The May 3, 2006
Spring makes me more than usually silly, stimulating my obsessions with toys.
Pocketknives are fun, but I'm too old for mumblety-peg, and most folks think
it's weird and dangerous to sit around admiring and sharpening pointy little
tools. If the Almanack ever has a page on weapons, it will be confined to
respectable, pocketable instruments, and it will come with a parental warning.
Yo-yos occupy a special niche: they're eccentric maybe, but non-threatening,
and everyone enjoys watching the tricks. They had a short-lived burst of
popularity in the late 90's, and the Duncan company
was reborn, but even in
their heyday (when I was 10) they weren't classified as cool. This is a toy for
the dedicated few, demanding lonely hours of practice and self-inflicted bruises
and blisters. The materials and construction run from wood-block simple to
truly esoteric, with commensurate pricing, but a yo-yo is low-tech even in its
most exotic incarnations. Hence, it is a worthy feature of the Almanack.
My collection is very modest, by yo-ing standards, driven not so much by the
need to accumulate all, or more, or the latest, but by a languid quest for the
perfect yo. In 1960, the ultimate yo-yo was a Duncan Imperial, a standard
profile made of plastic, with a fixed steel axle. I seem to remember saving for
several weeks to accumulate the exorbitant $1.00+tax to pay for it. The steel
axle conferred several advantages over the wooden one on my Butterfly: it
didn't generate as much friction, so strings lasted longer and 'sleeping'
tricks were easier. The downside included much higher skill demands, which made
us practice longer, additional weight, which was hard on the fingers after
several continuous hours, and it still got string tangles, since you couldn't
take it apart. (Strings being 3 for a nickel, you just had to carry a
pocketknife so you could cut off a knotted string.)
Ten-year-olds became 40-somethings (well ok, 50-somethings), and we wanted
BETTER YO-YOS. Yomega
made a couple of really nice models, the Fireball and the
SaberWing, which had a nylon axle-sleeve that made for low friction, and a
starburst on the inner faces to provide excellent response. They also made a
dumbed-down 'YoYo with a Brain' which had spring-loaded clutch levers that would
release the axle with sufficient rpms, making for a hard, heavy, exceedingly
treacherous weapon of self-abuse. Some of the newer Yomega models in the toy
stores seem a little cheesy, but I need to try the Crossfire. For 8 bucks, you
can't beat the play of a SaberWing Fireball.
In the upscale toy stores of 1998, you could find BC yo-yos. They were wooden
and fixed-axle, but definitely not low-tech. The wood was laminated in sub-
millimeter layers, dyed in rainbow hues and coated with high-gloss polyurethane.
They're gorgeous, and perfectly balanced. The very best playing wooden yo-yo
ever, a great present, and at 10 bucks, not a bargain, a steal. You can order
them online from What's Next
, but I haven't seen one in a store in several
Very upscale joints sold Tom Kuhn's SB-2. This little marvel is machined
aluminum, high-polish or anodized in nifty colors. It's too heavy to play very
well, but you can coax a 2-minute sleep out of it and still recover, thanks to a
tiny ball bearing around the axle. The axle screws into set-screws in each face
of the yo-yo so that you can adjust the string gap. Way technical; it can take
all day to clean, polish, lube and adjust an SB-2, and after a couple of hours
of play, you can start all over again. Give it to someone who loves
string-landing tricks, with a warning to be reeeeeal careful of loops.
Tom has been popping out lots of little brothers of the SB-2. My briefcase
buddy is RD-1 (Recreational Device #1). It has a ball bearing axle, a butterfly
configuration, and it comes in tooled maple or laminated colors. The maple is
hollowed-out, and a bit on the light side, so they offer weight rings you can
add 'to taste'. But the laminated wood is just about right, precisely balanced,
and very pretty. Not cheap, at $20 for the maple and $30 for laminate, but very
If all you want is a simple device that solves the string-tangle problem, the
NoJive yo-yo comes apart. Bonus, you can reverse either or both of the faces
to make it a butterfly or standard profile. The wooden axle sleeve is
replaceable, for the fanatic who actually burns through an axle. (I replace
strings, but axles?!) NoJive is $15, or $25 for the laser-patterned models.
So the question is whether RD-1 is the perfect yo-yo. Or is it still out there,
the Crossfire, maybe? Do you need a NoJive as a backup? Is perfect yo
recovering from an atom-smasher, or is it maybe a double skin-the-cat with an
outside loop? When I get 3 months to spend riding my bike around town and
hanging out in the woods like I did when I was 10, I'll let you know.
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