[ MAUKA MAKAI ]
A GROUP OF SPY WANNABES wandered around my house on a Saturday night. The gleam of night-vision binoculars glared through my window as the group canvassed the back yard, searching for a good locale to set up their spy station. The darkness was not an obstacle because they carried a pair of spy goggles to guide them through the night.
High-tech toys thrill youngsters
who like to play secret agent
Gear for the well-appointed agent
By Nancy Arcayna
Vance Kaneakua, a 10-year-old, was definitely the leader of this spy ring as he set a door alarm on my doorknob, to ward off any uninvited guests (mainly me). The miniature spies who followed him ranged in age from 5 to 13 years old. The older kids played along but acted as if they were a bit sophisticated to be using the toys.
As the group sat outside, they used a listening device and night scopes to capture any unsuspecting foes. Amazingly, once they got their hands on these gadgets, they knew just what to do with them. The media and movies have clearly piqued an interest in spy activity.
And why not? Spies definitely lead intriguing lives. The scene where Tom Cruise a k a Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible" lowers himself through a vent in the ceiling to download top-secret information while suspended above a pressure-sensitive floor is a perfect example. We already know that the infamous spy James Bond always finds a way out of sticky situations and manages to get the girl in the end. And we mustn't forget the "spy kids" in one of the year's hit movies who saved the world from the destruction of the evil robotic children created by the villainous Floop's demented assistant.
It's no wonder that many people, kids and adults alike, are fascinated with the gadgets and techniques used by these seemingly immortal characters who prevail upon the enemy in the end.
"People have always been fascinated by the life of secret agents. Movies and TV have further glamorized and romanticized spies," said Jennifer Soloway, marketing communication manager of Wild Planet Toys. "For kids, it delivers on a very powerful play pattern. First, they get cool gear and gadgets that make them feel powerful -- almost professional. Second, it helps them accomplish what they like to do, like running, playing hide and seek, capture the flag. All of those traditional games are part of the spy play pattern. Our spy toys give kids a sense of power that they have real tools with which they can spy and explore."
The cool spy tools that were once reserved for special agents like 007 will be available for kids in the fall at Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us and selected specialty toy stores. If you can't find the items, you can log on to toysrus.com or wildplanet.com. The toys will be distributed in stores at the same time the Disney movie "Spy Kids" is released on video next month. (It's also playing at theaters in summer re-release.)
"Wild Planet specifically does not make any violent toys. We do not make guns. We strive to make toys that respect both girls and boys, toys that encourage positive play patterns. We help kids to see in the dark or hear beyond the naked ear -- all in the name of fun," said Soloway.
"I think these toys are cool. If I were a spy, I think these things would come in handy. The glasses were cool and you could hear far away," said 13-year-old Travis Kaneakua.
"All of the spy collection items are under $20, and the spy goggles are the most popular item. Even adults like them," added Soloway.
The adults in my office were immediately attracted to the spy contraptions. Many of them commented that the reason you can see at night is because of the bright light, or complained that they couldn't hear at the far distance indicated with the listening device. I needed to remind the old fogeys that the toys were intended for children as young as age 6 and that the toys were not "real" spy gadgets.
Like their grown-up counterparts, kids like to play at spying because they're generally curious about the affairs of others.
"I want to be a spy because I watched 'Spy Kids' and it's the coolest movie I've ever seen," said my 5-year-old son, John Paul.
Six-year-old Benjamin Bourque added, "I'd like to be a spy so I could search for clues and save people."
"I'd like to be a spy because you can see what people are doing without getting busted," Vance Kaneakua plainly stated.
A sampling of spy toys due next month from Wild Planet:
Gear for the well-
By Nancy Arcayna
Spy Vision Scope: Hands-free spy tool allows kids to see far away or track enemy spies in the dark. Worn on the head, with a telescope and light that pop into spying positioned at the touch of a button. The contraption seemed awkward on smaller children, but the kids rated it "super cool." $18.99.
Spy Door Alarm: Remote-control door alarm helps keep intruders out. Can be easily placed and removed onto any round doorknob. Alarm sounds if anyone tries to lift a shield guarding the doorknob. The device puts your room off limits, as you control access. Although I couldn't figure out how to use this toy, a 10-year-old snapped it on the doorknob and had it working in seconds. $20.
Spy Listener: Super-hip sunglasses with mini-listening device allows kids to hear sounds up to 30 feet away (my own voice amplified more than anything else). And to a child, how cool is it to eavesdrop on your parents, siblings or neighbors? The listening device unclips so kids can just wear the cool sunglasses. $18.99.
Spy Night Scope: They look like regular binoculars but allow you to see in the dark, supposedly up to 25 feet (things are definitely magnified, but the distance didn't seem that great). The spotlight and the green light gave me an opportunity to find all of the stray cats that were hiding in the bushes behind my backyard. $14.99.
Spy Vision Goggles: Two powerful beams of light automatically turn on and off when the goggles are flipped up and down. This item is the most popular spy item and is already on the market, for $14.99 at Toys 'R' Us.
Wild Planet invites kids 12 and under to invent their own toy:
INVENT A TOY
Prizes: Winner becomes a consultant to Wild Planet for a year, receives business cards, a certificate and Wild Planet gear. Ten more winners receive Wild Planet toys.
How to enter: Draw an idea for a toy and explain how it works in one to two sentences. Send it with an entry form signed by a parent. One entry per person.
Restrictions: Toys must not promote violence and may not be based on licensed cartoon, video or game characters.
Entry forms: Download them from http://www.wildplanet.com/kic. Mailed to Wild Planet's Kid Inventor Challenge, P.O. Box 194087, San Francisco, Calif. 94119-4087. Deadline is Oct. 31.
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