Here are more of "My Cool Things." This entry is the last in this series.
Take away a nine year old boy's action toys and you'll have a sulking child. At this age, my favorite store-bought action game was called "Battling Tops," which may not be familiar to you. This was 37 years ago, after all. Could they possibly still make this game? In case they don't, I'll give you a quick description of it. The game had a round, concave, arena-like playing area with four player stations at equal distances around the perimeter. The playing pieces were four plastic tops, several inches high. Each player got one top and a small plastic ring with a length of thread attached to it. The ring fit over the player's index finger and the thread wrapped tightly around a top quite a few times. The top was then placed in the player's station, which was designed to hold the top steady until the game began. All players pulled their rings at the same time, causing the tops to spin furiously in the concave playing area. From this point on, all the players could do was watch and hope. The tops would whack repeatedly into each other, making a surprising amount of noise, until all the tops except one either fell over or were flung out of the arena, often at impressive speeds. The winner was the player who had the last top still spinning.
I don't think I played this game with the neighborhood boys because they seemed to enjoy breaking store-bought toys as much as playing with them. I wanted "Battling Tops" to last for a while, so I only played it with my Dad. I'm not sure if he enjoyed playing the game or if he was just playing for my sake, but either way I had a ball. The best parts were listening to the whirring, rattling, whacking noises the tops made, and dodging the tops as they flew across the room. If you're thinking that this sounds like the perfect non-electronic game for a boy, I'd have to agree with you. Action games that thrill young boys without taking away their innocence are impressively cool.
When I was 10 years old, my favorite cartoon was an action-packed thriller called Jonny Quest. Unlike any other cartoon, the considerable violence on this program was realistic: not graphic, but definitely far more believable than Bugs Bunny/Road Runner pseudo-violence. Bad guys usually met with swift and imaginative deaths. I wasn't interested in seeing anyone die, but I loved the high level of action. I also loved the realistic detail of the animation.
Jonny Quest was different from other Saturday morning cartoons because it had originally aired as a prime time science fiction/adventure series in the 1964-65 season. Probably because it was a cartoon, the show got away with levels of action that never would have been permitted on other 1960s prime time programs. Jonny Quest was quite popular, but was canceled after one season because every episode went over budget. The program was just too expensive for a television series of its era.
The show followed the adventures of Dr. Benton Quest, who was billed as one of the top three scientists on Earth. He apparently had a PhD in everything, and he traveled the world thwarting the plans of evil scientists and other high-tech villains. With him he brought Jonny, his 10 or 11 year old son, and Hadji, Dr. Quest's 11 year old adopted Indian son. Roger "Race" Bannon was the pilot of Dr. Quest's super-high-tech private jet; "Race" was also the boys' tutor and much-needed bodyguard. Rounding out the regular cast was Bandit, Jonny's white bulldog.
After being canceled, Jonny Quest went into very successful syndication until parents' groups against cartoon violence had the program pulled from broadcast in 1972. The program returned years later, when the level of television violence caught up with the precedent set by this cartoon series. In the '80s, and again in the '90s, two new Jonny Quest series were produced for a short time, but I felt they were inferior to the original.
I haven't seen an original Jonny Quest episode since the early '80s, and if I found one now I probably wouldn't watch it. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not a pacifist. I enjoyed the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. But if I had young children I'm sure I'd be concerned about them watching something as violent as Jonny Quest. When I was 10 years old, though, I thought Jonny Quest was awesomely cool.