Zizzle Zoundz and Other Toys

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The people who brought you the weird music alien iZ have come out with another equally alien device, called Zoundz. It looks like the sort of leisure device Captain Kirk might encounter in a martian boudoir, a shiny white puddle with colorful, crazy-shaped blocks and blinking lights. You move the blocks to create and manipulate the music, and the lights lock in step. Six of the blocks have sound sequences built in—string, keyboard, percussion, etc. The seventh block is for recording your own five seconds of audio. By moving the music blocks around on the three light patches, you can make thousands of different sound combinations. If you’ve got rhythm, you can DJ it up a little, switching blocks around to alternate effects.

The upside to Zoundz is that it is sure to please any musically inclined person; the downside is that I don’t know how long that pleasure is bound to last. The sound quality isn’t great (you can plug in an MP3 player, but I’m not sure you would want to). Once the initial charm wears off, it has a talking clock and alarm feature that might come in handy. Buy this to win originality points, or to please the person on your list who delights in musical toys or psychedelic bric-a-brac.

Brushing to the Beat

My dentist once told me that the real benefit of the new Sonicare toothbrush craze is not the action so much as the time: Sonicares make you brush for two full minutes. If the two-minute timer is the real key to healthy teeth, ToothTunes may just be the key to getting kids to care.

Coming from an unlikely manufacturer—Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics division—Tooth Tunes broadcasts two minutes of music straight into your head using something called dentomandibular bone conduction. The experience is fascinating; a tech watcher like me sees it as proof that the next handsfree Bluetooth devices for our phones will be carried not on our ears, but in our mouths. Your kid will probably find Tooth Tunes to be a thrill, but there are a few issues: the best way to listen to the song is by holding the brush still between your teeth, and each brush only comes with one song. Mine was the Rocky theme, and other material ranges from Hilary Duff to Queen, but you may want to plan ahead and buy a few to keep around. They’ll be on sale in stores next year, but you can get them now for $10 a piece at www.toothtunes.com.

Watch and Learn

I’m a big fan of LeapFrog learning toys (www.leapfrog.com), and this year the company has a bumper crop. Fans of the Colbert Report may have seen Stephen playing with the 100 Hoops basketball counting game ($25, ages 3-6); he jokingly called it a “threat” because it teaches kids English and Spanish. There’s another cute bilingual counting game for kids in the 6-36 month age group – the Learn & Groove Counting Maracas ($15).

My favorite toddler toy this year is the Little Leaps Grow-With-Me Learning System ($40). I like it because it keeps cost down by leveraging what you already have: it looks like a game console, but it’s really a universal remote that controls its own educational DVD games that you play on your DVD player. There’s a bit of set-up—you have to teach the system what DVD player you have—but once you do, the remote will work just fine. Cooler still is the fact that the controller has two faces, a chunky, button-based one for babies 9 months or older, and another one, with a joystick, for toddlers 2 years and up. You just flip it over when your kid grows up, hence the “grow-with-me” name. (Obviously, it’s just as useful if you already have one or more kids in both age groups.) The videos are surprisingly interactive, working on language development, number concepts, problem solving and more. Just remember this: since the Grow-With-Me system is, in essence, a second DVD-player remote, make sure it’s out of reach during movie night, or else your kid might accidentally fast forward through all of the best scenes.