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Imagination, Toy Industry Go Hand in Hand

The Perplexus, a new, three-dimensional labyrinth which involves rolling a ball over a twisting and narrow multi-plane trough inside a sphere

Imagination plays a major role in child's play, and in playing with toys - even where toys are made. A classic American children's Christmas story traces toys to Santa's workshop at the North Pole, and busy elves making toys for good little girls and boys. Christmas myths aside, imagination plays just as big of a role in the real world for toy makers closer to home.

More than 35 major toy manufacturers, entertainment companies and retailers recently held a trade show in New York to show what they have prepared for children this year.

A major attraction is the Perplexus, a new, three-dimensional labyrinth. It involves rolling a ball over a twisting and narrow multi-plane trough inside a sphere. Inventor Michael McGuiness says good toys allow children to pretend they are adults.

"We take on the role of being an adult in something," he said. "And we become mimicking the things we think are right about being an adult, and that is what kids do when they play."

Jolly Rogers, named for the skull and cross-bone symbol of bygone pirates, is being marketed by the Velcro Kids Company as part of a play set that allows children to assemble castles or ships and imagine themselves aboard. While some parents may prefer that their children not play with Jolly Rogers, product manager Denise Walker says the symbol is what children make of it.

"There does not have to be any negativity about it," she said. "They can choose to be all friends and play together, and you know, have maps and treasure or just sail the high seas."

The president of Techno Source, Eric Levin, has worked in the toy industry for 20 years. He says the business is more of an art than a science.

"You have to put a lot of gut into it," he said. "You just kind of say: 'You know, that is fun. I do not know why, but I cannot stop doing it.' Well, how do we take that to the next level? It requires a big commitment emotionally."

In a claim many children are likely to consider controversial, Levin suggests toys are not manufactured at the North Pole.

"Santa's workshop is primarily in southeastern China, actually," he said. "That is where, statistically, just about 90 percent of toys are made."

They include most of those displayed at the New York toy trade show. That may be irrelevant to good little boys and girls, but as Eric Levin puts it, toy designers are happy when they see their creations bringing joy to others.