Yo-Yos Keep Coming Back

After two nearly yo-yoless decades, the classic toy again has reached the top floor of its elevator ride through American history.

Yo-yos were up in the 1930s. Down in the '40s and '50s. Way up in the '60s. And back down in the '70s and '80s.

"Kids see someone yo-yoing at school and boom!, they have to have one," says Tom Van Dan Elzen, president of the Playmaxx yo-yo company. "They get hooked. There's no better salesman than a 10-year-old with a yo-yo."

Mr. Van Dan Elzen also says that yo-yo sales are up more than 50 percent since two years ago because of television. Yo-yo companies are spending a lot of money to advertise on Nickelodeon, ESPN, and other TV networks.

He predicts that more than 50 million yo-yos will be sold this year. That would be 5 million more than the all-time peak of 45 million in 1962.

Are you thinking of buying a yo-yo? If you are, here's some advice:

Tips for the yo-yo tyro

"Look for a take-apart," says master yo-yoer Jodi Crump. She and her father co-edit the Yo-Yo Times newsletter. (Her nickname is "Yo-di.") A take-apart yo-yo is one that unscrews so you can easily replace the string. "Take-apart yo-yos usually 'sleep' longer because they don't have fixed axles," she says. By "sleep," she means when the yo-yo spins at the bottom of the string without coming back up. "But if you're just getting started," she adds, "you might want to buy something cheap to get the hang of it."

The most popular yo-yos are the Duncan Imperial and the Duncan Butterfly. They sell for about $3 or $4. You can't take them apart, though. Good take-apart yo-yos cost from about $12 to $30.

Yo-di recommends the ProYo II, made by Playmaxx, and the Yo-Yo With a Brain, by Yomega. The Yo-Yo With a Brain is especially good for beginners because it returns automatically.

The most expensive yo-yo is the Silver Bullet II (SBII). It's made out of light-weight airplane-grade titanium and sells for about $100.

The SBII holds the record for the longest "sleep": 3 minutes and 12 seconds.

When you open your new yo-yo, you may be tempted to try to jam your finger through the little loop at the end of the string.

Wrong! Instead, slip the string through the loop to make a slipknot. Now put it on your finger. But which one? Most people use their middle finger. Some pros use their index finger or even two fingers.

Don't put the loop all the way onto your finger, the way you would a ring. The string should rest between your first and second knuckles. This gives you better control.

How long should the string be? There is no correct length. "Some like it short," Yo-di says. "Others like it long." She offers this tip: "Let the yo-yo touch the ground. If the string around your finger is belly-button high, it's long enough."

If you need to shorten the string, tie a new loop and test it before you cut the string. For the serious yo-yoer, it's a good idea to replace the string about once a week. If you can, get cotton yo-yo replacement strings, she says. Buy them where you purchased your yo-yo.

As you'll soon discover, the most annoying thing about playing with a yo-yo is when the string gets all twisted and tangled. When this happens, "Hold the yo-yo in your hand and let the string dangle," Yo-di says. "You'll see that the string quickly becomes untangled."

Trick No. 1: Learn to 'sleep'

The first trick you should learn with your yo-yo is how to throw a "sleeper." More than 90 percent of all yo-yo tricks incorporate this maneuver.

You should practice until you can throw a sleeper that lasts from 4 to 5 seconds. Experienced yo-yoists can sleep a yo-yo for more than 20 seconds.

Why does a yo-yo sleep?

First of all, the yo-yo's string is no ordinary string. It's really a long, twisted loop. The string is not tied to the yo-yo's axle. Instead, the axle fits through the end of the loop.

When the yo-yo reaches the bottom of a properly thrown toss, it will spin inside the loop. This is called "sleeping." (If it refuses to "sleep," it could be that the string has gotten twisted too tightly. Follow Yo-di's untangling instructions above.)

You can "wake" the yo-yo with a slight jerk of the hand. This causes the axle to catch the string and wind up the yo-yo.

When you've mastered the sleeper, you're ready to learn tricks.

The best way to learn tricks "is to find someone who can teach you," Yo-di says. "If you can't find anyone, buy a good how-to book. And, most important, practice, practice, practice."

How to 'Rock the Cradle'

1. Make the yo-yo spin rapidly at the bottom of the string without returning (make it 'sleep,' in other words).

2. Extend the thumb and pinkie of your free hand, bending the other fingers down so they're out of the way. Put this hand against the string so that the string lies across the tips of your thumb and pinkie finger.

3. Lift the string with your thumb and pinkie. Now pinch the string about midway down with your yo-yo hand.

4. Maintaining the tension on the string, switch the positions of your hands: Move the hand that's pinching the string so that it's above the pinkie-and-thumb-extended hand.

5. There! Rock the yo-yo through the triangle of string you've created. Now let the yo-yo drop back to Position 1. With practice, your yo-yo will have enough spin left to climb back up the string.

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