The Spinfire, the Mach-1, the Night Winder, the Prowler, the Wedge and the Bonehead. Excepting (maybe) the Bonehead, this reads like a list of manoeuvres taught at Top Gun flight school.
But these are actually the names of Wizzzers, the super-spinning gyro-action tops from the late 1960s.
A spinning top wasn’t a brand-new idea in 1969. The British Museum has glazed composition tops in their Egyptian collection that date back to 1250 BC. Ancient Greek kids spun their fair share of the toys, and the Dreidel dates back to Judea, where it was used as a cover for religious study.
More recently, in the 1950s, tin tops were quite a popular toy with both boys and girls. But that was all before Mattel decided to get into the Top business.
The late 1960s were dominated by the need for speed – hot rods and muscle cars ruled the roads, and even the toy roads found zippier Hot Wheels out-muscling old favourites like Matchbox cars. Mattel responded with the spinning top world’s equivalent of the muscle car.
Rather than spinning the top manually between the thumb and forefinger, Wizzzers contained – inside their bulbous plastic housing – a gyroscopic motor. A pin jutted out of the Wizzzer’s bottom end that was surrounded by a rubber nub.
Revving up the Wizzzer was easy and intuitive: Roll the rubber tip against a flat surface until the gyroscopic motor gained enough momentum, then release the Wizzzer on the end of the metal pin.
If spinning the top on the ground wasn’t pleasurable enough, the Wizzzer was equally interesting just to hold in your hand.
The gyroscopic motor made your hand feel like it was experiencing some heavy g-force action.
In another fine muscle car tradition, Wizzzers also incorporated a hefty dose of bad-attitude colour and design. Early models came in wild two-tone colours, the top half different from the bottom – and the spiffy packaging contained two holes so that you could peek in and pick your favourite colour scheme.
Inside each box were a few plastic accessories, like patterned drawing disks and trick ramps, with which you could perfect your spinning stunts.
And then came a Wizzzer design onslaught. There was the Canned Wizzzer line, made to look like real brand named soda and soup cans (Hawaiian Punch, Planters Peanuts, Campbell’s Soup, etc.).
There were Wizzzers that came with sticker kits so that a spinner could soup up his top according to his own personal artistic whimsy – or at least to the degree that combinations of orange flames and stars & stripes allowed.
There was the rainbow-making Wizzzer, which had a clear plastic top half and a coloured disc inside of that, which you could watch spin around. And last, but definitely not least, were the Upsy Downsy Wizzzers, in which little yarn-haired Upsy Downsy dolls called Hithery Thithery and Skelter Helter actually rode the spinning Wizzzers (named Furry Hurry and Hairy Hurry).
Wizzzers spun into retirement during the 70s, but were brought back to life in the 80s by Matchbox and then again by those Yo-Yo folks at Duncan.
They’re fondly remembered today in all their gyroscopic glory, both for their retro-cool designs and for the numerous chaotic etchings they made in kitchen linoleum across the nation.