Cool off With hot new water toys

Thursday, June 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

It's summertime. What better time to make the livin' easy by keeping the kids occupied with water toys?

Let's face it: Although the last month or so has been relatively cool, July and August in North Texas are hot. Even when forecasters say it's cool, it's a "cool" 95 degrees in the shade.

Keeping the kids busy during the summer is a full-time chore. You have a choice: The little ones can either go outside and play or stay inside and mess up the furniture. Outside being the preferred alternative leads to the issue of keeping them cool while they're out there. Not all of us can afford a pool, so sprinklers offer a good alternative. Actually, anything that uses water will do.

Enter our "Summer Water Toy Testing Panel" to save the day - and you money - by weeding out the bad seeds. Eight children, ages 2 to 12, gathered at The Planetarium at Fair Park one recent hot Saturday to test toys. Suggestions came from Christopher Byrne, one of the nation's top toy experts. Known as "The Toy Guy," the New York resident is an editor at The Toy Book, an industry publication, and he has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and on CNBC.

Mr. Byrne separates the duds from the beauties, saving parents and kids money in the process. "The Toy Guy" has made his predictions for the hot summer toys, and among those on his list that we tested are Easy Dipper by Koosh Bubbles, Water T Ball by Ohio Art, and the Sesame Street Water Squirter.

We picked up more toys along the way by speaking to manufacturers and choosing from a list of toys released this year.

A word of caution. Wherever you place the sprinklers, they'll leave a puddle of mud, so move them every 45 minutes so your lawn doesn't get swampy.

The results from our testing follow, from best to worst.

Excellent! Water T Ball, Ohio Art, ages 3-plus (under $24).

An all-around winner. The testers played with this for more than an hour before getting bored, but they kept coming back for more. It's easy to put together but appears to be a little flimsy. If it's windy, forget playing with this toy; the ball will just blow away. This is more fun when two kids play - taking turns as they hit and fetch.

Excellent! Spin and Splash Blue from Blue's Clues, Fisher Price, ages 18 months-plus (under $20).

Water sprays from Blue's ears as they spin, as well as from the watering can and flowers in the base of the sprinkler. Blue gave our testers lots of high-spirited giggles and lots of water. She's easy to assemble. Just take her out of the box and hook her up to a sprinkler. One tester played with this toy for more than an hour.

Excellent! Splash Out Ball, Toymax, ages 6-plus (under $10).

Insert a small water balloon inside the ball, set the timer and with every toss of the ball from player to player the timer ticks away and anticipation grows until the water balloon pops and you're all wet. All ages played, all got very wet and all loved every second of it. This toy comes with 12 balloons; we suggest you buy more because the kids will be hollering for backup pretty fast.

Excellent! Sesame Street Water Squirter, Sesame Street, ages 18 months-plus (under $5).

Kids fill up these toys with water and squeeze an easy ergonomic trigger. Younger children got a charge out of this toy. They can fill it themselves, which is a big plus. It's lightweight and easy for little hands to hold.

Excellent! Swamp Checkers, Pressman, ages 6-plus (under $12).

Lily pads replace the checkerboard, and frogs are the playing pieces in this new twist on the classic game. The game features 24 squirting frogs that you fill up with water and little plastic crowns when you get to "King Croaker." No one played the actual game, and nobody cared. But the younger testers had lots of fun squirting each other and "talking" the frogs around the game board. Seems only the adults know how to play checkers . . .

Excellent! Easy Dipper, Koosh Bubbles, ages 2-plus (under $10).

This toy is a no-brainer. Just put bubbles in the colorful holder and you're ready. It was easy for the younger children and mesmerizing for the adults.

Very good. Match Box Car Wash, Match Box Toys, ages 3-plus (under $20).

Mattel boasts "Fast Snap Assembly" and "Dura Play Construction," making the toy easier for adults and children alike. It took a little longer than the touted 10 minutes because you have to put the stickers on yourself. Now who thought of that? Once together, testers had a good time. Very durable. Testers enjoyed this toy immensely once they got the hang of it.

Very good. Flappin' Flamingo, Fisher Price, ages 3-plus (under $10).

It's just crazy flappin' fun. This wacky flamingo connects to a garden hose and sends water squirting everywhere as it flaps its wings wildly. This toy was set up after the Blue's Clues sprinkler; it was a tough act to follow, but they still liked it. We did have several requests for more flappers, but just how much "wacky" can you stand?

Very good. Zap It Liquitron 6 Blasters,Toymax, ages 5-plus (under $12).

The game of tag is kicked up a notch when players blast each other with a stream of water or disappearing nontoxic liquid. We were skeptical, but the paint actually does disappear and doesn't leave a mark. (We tested on cotton towels and bathing suits.) The literature says the liquid is nontoxic, but it irritated testers' eyes if they got squirted in the face. Although the kids were rabidly interested in these toys at the start of the testing, they were discarded when Water T Ball and the Blue's Clues Sprinkler came out, even by the 8- to 10-year-olds. Note: You'll probably need two Blasters to play.

Very good. Storm Water Gun, Trendmasters, ages 8-plus (under $30).

This toy had good water power and is ruggedly constructed. Like the Zap It Blaster, it was left alone when the toy sprinklers came out. Testers noted that they loved the laser light that lit up the water stream. They came back to it after they got bored with the sprinklers.

Fair to poor. Elmo's Bubble Tunes, Sesame Street, ages 18 months-plus (under $20).

A push-along bubblemaker that features Elmo and his ice cream truck. Bubbles are supposed to stream out while he plays. This one was a bust. An 18-month-old will no doubt knock this over pretty easily, and when he or she does, out comes the bubble solution! Also, the handle was too heavy and kept putting it off balance.

Poor. Silly Willy Bubblin' Sprinkler, Fisher Price, ages 3-plus (under $20).

Running under water and chasing bubbles. What could be more fun than this whimsical whale? Apparently a lot. Bubbles would not come out the top, and the testers noted that there wasn't enough water coming out of the sprinkler. We ruled out a water flow problem and let it run. The kids abandoned it after 10 minutes.

Christine M. Carbone is a Dallas-based free-lance writer.