Polly Huff had never heard of a Sony PlayStation 2 console. Her daughter, Hannah, doesn't like fancy video games, so the high-tech machine didn't make her Christmas list.
So it came as a surprise to Mrs. Huff when she learned that she had won the PlayStation 2 - the hottest Christmas toy item this year - from an Internet music-company raffle.
"The first thing [Hannah] asked was 'How much cash can we get for this thing?' " laughs Huff.
The answer? A lot.
As predictable as holiday airport delays, every Christmas brings one must-have, can't-find toy. This year, parents from coast to coast are engaging in a frenzied rush to locate the PlayStation 2 before Christmas Day. In incidents that recall mothers fistfighting over the last Cabbage Patch Kid or paying $500 for a $20 Tickle Me Elmo, parents are going to desperate lengths to locate the short-supplied console for their children.
Some have simply given up on finding the PlayStation 2, which is an advanced game system that also plays DVD movies and CDs, and doubles as a desktop computer. But for others, the desire to surprise their kids Christmas morning has driven them to irrational measures.
* In Georgia, parents rent Playstations at video stores and never return them.
* In Berryville, Ark., teenagers mugged a father and his son as they walked out of a Wal-Mart, and stole their PlayStation 2.
* Some parents are paying up to $2,500 for the $299 Playstation on Internet auction sites.
And The Wall Street Journal reported that a 20-year-old Canadian man, arrested Saturday by local police, may have taken $400,000 from US and Canadian consumers who placed orders to buy a PlayStation 2 on his two Web sites.
For toystore owners, answering requests for the consoles has become routine. "Every hour people come in here and before they ask the big question, I can see the look on their faces about what they want," says Larry Writesel, an assistant manager for Toys 'R' Us in North Little Rock, Ark. "They have this look of desperation about them."
While robotic dogs and automated dolls are also popular, it's the PlayStation that is creating the most hype. The console offers more than 25 new games with improved graphics, imagery, and plenty of realism. Unlike its competitors, the Sony console also plays games designed for the original PlayStation.
The PlayStation 2 made its American debut Oct. 26, and sold out within hours of hitting the market. It is in short supply because Sony temporarily stopped shipments due to a shortage of graphic chips, instantly creating a supply-and-demand reaction that frustrates parents.
"The company knows that kids want this," says Carol Philippone of Hendron, Va. "It's clear to me that Sony knew what they were doing from the beginning. They created this shortage, so that in turn they could create this urgency that everyone just had to have their product."
Ms. Philippone spent part of this week searching eBay for a PlayStation 2. Her two sons also spend their free time helping in the Internet search. Philippone says it's highly unlikely they will have one before Christmas.
She spotted one auction where someone was selling raffle tickets at $5 apiece for a chance to win a PlayStation.
"I didn't feel like spending $30 on tickets, and then chances are I wouldn't win," says Philippone.
Other teenagers didn't wait for their parents to search days before Christmas for the hot item. Drew Powell of Herndon, Va., bought his Playstation on Oct. 26. Until Christmas morning, he is the hero in his circle of friends.
"When Sony said there was going to be a limit on how many were out there," he says, "I knew to get mine then."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society