Tom Vacar, a consumer editor and reporter in Los Angeles, has held the Great American Toy Test every year since 1980. Toys donated by manufacturers are sent to day-care centers nationwide. After three to eight weeks, day-care staffers are asked to evaluate the toys on the basis of several criteria, including which toys the children return to again and again.
This year, Mr. Vacar assembled a "greatest hits" list of popular, enduring (and durable) toys:
Barbie Dolls (Mattel), 3 and up
Now well over age 30, Barbie remains one of the world's most popular toys. Her careers, costumes, and accessories constantly change with the times.
Brio Toys (Brio Scandtoy), 3 and up
Coming in all sizes and themes, Brio's wooden toys are both indestructible and versatile.
Etch-a-Sketch (Ohio Art), 4 and up
With its "dialing drawing knobs" and "shake to erase" attributes, kids are ever challenged to master Etch-A-Sketch's controls.
Flexilocks (Flexitoy), 3 and up
Basic building blocks, but with a twist: hinges! These allow the child to make endless creations that can move, twist, and even roll.
Legos and Duplos (Lego), age appropriate
By far, Legos (and larger Duplos, for toddlers) are the world's most-famous building blocks. Made in both plastic construction sets and theme sets.
Play-Doh (Kenner), 4 and up
Nontoxic and colorful, Play-Doh remains the world's favorite modeling clay, with an ability to provide endless options.
Radio Flyer wagons (Radio Flyer), 5 and up
Few toys provide more fun, physical activity, and play options. It can be a car, spaceship, plane, fort, or anything else a kid can dream up.
Tonka Trucks (Tonka), 3 and up
Built like real trucks, these are among toydom's most indestructible "let's pretend" playthings.