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Toys and the science behind them

Toys and the science behind them

At miSci, an exhibit combines over a thousand toys and collectibles and demonstrations of how they work
Toys and the science behind them
Children play with gears at the exhibit "Toys: The Inside Story."
Photographer: courtesy misci

The latest exhibition to open at miSci is held together by tinker toys. 

Which seems appropriate, as it’s all about how some of our favorite childhood toys work.  

“Toys: The Inside Story,” combines over a thousand toys and collectibles from the last 200 years and interactive demonstrations of how they work. There’s a pulley station, a gears station, circuit stations, cam station, etc. 

“Who doesn’t like toys? From the time we can open our eyes, we are mesmerized by mobiles, rattles, and stuffed animals,” said Gina Gould, president of miSci, “And as we grow up, our toys become even more complicated (and expensive), but we don’t often give much thought to the science behind creating these toys, which involves designers, engineers, and fabricators who turn an idea into something that is fun and safe and captures your attention and sense of play.”

The exhibition gives kids a glimpse into why the buzzer goes off in Operation and how a seemingly simple toy like Etch A Sketch relies on over a dozen pulleys to bring artistic ideas to life - and to make those ideas disappear. It also gives them a glance at the cams, circuits and pulleys and other mechanisms that make Elmo toys sing and dance. 

While the interactive stations, which are held together by giant wooden tinker toys, were brought in from the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont, many of the toys are from a  Schenectady-resident’s extensive collection. 

“Our collection ends in the 1920s and that’s when Dan [Fay]’s starts,” said Chris Hunter, vice president of collections and exhibitions at miSci.

While miSci brought in dolls from the 1800s and other classical toys, Fay’s collection focuses on all things pop culture, from Spongebob figures to Superman toys and James Bond spy kits. 

“I’ve been a toy addict all my life,” Fay said. He owns Sassy’s Satellite Pop Culture Gallery, which has a brick and mortar location set to open in October on Clinton Street in Schenectady. 

Over the years, he’s searched for and found thousands of toys and collectibles: Beatles bobble-heads from the 1960s, the first Barbie from 1959, popular ray-guns from the 1970s and figures like Iron Man and Bat Man. His collection is bound to make one nostalgia no matter when you grew up. 

“Toys really do parallel our culture and what’s going on,” Fay said. 

During the 1920s, Lincoln Logs were one of the most popular toys. At the same time, America focused on building and construction. It was also around the 1920s that pop culture really began, said Fay, with the development of radio and communication technology. That’s where his collection ramps up, with Mickey Mouse toys and Mr. Potato Head (which was the first toy to be featured in a television commercial).

Even as digital games continue to grow in popularity, Fay said that he’s not worried about the fate of physical toys. 

“There will always be a place for tactile play,” Fay said. 

The exhibition will be up through January 6, 2019. For more information visit misci.org

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