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All Things Geek: Spinning around with some fidgets

Matthew Lane • May 25, 2017 at 7:30 PM

KINGSPORT — If you’ve got children or grandchildren under the age of 16, then you probably know what a fidget spinner is.

A three-pronged twirling piece of plastic and metal that looks more at home on a tiny bicycle than in the palm of a fidgety middle-schooler. Yet, here we are with the latest toy craze sweeping the nation.

It all started earlier this spring. Suddenly, one kid brought a spinner to school, or you might have seen one in a YouTube video, and the next thing you know you’re driving all over the place, to every gas station and Walgreens in town, trying to track down one of the elusive toys.

Not that I would know anything about that.

Spinners came crashing into my world during a recent trip to the Knoxville mall when my then 10-year-old daughter spotted one near the cash register of the video game store. I had no idea what they were but, of course, she knew all about them.

Twelve dollars later, my family was the proud owner of a shiny pink spinner. From there, it’s been all downhill. We’ve got blue spinners, metallic green spinners, an American flag ceramic spinner, one with waves, a couple that light up and even a glow-in-the-dark spinner.

My kitchen island is a veritable spinner showroom.

Bob Barrett, the owner of Hobbytown USA in Johnson City, has been carrying fidgets for the past couple of weeks ever since a young baseball player came in and purchased one. Soon after, nearly every kid at the ballpark ran in for one.

“The first group we got in disappeared pretty quickly, and then we had a hard time finding another source. We did get some more in and they’ve been moving along pretty good,” Barrett said. “It’s everywhere from kids 7 or 8 years old to adults buying them. When it first started, I thought it was ridiculous, but then every other call was about them. The first two days we went through a hundred or more.”

The toys are being marketed — falsely in my opinion — as a concentration aid and something that can help children with attention deficient disorders. Other products in the fidget line include a two-pronged spinner and a fidget cube (a small cube with clickers, wheels and switches), though they don’t seem as popular as the three-pronged version.

Of course, kids are finding other, more practical uses for spinners than the so-called intended purpose. They’re holding spinner races, balancing them on heads and hands, performing tricks, swapping them with friends and tormenting their parents with the sound of vibrating ball bearings.

And not all fidgets are made the same. Cheap spinners can be purchased online through Amazon or Wish for as low as a couple of dollars. The most expensive one I’ve seen locally will run you $25.

As Barrett explained to me, it really comes down to the bearings.

If you look at a regular fidget spinner, there are four bearings, and normally all are of equal quality. Barrett sells similar bearings for $7 a pair; lower grade ones range from $3 to $4 a pair.

“That’s the difference,” Barrett said. “Someone who has an inferior fidget spinner compares to someone who has a good one. Both spin at the same time, but one might slow down much quicker while the other one just runs and runs.”

On Amazon, 18 of the top 20 best-selling toys and games were fidget spinners, ranging from ones that cost just a few dollars to $12 versions touting stainless steel bearings. Toys R Us flew fidget spinners in this month from China, rather than wait for ship transport.

Unlike hot toys at the holiday season, which are often made by one company, manufacturers — mostly in China — are making the fidget spinners as fast as they can. Jim Silver, the CEO and editor-in-chief of toy review website TTPM, expects the fad to last into the summer and then fade as more of them flood into the market.

In my house, spinners are still alive and well, though thankfully the purchase rate has slowed down some. Since becoming a parent, I’ve managed to survive a number of toy fads — Rainbow looms, Bandz, slime-making sessions and water bottle flipping competitions — so I’m hopeful this fad won’t spin too much out of control.

Matthew Lane covers Kingsport city government for the Kingsport Times-News.

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