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To The Rescue: Toy Assembly Made Easy

You're surrounded by hundreds of little parts, and the directions might as well have been written in Greek. To put it all together successfully  -- and save your sanity:

Avoid the all-nighter
Don't wait until the night before the big holiday to assemble the 100-piece train set. Start at least a week ahead of time to recover from the inevitable: missing parts, incomprehensible directions, toy malfunctions. This way, if you just can't make it work, you can return it to the store and get one that does. Worried your little sleuths might find their holiday booty? Ask a neighbor if you can slip assembled toys into her basement until it's time to present them.

Take your time
You think it'll take no longer than 45 minutes to put the threestory dollhouse together? Yeah, right! Double your estimated time so that you won't feel the crunch. Even better: Read all of the directions before you start so you're clear about what goes where, and then actually follow them.

Be prepared
Have packs of batteries in different sizes and voltages on hand. Put them, along with your most-used tools  -- Phillips and standard screwdrivers, hammer, pliers, scissors, electric drill  -- in a bin that's accessible to you so that they'll be at your fingertips when you're ready to put the toys together.

Make it ready-to-play
Don't expect your toddler to be happy with castle parts. Assemble everything ahead of time, unless you plan to do it together after the big day. For toys that don't need assembly, give your child easier access by removing those annoying plastic ties that hold them in the box before you wrap the gift.

Pony up
Face it: Not all of us have the time and patience to put together a complicated toy. But some stores will assemble larger, more difficult items for you, if you're willing to fork over the extra bucks  -- for example, Toys "R" Us charges between $10 and $20, depending on the toy.