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Toytopia : A History of the Toys We Love at Mid-America Science Museum | Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas | Hot Springs National Park Arkansas

Toytopia : A History of the Toys We Love at Mid-America Science Museum | Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Calling kids from ages 1-101!

I love Mid-America Science Museum! They have never failed to impress me in my 26 years of living (because, yes, our science museum has been around that long, and my family, like many others in Arkansas, loved going to it.) I was thrilled when tasked to go check out the new Toytopia exhibit and write about it. Because something like “Toytopia” sounds astounding, almost like a magical land of toys, and knowing the quality of exhibits Mid-America showcases, I knew it would be as cool as it sounded—still, upon entering, it blew me away!

It was bigger and better than what I could have ever imagined. This interactive exhibit is the most fun I have attended at Mid-America (and those who frequent the museum know the volumes that speak.) The exhibit exploring the history of toys from the early 1900s is more historical than scientific but still fun. The following is what I experienced at Toytopia—on display at the museum through September 3rd.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the museum was that it was crawling with hundreds of children. The staff said this is common for the summer months, with numerous camps visiting them regularly. But I did not mind spending my day indoors with all the kiddos, especially when the alternative was spending the day in the scorching Arkansas heat. Plus, when in Mid-America, everyone becomes a kid. That’s part of the fun!

I noticed a fun photo prop at the entrance resembling a “Go To Jail” Monopoly tile. This photo was the first piece of Toytopia! The rest waited down the hall in the museum’s newest wing.

Before entering the heart of the exhibit, you get a glimpse of the history of toys in displays showcasing popular toys throughout the 1900s. I spent a lot of time with this part of the exhibit, mainly because I couldn’t believe what was regulated back then. When was the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission created? I can’t imagine it was before 1950. I laughed at all the metal and splintering wood pieces sitting behind glass that passed for “tinkering” toys from 1900-1910.

The 1920s and 30s brought a Monopoly board that is impressively, nearly identical to current-day Monopoly. Also, one creepy Mickey Mouse doll with beady eyes sits atop the long-loved Lincoln Logs.

In the 1950s, you see, they took the idea of creepy dolls and ran with it. Apparently, children really enjoyed toys with faces from nightmares. Who knew Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head didn’t originate as the cute, comical characters Toy Story portrayed to us? (Many people born before 1996 probably knew that, but it was new to me.) In fact, children weren’t just limited to potato heads in a Funny Face Combination Kit from the era. You could be a cucumber, apple, pear, onion, or sweet potato head. The sky was the limit for creepy creativity in the 50s.

By the 1970s technology sparked, and along with the bold innovation in toys came bold colors. Bringing back memories of Lite Brite, Simon, Speak & Spell, and the Video Computer System, this case packed a punch of nostalgia.

In the 1980s, television had taken over the toy industry. In this case, you’ll see a Cabbage Patch Kid staring back with dead eyes, My Little Ponies, one angry Ninja Turtle, and Star Wars action figures.

Toytopia sounds cool. Amiright? While checking out the cases, I heard one girl ask her dad if she could play with them. He said no, they’re in the cases for a reason. They were unaware that just outside of the glass door sits an entire exhibit hall full of interactive toys throughout time. Here’s what you don’t want to miss at Toytopia:

In Toytopia, I guess the motto is “the bigger, the better.” (I, and all the other kids there, fully agree.) You won’t be able to miss classic games “all grown up.” There are huge Lite Brites, a game of Maze Runner (which is also an arm workout), the World’s Largest Etch-a-Sketch (which doesn’t etch any sketch, but there are regular-sized Etch-a-Sketch’s available for play), a life-size monopoly car, a dollhouse you can walk through, a giant Connect 4, Battleship, and Space Invaders.

Speaking of “big” fun, want to live out the fun Tom Hanks had in the 1988 film Big? Check out the Zoltar or giant floor piano. (NOTE: If you don’t want to miss out on an attempt at playing “Heart and Soul” just like Tom Hanks, bring a pair of socks! I was denied the opportunity because of my bare feet. (I walked Toytopia so you have the benefit of this bit of knowledge.)

A comprehensive history of Monopoly I never knew I needed was also available at the exhibit. Visiting Toytopia, I learned the game is based on Atlantic City, New Jersey, and that it was developed in 1933, with the original game selling for about $2 (adjusting for inflation, that’s almost $40 today.)

Regarding comprehensive exhibits, holy Legos—from Duplo to thousands of those tiny choking/stepping hazard bricks, I now have an excessive amount of knowledge living in my brain about these popular artistic puzzle pieces. Did you know you can combine six of the eight-studded Lego bricks in 915,103,765 ways? Also, did you know they have Lego figures for more television characters than you probably thought? One I didn’t know about was SpongeBob SquarePants. I know a handful of adult boys in their late 20s and early 30s who would implode over this fact.

Do you have some time to kill? Probably not, because there’s so much to do in the exhibit, but if you’re a masochist: try your hand at Extreme Dot-to-Dot, going up to at least 567 from what I could count.

And if I had to pick a favorite part of the exhibit, I would have to go with the area of classic arcade games. I will pay good money any day to play an unlimited amount of Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong Junior, Missile Command, and Defender.

I couldn’t even touch on the expansiveness of Toytopia in one piece. I could, but I want to save you from reading a book and encourage you to go check it out for yourself! The exhibit will be available at Mid-America Science Museum through September 3rd.

Cassidy is a Hot Springs-based freelance journalist. In her free time, she enjoys playing games, skating, walking her dog Murphey and spending time with her nieces and nephews. Cassidy aspires to create a positive impact with her writing, be it fun or informative (or both!).

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Mid-America Science Museum

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