Spring-loaded Serenade: Exploring Nerf

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Funny how toys come about, isn’t it? As we all learned last week, Mr. Potato Head started as cereal prizes attached to real vegetables. A similar history surrounds the foam-based line of projectile (toy) weapons and soft sports balls: Nerf.

The best ideas really are the simple ones. Look at that funky-fresh font, too!

In 1969, an inventor by the name of Reyn Guyer approached Parker Brothers with an indoor volleyball idea. They weren’t interested in the game at all, but the soft foam ball that it included was a revelation. After all, how many parents would buy an inexpensive indoor toy that was safe for kids and mantelpiece chotchkies? A whole bunch of parents would. About four million, by the end of its debut year. Later on in toy history, Hasbro acquired Nerf when they bought out Tonka. Since then, Super Soakers (the fabled water gun that Chris and I have been squealing over) have been designated as Nerf products. I guess Hasbro has decided that a gun (Blaster) is a gun (Blaster, darn it).

While the original ball was made from polyurethane, the trademark foam that characterizes the product line has since been changed to a polyester mix with a special compound, and topped off with a carbon dioxide release. Sounds very scientifical, but it all amounts to one big detail: the carbon dioxide release is what causes the holes in the foam, making it light and soft.

Coming to a cubicle near you. Or possibly a waste basket, just to make file-destruction fun.

In 1972, a big staple of Nerf was released in the form of NerfHoop. Offices around the world became filled with cardboard-box backboards, plastic hoops, and ninnies trying to make a three-pointer from the water-cooler. Of course, they were shooting with a Nerf foam basketball.

This baby really brought new meaning to "long bomb." And it whistles...why not!

But the most lucrative toys to bear the Nerf name always will be the Nerf Blasters. Handheld toy guns, rifles, and even bow-and-arrows were developed primarily in the eighties. Each one fired foam darts, and came in gloriously bright colors.

My first Nerf Blaster. It had a super-secret barrel built into the grip...that they advertised on the side of the gun.

In the last few years, the Blasters have become so much more sophisticated, with entire arsenals being developed for more tactical battles. The Nerf N-Strike set now includes various beauties that still attract me in the toy aisles today. The genius of this product line is in the amount of customization and tactical choices that kids (of all ages, which includes me) can make.

There are different ammo types, ranging from slim, aerodynamic darts to flashy glow-in-the-dark ones to scare a burglar. Many of the N-Strike blasters come with rails for attachments (scopes, flashlights, extra ammo, etc.) and optional barrel extensions. Also, the folks over at Hasbro have finally eliminated the one drawback to Nerf Blasters: reload time. Instead of painstakingly gathering every dart, and loading each one manually into a Blaster—or worse, trying to find them in your pockets during a fight—the N-Strike rifles come with a hop-up magazine system. And every clip is universal for the other guns.

If there are two N-Strike weapons that really stand out, it is the Maverick pistol, and the Longshot C-6 sniper rifle.

The Maverick was a must-own for the dorky guys I hung out with in high school, because it is a Nerf revolver. That’s right, Dirty Harry is carrying foam ammo, suckers. Imagine the idiotic splendor of Russian roulette with Nerf. Yep, I did it.

Revolvers never go out of style. There's something romantic about them, even if they shoot foam darts.

As for the Longshot, I got so excited when I finally got to mess around with one. It has a bipod. It has a scope. It has a slot for an extra ammo clip. It also has a detachable barrel that becomes a back-up pistol. Did I mention that it works off of a spring-loaded bolt action, like a real sniper rifle? Don’t get me wrong, the scope and bipod are kind of rubbish, and the pistol part is useless, but any kid would be the proud owner of the three-foot-long behemoth.

I like to keep this one with me...for close encounters.

Kyle’s Big Idea: So, I’ve been kicking around the idea of a big, playful firefight with my buddies. Since laser-tag makes me sweat like Marlon Brando, and paintball is always full of jerks with their own equipment, I thought my future Bachelor Party should include an epic Nerf battle. This will be complete with slow-motion dodges, Oscar-caliber death scenes, and a mandatory Mexican Stand-Off. My arsenal will be thus: a Maverick revolver, an off-brand repeater rifle (made under the Air Blasters product name), and the newest N-Strike sniper rifle, the Longstrike CS-6.

Bah! Who came up with this?! Give that man a 21-dart salute...or maybe a 210-dart salute with this monster.

Why? Because we can. Now I have to practice my catchphrases from “Hot Fuzz,” since I’ll have enough firepower to rival an entire English village. Sure, I’ll get pelted a lot while trying to put on my sunglasses in a cool way, but that’s what Nerf teaches us: how to cope with being hit by projectiles…and how to hit that sucker back. Positive play, eh?

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