow caution tape in front of his University Park house and wrapped the second-floor balcony in white tape that says “quarantine.” The decorations are supposed to mimic the scene outside the apartment complex where Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S., stayed when he fell ill.

Faulk told the Associated Press he’s trying to lighten the mood, as residents in the Dallas area are on edge after two of Duncan’s nurses contracted the virus as well — though one was determined to be free of the virus Friday morning.

The question is whether it’s too soon to make light of the virus in general.

LM Otero—AP
TIME society

10 Terrible Excuses People Actually Used to Skip Work

Don't we all wish we could say "woke up in a good mood and didn't want to ruin it"?

A new national survey by CareerBuilder.com and Harris Poll reveals the most suspicious excuses for blowing off work. They are:

  1. Employee just put a casserole in the oven.
  2. Employee’s plastic surgery for enhancement purposes needed some “tweaking” to get it just right.
  3. Employee was sitting in the bathroom and her feet and legs fell asleep. When she stood, up she fell and broke her ankle.
  4. Employee had been at the casino all weekend and still had money left to play with on Monday morning.
  5. Employee woke up in a good mood and didn’t want to ruin it.
  6. Employee had a “lucky night” and didn’t know where he was.
  7. Employee got stuck in the blood pressure machine at the grocery store and couldn’t get out.
  8. Employee had a gall stone they wanted to heal holistically.
  9. Employee caught their uniform on fire by putting it in the microwave to dry.
  10. Employee accidentally got on a plane.

The poll, conducted online between ­­Aug. 11 to Sept. 5, 2014, surveyed 3,103 workers and 2,203 hiring managers and human resource professionals.

TIME World

This Powerful Cartoon About the Ottawa Shooting Is Bringing Canada to Tears

It's been called the perfect tribute to a fallen soldier

An editorial cartoon has touched Canadians who were affected by the shooting at the National War Memorial in Ottawa yesterday.

Chronicle Herald‘s cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon drew one of the memorial’s bronze World War I soldiers offering a hand to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the 24-year-old reservist who was killed, as a soldier kneels by his side:

“That’s the part that touched me – the feet,” Ian Thompson, associate publisher of the Chronicle Herald, said in a statement.

The illustration prompted an emotional outpouring on Twitter:

TIME Food & Drink

A Belgian Chocolate Company Called ISIS Has Decided to Change Its Name

Customers have reportedly been mixing up the chocolatier with the terrorist organization

Customers have gone from sweet to sour on a Belgian chocolatier because it has the same name as an Islamist militant group.

The Belgian chocolate maker’s name ISIS is supposed to stand for Italy and Switzerland, where the founder learned how to make chocolate, Reuters reports. Its website—URL “www.isischocolates.be”—says, “Ever since 1923, we at ISIS have been making premium Belgian chocolate with the utmost dedication” and talks about how the company’s chocolates create “unforgettable moments.”

But customers have been calling to say they don’t want to buy the chocolates anymore because the brand, which dates back to 1923, now makes them think of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the chocolatier’s marketing manager Desiree Libeert told Reuters. “We chose ISIS as that was the brand name of our pralines and tablets,” Libeert said. “Had we known there was a terrorist organization with the same name, we would have never chosen that.”

The company will now be known as “Libeert,” the owners’ family name. Hopefully that will make the outrage melt away.

TIME society

These Are the Hottest College Professors in America

You should probably wear something nicer than pajamas to these classes

RateMyProfessors.com, a website where college students rank faculty — and mostly bash the professors who give them bad grades — has released its 2013-14 list of the hottest college professors. “A professor who receives a chili pepper is considered ‘hot,'” according to the site’s methodology page for the lists. “Chili peppers are awarded based on the sum of positive and negative (hot or not) ratings.”

Here is the ranking:

  1. David Daniel: Psychology, James Madison University
  2. Paul Evans: Biology, Brigham Young University
  3. Ruth Dellinger: Mathematics, Florida State College at Jacksonville
  4. Thomas Beard: Economics, Auburn University
  5. Barbara Kalvelage: Biology, University of Southern Indiana
  6. Daniel Norton: Communication, Seattle Central College
  7. Corey Manchester: Mathematics & Statistics, San Diego State University
  8. Adrienne Alaie: Biology, Hunter College
  9. Marsha Lindsay: Humanities, Lone Star College
  10. Dana Cantu: English, South Texas College

If your school didn’t make this list, maybe it’s one of the site’s 2013-2014 “highest-rated universities” which is based on a school’s “Professor Average rating as well as its Overall School Rating which is an average of its campus ratings” (and schools that have at least 30 rated professors and 30 campus ratings):

    1. University of Wisconsin – Madison
      Madison, WI
    2. Washington University in St. Louis
      St. Louis, MO
    3. University of Georgia
      Athens, GA
    4. James Madison University
      Harrisonburg, VA
    5. Vanderbilt University
      Nashville, TN
    6. Texas A&M University at College Station
      College Station, TX
    7. University of Texas
      Austin, TX
    8. Texas Christian University
      Fort Worth, TX
    9. Brigham Young University
      Provo, UT
    10. Auburn University
      Auburn, AL
    11. Pennsylvania State University
      University Park, PA
    12. University of Michigan
      Ann Arbor, MI
    13. Cornell University
      Ithaca, NY
    14. Emory University
      Atlanta, GA
    15. University of California Santa Barbara
      Santa Barbara, CA
    16. University of Southern California
      Los Angeles, CA
    17. St. Olaf College
      Northfield, MN
    18. University of Dayton
      Dayton, OH
    19. Michigan State University
      East Lansing, MI
    20. Gustavus Adolphus College
      St. Peter, MN
    21. St. John’s University – College of St. Benedict
      Collegeville, MN
    22. North Carolina State University
      Raleigh, NC
    23. Mississippi State University
      Starkville, MS
    24. University of Miami
      Coral Gables, FL
    25. University of Alabama
      Tuscaloosa, AL

Read next: These Are the Safest Colleges for Having Sex

TIME society

These Priests Are Really, Really Good at Tap Dancing

Video of their dance-off is going viral

Tap-dancing priests Father David Rider, 29, of Hyde Park, N.Y., and Father John Gibson, 28, of Milwaukee, stole the show at a fundraiser for The Pontifical North American College, a seminary in Rome near the Vatican. The clip was shot by Joan Lewis, Rome Bureau Chief of Alabama-based Eternal Word Television Network.

And while the dance-off happened in April, it’s no surprise the video is going viral the same week that Sister Cristina Scuccia, the nun who won Italy’s The Voice, released a music video for her rendition of “Like a Virgin.”

WATCH: Nun Stuns The Voice of Italy Judges with Amazing Alicia Keys Cover

WATCH: Nun Who Won Italy’s The Voice Performs ‘Like a Virgin’ in New Music Video

TIME celebrity

Brad Pitt Is Zach Galifianakis’ Latest Victim on Between Two Ferns

Featuring a cameo by Louis C.K.

In another hilarious episode of Between Two Ferns, Zach Galifianakis shows he is not afraid to ask Fury star Brad Pitt hard-hitting questions like, “Do you think people focus maybe too much on your looks and don’t even, you know, realize that you’re just a s***ty actor?” Watch closely for the brief cameo by stand-up comedian Louis C.K.

MORE: President Obama on Between Two Ferns: How Funny or Die Made It Happen

WATCH: President Obama on Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns

MORE: Obama vs. Galifianakis: Who Won Between Two Ferns?

Read next: Watch President Obama on Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns

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