Ottawa Citizen

Toys for boys

Big, little, pricey and simply weird, these gifts are meant to please the child hiding inside your dad. Seriously.

- BY PATRICK LANGSTON

Your life may still have meaning without an electric marshmallo­w toaster. But if you’re a guy, you know it’s a diminished life.

Men love toys, and we wait with bated breath for the latest one, combing the web (how male is that?) for shiny new baubles.

“Men have trouble focusing and we like to play because fidgeting gives us those distractio­ns,” says Bill Adler Jr., author of Boys and Their Toys: Understand­ing Men by Understand­ing Their Relationsh­ips with Their Gadgets. “Toys help us reconnect with our childhood because they give us that sense of newness again,” says Adler. “When you got something new as a kid, it was just great. Women in general don’t feel as nostalgic about their childhood.”

And while the word toy is coy (many find it demeaning, like the dim dads of television sitcoms), it also suggests a temporary reprieve from stress-riddled adulthood, a period of life that crept up on us when we weren’t looking.

No wonder events, like the Treasure Valley Big Boy Toy Expo in Boise, Idaho — featuring everything from the latest home theatre system to ATVs and a calendar girl contest — roar with testostero­ne.

Other observers point out the bragging rights of owning the latest and the greatest, even if many men outwardly sneer at status symbols. After all, who could resist the tool envy on his buddies’ faces when they see him slip out his Spyderco Byrdwrench, a combinatio­n one-hand open knife, slip-joint pliers, bit driver, adjustable crescent wrench and rough punch file/hole-starter which, when opened, reveals four screwdrive­r bits inside.

At just $77 from www.uncrate.com — where you’ll find 100 web pages of cool guy toys — who could be without it?

Adler’s right. Something like the Byrdwrench evokes deep, even primal responses in men. After all, didn’t a recent study in the United Kingdom find that one-third of men would choose a gadget over sex or beer?

Speaking of sex, the gentler one would do well to check out a prospectiv­e male companion’s accoutreme­nts as a first step in relationsh­ip-building.

According to Adler, a guy’s fondness for GPS systems and cellphones may “indicate that he’s an outdoors type, and that may suit you or not.” A computer nerd could be either a socially-challenged geek or just someone who likes to solve problems.

As to the guy who smothers his home with security devices, women should know that he’s “a protector who really likes to fortify the castle.”

Some see ominous undertones to men’s gadget habit. In a web-published essay, a female undergradu­ate in the University of Waterloo’s engineerin­g program has detected “patriarcha­l societal oppression” in guy toys: they are apparently a sign that society encourages men, but not women, to follow a technical career. Oppressive or not, men dig toys. It’s a little late if you’re casting about for a Father’s Day gift, but Christmas will be here sooner than you think, so here are some of the cooler toys about: Peugeot Electric Wine Opener (Williams-Sonoma, $120) A stainlesss­teel must-have that gets you the good stuff with a press of a button. Rechargeab­le, it works with natural and synthetic corks. (www.uncrate.com) Amazon Kindle (Amazon, $359) This wireless reading device with high-resolution display technology weighs in at 10.3 ounces. Read books, newspapers, blogs and magazines without eye-strain. “It’s the gadget of the year,” says Adler. (www.amazon.com) Google’s Android Phone (Google, available later this year) Drawing a secret shape on the screen unlocks the handset to this mobile phone. Include a built-in compass/map thingy. It will be “really, really hot,” predicts Adler. Inside Out Martini Glass (AMT, $55 for a pair) It looks like any bar glass until you pour in the ambrosial liquid, revealing the encased martini glass. The double wall means you never touch the actual martini glass, keeping its contents cool. (www.gearcrave.com) Grillsling­er (Grillsling­er Internatio­nal, $100) A Batman-like utility belt that holds a grill knife, tongs and spatula. With its “lockand-load” insert technology and a new Grillsling­er Sport model, it's nerdy but your buds will drool. (www.uncrate.com) HomePub (Servis, $1,000) A tiny, perfect fridge/freezer with built-in draught beer system and a door-mounted spigot. (www.homepub.com) Rock Speakers (Klipsch, $300). It looks and feels like a rock, but the Klipsch AWR-650-SM features a two-way speaker design that allows it to play both left and right stereo signals. UV-resistant and available in a granite, sandstone or red rock finish. For the, uh, rocker in your life. (www.uncrate.com). Patrick Langston is an Ottawa writer. Home Bowling Alley (Striker Bowling Solutions Inc., $125,000 — yeah, really) The ultimate measure of dudeness, the two-lane alley needs about 1,200 square feet of space. Enough said. (www.strikerbow­ling.com) Steel Billiard Table (Carbon Studio, $27,000). Put your balls into play with this table’s tournament grade bumpers, hand-formed metal pockets with rubber liners and hotrolled steel finish. (www. uncrate.com) Scissor Spiders (Christophe­r Locke, $250) Handmade from scissors confiscate­d by United States airport security, these little guys blend menace and elegance in an unnerving fashion. (www. uncrate.com)

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