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Best New Toys of 2012

  • Our editors walked New York's American International Toy Fair, the year's biggest toy trade show, to find the most innovative playthings either already on the market or launching later in the year. Here, the 25 new toys that earned our "Best in Play" distinction.

     

  • VTech Switch & Go Dinos
    Get ready to rock your little kid’s world: This toy dinosaur is also a vehicle. Each unique toy in the new line—there are seven in all—transforms from a dinosaur to a vehicle and back again in a few simple steps. This being VTech, though—the company you know and love from the tech/learning-toy aisle—that’s not all they do. Each is equipped with an LCD screen for customized animation, dinosaur and vehicle sound effects, and educational dinosaur deets (“I'm an herbivore. I chow down on plants"). That’s the kind of fun that will never go extinct. (Ages 3 to 8; $15.99 to $49.99) 

  • Jumbo ZIP-IT from Bananagrams
    Big news: The fast and fun two-player crossword race so many of us are already crazy for is now available in jumbo-size. It still has everything we love—great family fun that’s educational without really seeming like it, simple to play (no pencil, paper, or board needed), highly addictive, and wicked quick (play in as little as 20 seconds)—but bigger. The 24 wooden cubes are 2 inches square, making ‘em ideal for spreading out on the family-room floor (it’ll be hard to lose these pieces), and come neatly packed for easy toting. We predict H-U-G-E fun ahead. (Ages 5 and up; about $40)

  • Mattel

    Barbie Photo Fashion Doll
    The always-fashionable Barbie—a natural in front of the camera—has become the camera. This decidedly 21st-century version of the tween-dream doll has a digital camera built right in, which kids can use to snap photos to display right on Barbie’s T-shirt; there are also preloaded graphics to change out her look, because who’d be caught dead wearing the same thing day after day? When the camera’s full, photos can be transferred to a computer, where more fun awaits: A website lets kids customize their images with Barbie backgrounds and more. Lights, camera, fashion! (Ages 6 and up; $49.99)

  • BBQ Blitz!
    What do you get when you cross a BBQ with a board game? OK, we’d have guessed a sticky mess, too, but the answer is actually this super-silly (in the best possible way) burger-slidin’ game. Here’s how it works: Two to four players race to fill their plates with burgers, matching toppings, and buns. Oh, and they have to scoop ‘em up with spatulas! The result is a flipping frenzy sure to have your kids laughing hysterically. And while that’s really all you could ask of a game, this one also promotes matching skills, focus, and concentration. (Ages 4 and up; $20.84 at Amazon.com)

  • Sbyke S-16
    Is your tot longing to join the parade of bigger kids on scooters? Help him keep up (and train for the real deal) on this starter version. The extra-big wheel will steady the bike, while the wide deck fits two little feet side by side. Your mini-rider controls his own speed with the front hand brake and can easily maneuver around the driveway thanks to the rear steering. The lightweight construction makes it a cinch to lift and pop in the trunk for outings to the park. (Up to age 8; $149)

  • CitiBlocs Neon 100-Piece Set
    Sure, anyone can build a block tower—but a neon-green one with orange and blue accents? Now that’s something. Your mini–architect will love the trippy new neon colors in this perfectly portable 100-piece set, whose precision-cut wooden blocks can be used to build eye-popping castles, towers, towns, and more (here’s hoping the imaginary neighborhood association has lax rules). You’ll love never tripping over his elaborate masterpieces again—hey, just try not to notice these blocks! (Ages 3 and up; $29.99)

  • crayola.com

    Crayola Digital Light Designer
    The crayon king continues to stretch the limits of old-school “coloring” with its ever-more-imaginative offerings. This latest one uses a “digital light stylus” on a 360-degree dome, allowing kids to draw with colored LED lights. There are three different modes of play—freehand drawing (just pick a color and line width to start), animation creation, and games and activities—for endless entertainment options. Even better: Up to 50 fave creations can be saved into the gallery for playback to amazed moms and dads. (Ages 6 and up; $49.99)

  • Doodle Roll
    Doodling is classic old-school fun for kids, but it’s the clever new-school packaging that makes this all-in-one portable activity kit a true standout. If you’ve ever handed your kid the back of an envelope to scribble on (only to go crazy searching for that darn electric bill later), you’ll appreciate the genius of a self-contained kit that provides everything needed to doodle anytime, anywhere: a 30-foot roll of paper and four double-sided crayons in a compact, grab-and-go package. If your kid has a bigger project in mind—a banner or room border, maybe—just pull out more of the paper. The safe tear-away serrated edge means no nicks, either. (Ages 3 and up; $5.99)

  • Duplo

    LEGO DUPLO Creative Sorter
    “Creative” is the key word for this clever, colorful toy, which helps even the youngest builders put together a perfect parrot, elephant, and giraffe. The secret is the three sorting plate lids, which function as simple “directions” to help kids find the right shapes and colors needed for each animal. (They’re developing fine motor skills and learning shapes, sizes, and colors while they play, but that can be your little secret.) Of course, what kid sticks to directions? The 23 basic and rounded bricks also allow little imaginations to go wild with free-form building play (ele-raffe, anyone?). (Ages 1½ and up; $19.97 at Amazon.com)

  • Discovery Bay Games Duo Pop
    Got some serious gamers at your house? The Duo Pop and its four cute joysticks work wirelessly with your iPad to create a fast-paced interactive game show—right at home! Six compatible apps feature something for everyone: Word lovers will dig “Swoop,” while trivia buffs will flip for “In The Know.” The fastest finger (with the correct answer) wins. (Ages 6 and up; $39.99)

  • knex.com

    K’NEX Atomic Coaster
    Start your engines! This rockin’ 4-foot roller coaster sports dual cars that zoom to the finish on 37 feet of vividly colored track, making it one of the coolest two-person toys we saw. A mechanized pulley lifts the cars to the starting line while the anticipation mounts. As much fun to build as it is to race, this pick will keep siblings busy (and entertained) for hours. (Ages 9 and up; $69.99)

  • BuckleyBoo
    Call this a huggable friend with developmental benefits. The cuddly critters in this terrific line are oh-so-soft loveys any baby will want to snuggle with, but they’re also captivating challenges for tots thanks to all those irresistible buckles. As she buckles and unbuckles to her heart’s content (better the lion than your handbag), your kid is also working on critical developmental skills, like problem solving, manual dexterity, and visual scanning. But she’ll just think she’s having a blast. (Ages 18 months to 4 years; $28.99 for 18-inch version at Amazon.com)

  • MakeDo

    Makedo Find & Make Plane
    Don’t toss that empty cereal box, Mom! Let your kid “recycle” it—and some other common household items—into an aerodynamic flying machine with the help of this über-cool kit. Part of an amazing line that teaches kids about recycling while fostering creativity, the kit has all the tools, reusable connectors, and stickers he’ll need to create and decorate a customized plane. Bonus: It’s one less trip to the trash bin for you! (Ages 5 and up; $13.99)

  • Meep

    Oregon Scientific MEEP!
    Relax, Mom—the iPad’s safe at last. Your mini-tech now has his own platform that runs on the Android system and is encased in a durable, rubber-edged design. MEEP! plays movies, games, e-books and music on a 7-inch touch screen with an eye for safety: Websites are monitored via parental controls that adjust remotely from your Internet connection. Now if you could just find your phone… (Ages 6 and up; $149)

  • Little Kids No-Spill Bubble Machine
    It’s hard to imagine anything better than buzzillions of bubbles (c’mon, you know you’re smiling just thinking about it). But we found it in this ingenious no-mess machine, which blows out those fun-tastic bubbles at the touch of a button—no more open bottles of solution for your kids’ little hands to dip wands into…and then spill onto the floor. The battery-powered machine comes packed with 8 ounces of bubble solution and is perfect for indoor or outdoor play—just grab the handy handle and go! (Ages 3 to 5; $12.99)

  • Nuktoys

    Nukotoys Monsterology NUKO
    The wildly popular ‘Ology’ books have just morphed into a collectible card and strategy game app that plays on an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. Behold—a Cyclops springs to life when the same kind of card is tapped on your device (similar fantasy fun can be had with Unicorns and Sea Serpents, too). Train your creatures, trade them for better ones ,and then revel in this over-to-top mythical 3D world. (Ages 7 and up; $1.99 for 3 cards, $3.99 for 7)

  • Orbeez

    Orbeez Magic Light-Up Globe
    How to describe this, besides wow? Well, think of it as an activity, a light show, and a surefire sleepover showstopper wrapped into one beautiful bundle of fun. To begin with, kids “grow” their Orbeez (don’t worry, it’ll make sense when you get it home), then pour it into the “magic” globe, add water, and illuminate. The swirling Orbeez, color-changing lights, and movement create a light show in the globe and on the ceiling. (Ages 5 and up; $14.99)

  • PlaSmart PlasmaBike
    How cool is this lean, mean riding machine? Well, let’s just say it puts the ride-ons many of us had as kids to shame. But this two-wheeled, no-pedal balance bike is much more than just pretty to look at: Those unique, extra-wide wheels encourage balance, coordination, and motor skill development, which helps smooth the transition to learning to ride a pedaled two-wheel bike and may even nix the need for training wheels later on. The fun, stable ride also instills confidence in budding bikers—no tipping over and tumbling off like their (sigh) parents used to. (Ages 3 and up; $52.14 at Amazon.com)

  • Playmobil

    Playmobil E-Rangers Headquarters
    Get ready for liftoff—or at least, for your space-loving kid to start jumping up and down with joy when you show up with this wonderfully detailed play set from PlayMobil’s new Future Planet line. The E-Rangers’ high-tech HQ sports some serious equipment: a swiveling LED spotlight, a knockout cannon to disable enemy vehicles, and a functional solar-fan module, among other goodies. Kids’ imaginations can bring the world to life with the included four E-Ranger figures, a robot, and other accessories. (Ages 7 to 12; $129.99)

  • Ravensburger Augmented Reality
    Get ready to look at puzzles in a whole new way—literally. This groundbreaking new “augmented reality” line of interactive puzzles come to life with a free downloadable app that uses the camera function of your iPhone or iPad2 to animate the scene. The four 1,000-piece puzzles look amazing in 2-D, but your family will be wowed with the audio and video effects that appear when you hold your iPad or iPhone over them. Not everything has changed, though; you’ll still want to start with those corner pieces. (Ages 10 and up; $19.99 each)

  • Descender

    Rockboard Descender
    An all-terrain skateboard? Totally radical! This rig is outfitted with thick grooves on tough-as-nails treads that grip just about any surface your kid chooses to attempt: pavement, grass, wooded paths, snowy hills, and more. No need to wait for a sunny day or a smooth sidewalk—but he does need to wear some protection every time he rides (think knee pads, elbow pads, and a helmet). (Ages 8 and up; $120)

  • We Play

    WePlay Rocking Bowl
    This smart looking “nest” is a smash hit with the toddler set but also appeals to our modern-mom sensibility. Perfectly sized for one or two tots, with smooth rounded edges, it tips gently from side to side (but won’t flip over). It’s a car or a boat to fill up with plastic balls (not included), action figures, stuffed animals—anything at all; it can also be turned upside down for climbing. (Ages 2 and up; $313)

  • YBIKE Explorer
    Back in the day, kids would build their own go-cart from scraps in the backyard. Today, we have this awesome tangerine, three-wheeled rig. Easy-grip side handles make steering a breeze; the low-to-the-ground seat means he won’t fall far if he careens out of control down the driveway. We also loved the strong aluminum framing and rugged wheels, which seem sturdy enough to last until it’s passed down to a sib. (Ages 5 and up; $189)

  • Zooma

    Imperial Toy Splat X Smack Shot
    The built-in LED target locator on this souped-up slingshot means your less-than-stellar shooter will likely hit his mark—hope it’s not his little brother! Load it up with two types of soft, gummy ammo: Performance Strike Shotz (they whistle when launched through the air) and the Sticky Strike Shotz (these adhere briefly to hard surfaces and then creep slowly down). (Ages 8 and up; $9.99)

  • Cloud B

    Cloud B Telegram Teddy
    At once retro and totally modern, this amazing new teddy lets parents who may be traveling or grandparents who live far away communicate with a child through the bear. He receives voice messages and melody files sent from a free downloadable smartphone app or through a 1-800 phone line; just synch him up to your home network through Wi-Fi. A red LED blinks to let your kid know a message is waiting (press a button in the paw to get it), and he can say night-night back via a recording button in Teddy?'s ear?the message will come up on Mom'?s or Grandpa'?s smartphone or via the 1-800 number. Cooler still: Messages are archived for at least two weeks in secure cloud storage. Other apps, including melodies and personalized recordings (about $1 to $2), will be available, too. (Ages 3 and up; $49.99)

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