A Brief History of Nerf (or Nothin')

iStock / popovaphoto
iStock / popovaphoto

The Nerf brand has been bringing kids foamy fun for over four decades now, but the company’s history might not be as familiar to you as the perfect technique for a crushing Nerfoop dunk. Let’s take a look at the Nerf nitty gritty.

It Was Supposed to Be a Volleyball Game

Although Nerf has become the leading name in spongy backyard warfare, its roots were decidedly less violent.

Inventor Reyn Guyer had enjoyed early success by creating the game Twister, and in 1968 he started Winsor Concepts to dream up new toy and game ideas. While working on a caveman-themed game, one of Guyer’s team members began bouncing one of the game’s foam “rocks” over a net. The designers realized that they were onto something and began developing a whole line of games based on foam balls.

Guyer initially took the game ideas to Milton Bradley, the company that had found a hit with his Twister invention. The game giant passed on Guyer’s creation, though. Undeterred, Guyer then pitched the foam games to Parker Brothers.


Mike Mozart, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Parker Brothers wasn’t crazy about the actual games, but they loved the idea of a foam ball that kids could safely play with indoors. The company decided to market just the ball as its own toy. In 1969 Nerf made its debut in the form of the four-inch polyurethane foam Nerf Ball, which Parker Brothers dubbed “the world’s first indoor ball.” After the plain old Nerf ball became a runaway hit, Parker Brothers contracted with Guyer to make the wider array of foam games that he had originally envisioned.

The most memorable of these line extensions was surely the Nerf football, which bounced onto the scene in 1972. The Nerf football actually represented a bit of a technical change for the product line. Parker Brothers made the original Nerf balls by spinning foam on a lathe and cutting it with a piece of hot wire. Making the football, on the other hand, entailed pouring liquid foam into a mold. The resulting ball had a thick outer covering that helped it behave like an ordinary football.

Some of the other Nerf spinoffs failed to achieve the notoriety of the Nerf football. By the time the 80s rolled around, Parker Brothers had started making things like Nerf Pool, Nerf Ping Pong, and, of course, Nerf Table Hockey. The company even started a line of Nerful action figures that looked like anthropomorphic Nerf balls.

The Nerf brand has changed hands several times over the years. In 1987 Tonka purchased Kenner Parker Toys, the then-owner of the Parker Brothers brand, and in 1991 the brand moved again when Hasbro acquired Tonka. Hasbro has held onto the brand and helped it flourish; a 2010 Business Week report pegs the Nerf division’s annual revenues at $150 million.

“It’s Nerf or Nothin’!”

Nerf’s major coup for a whole generation of kids, though, was its introduction of foam weaponry. Sure, tossing a Nerf football around was fun, but shooting your buddies with soft foam balls? That’s real entertainment!


Jack Taylor / Getty Images

In 1989 Nerf debuted the Blast A Ball, small pinkish cannons that fired golfball-sized foam projectiles, but the 1991 introduction of the Nerf Bow and Arrow cemented the brand’s reputation as the armorer of kids everywhere. The 90s saw Nerf further expand its array of blasters into guns that fired missiles, balls, and suction-cup darts.

The blaster line is still buoying the brand’s sales; in 2009 Nerf even reintroduced the familiar old ad slogan “It’s Nerf or Nothin’!” The weapons are more technologically advanced now, though. The Raider Rapid Fire CS 35 has a capacity of 35 suction darts; the newer Nerf Stampede ECS is a fully automatic blaster that cranks out three darts per second. These toys sound a bit more sophisticated than the old Blast A Ball. (Although my brother and I can attest that the Blast A Ball was great for whacking each other even once its ammunition had been lost.)

All of this extra firepower has come at a price, though. In 2008 Nerf had to recall its N-Strike Recon Blaster after at least 46 reports of kids sustaining injuries while firing the gun. The blaster’s plunger firing mechanism had a nasty tendency of catching users’ skin as it flew forward, which let to welts and bruises on kids’ faces, necks, and chests. [Taylor Lautner image credit: © RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters/Corbis]

What does "Nerf" mean?

Some sources claim that “NERF” is an acronym for “Non-Expanding Recreational Foam,” but that story seems too good to be true. Reyn Guyer’s personal website explains that Parker Brothers named the balls after the foam that off-road drivers use to wrap their rollbars.

And while we’re asking questions, what happened to the original prototype Nerf ball? Tim Walsh had the answer in his terrific book, Timeless Toys: Reyn Guyer held onto it. Each year his family uses it as an ornament on their Christmas tree.

The Massive Elvis Festival That Rocks One Tiny Australian Town Every January

Ian Waldie/Getty Images
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

For one weekend each the year, Elvis Presley is alive and well in Parkes, Australia. The tiny town hosts the Parkes Elvis Festival during the second weekend of every January to mark the music legend's birthday on January 8. In 2019, the event attracted a record 27,000 guests to the showground—more than twice Parkes's usual population of 11,400, Smithsonian reports.

Elvis fans Bob and Anne Steel held the first-ever festival in 1993 at their restaurant, Gracelands. On top of being an excuse to throw a birthday party for their favorite celebrity, they set up the festival to draw tourists to Parkes during the region's brutally hot off-season. (During a record heat wave in January 2017, Parkes experienced a high temperature of 114.6°F.)

While the first festival lasted one night and had an attendance of just a few hundred people, it has since grown into a five-day affair with an international reputation. Visitors come from around the world to celebrate the music, fashion, and dance moves of The King. It's a large enough event that festival-goers have the option to travel to Parkes from Sydney via special trains dubbed the Blue Suede Express and the Elvis Express. On board, they're treated to the company of Elvis impersonators and performances by Elvis tribute artists for the six-hour journey.

Guests who made it to this year's Elvis Festival from January 9 to 13 took part in ukulele lessons, Elvis-themed bingo, "Elvis the Pelvis" dance sessions, and a Q&A with Elvis impersonators. This year's Northparkes Mines Street Parade, one of the festival's main events, included more than 180 floats, vintage vehicles, bands, and walking processions paying homage to the icon.

Competitions are usually a big part of the festival, with both Elvis Presley and Miss Priscilla look-alikes facing off on stage. This year, the "Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist' crown went to 22-year-old Brody Finlay, the youngest winner in the event's history.

Each year, the Elvis Presley festival returns to Parkes with a new theme, giving Elvis fans an incentive to keep coming back. This year, the theme "All Shook Up" celebrated the 1950s era. In 2020, festival organizers are preparing to celebrate the 1966 Elvis comedy Frankie and Johnny.

Can't make it to Australia? Grab a bite of Elvis at one of these American eateries inspired by The King.

[h/t Smithsonian]

The Most Expensive Properties in 11 Special Edition Monopoly Games

Amazon
Amazon

The board spaces on the original Monopoly game—which was released on February 6, 1935—were based on locations in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Through the game, the hoity-toitiest spots for property development in there, Boardwalk and Park Place, came to symbolize the uppermost reaches of real estate value.

Since Parker Brothers (and later, Hasbro) began licensing the game for alternate versions, there have been hundreds of Monopoly offshoots, and they all have to pick something to serve as their own Boardwalk and Park Place. If it’s a city, they will usually correspond to the fanciest intersection. If it’s a country, they’ll be the two most powerful cities. But Monopoly special editions cover a whole range of areas beyond simple geography. You want to know what’s considered valuable in a particular area of interest? Look to the Boardwalk and Park Place of its Monopoly edition. Here are the most valuable spaces from 11 special edition Monopoly boards.

1. THE .COM EDITION

Monopoly: The .Com Edition
Amazon

In 2000, just before the end of the dot-com boom, Hasbro published .com Monopoly. Boardwalk was Yahoo! (costing $400 million) and Park Place was Excite@home (costing $350 million). Anyone remember what that was? (Didn't think so.)

2. THE PHINEAS AND FERB EDITION

Monpoly: The Phineas and Ferb Edition
Amazon

Naturally, the most valuable properties are Phineas and Ferb’s backyard and The Tri-State Area.

Find the game on Amazon for $199.

3. ELVIS 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION


Amazon

Of course Graceland is going to be Boardwalk, but what about the number two spot? Viva Las Vegas, baby.

Find the game on Amazon for $109.

4. NATIONAL PARKS EDITION


Amazon

How do you determine the value of a National Park? Yellowstone and Yosemite are the Boardwalk and Park Place of this version of the game. Sure, those are great parks, but there’s something unsettling about developing properties in some of the country's most famous stretches of unspoiled land, and raking in profits!

Find the game on Amazon for $130.

5. BASS FISHING EDITION


Amazon

If you know bass fishing, you know it’s gotta be Lake Fork and Lake Champlain.

Find the game on Amazon for $90.

6. SEINFELD EDITION

Monopoly 'Seinfeld' edition
Amazon

A show about nothing still needs to take place somewhere. Jerry’s Apartment and Monk’s Restaurant are the center of this world.

Find the game on Amazon for $100.

7. MY LITTLE PONY EDITION


Amazon

Friendship is magic, but it won’t pay the rent. Stake your claim early on Canterlot and Crystal Empire.

Find the game on Amazon for $80.

8. SOUTH PARK EDITION


Amazon

Cartmanland and Imaginationland, where else?

Find the game on Amazon for $350.

9. A CHRISTMAS STORY EDITION


Amazon

The properties in this version are important objects from the movie, like a frozen flagpole, a bar of soap, and a pink bunny suit. But in this world, BB Gun and Leg Lamp get top position.

Find the game on Amazon for $76.

10. KISS-OPOLY


Amazon

What is true value? A KISS Platinum Gold Box Set and a Japanese Vinyl Box Set.

Find the game on Amazon for $190.

11. MONOPOLY HERE & NOW: THE WORLD EDITION


Amazon

If you’re going to make a World Edition of Monopoly, you’ve got to be diplomatic about how you decide what the two most valuable places in the world should be. Hasbro decided to let the world decide for itself, holding an international vote in 2008 to determine which cities would be included on the board. That’s how it came about that Montreal, Canada, and Riga, Latvia—the two cities with the most votes—became the Boardwalk and Park Place of the world.

Find the game on Amazon for $85.

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