Los Angeles is rich in pop culture, having given us tangerine-flake auto paint. Big Boy and McDonald's hamburgers, Barbie and Ken, and Pink Bubble Gum ice cream. Now, from the people who gave us the Hula Hoop, the biggest fad toy in the gaming annals of U.S. history, comes Trac-Ball, a game that Wham-O Manufacturing Company hopes will find its way into hearts and homes in time for Christmas.
Admittedly, the Hula Hoop is a tough act to follow. After making a name for itself with the Frisbee, Wham-O introduced the hoops in March 1958. Some 100 million were sold in the first six months. Wham-O has never quite gotten over it and, in trying to find another winner, has turned out some real weirdies. There was Bat Liver, a brown goo something like Silly Putty, which was never marketed, and flexible pencils, an idea whose time had not quite come. There also was Instant Fish, a package of fish eggs that would hatch in five to 12 hours after being plopped into water, but the problem there was that Wham-O couldn't round up enough eggs—or fish—and "we had to pass up maybe several million dollars in orders," says one official. Alas, this was not the case for Nutty Notter, Whirlee Twirlee, Magic Window, Super Swooper, Zip Zap and a battery-powered fishing lure that had, believe it or not, an electric bulb on one end.
Wham-O hopes Trac-Ball will do better. The basic set, which sells for $7 to $10, depending on the store, consists of two curved plastic racquets, which resemble jai alai cestas, and four balls, two white and two yellow, which resemble whiffle balls. The 21"-long racquets weigh six ounces each, and the balls, made of what Wham-O calls Zectron. weigh less than an ounce: the yellow ones are slightly heavier for greater stability in the wind. So far, pretty routine—but Wham-O scientists haven't been asleep. The secret is in the racquets: they have cage-type ball traps for catching and curved tracks with gripper teeth that impart a tremendous spin to the balls. An overhand toss will take off in a straight line, then suddenly climb. Sidearm heaves will produce startling curves. Getting the hang of all this is slightly more difficult than tossing and catching a Frisbee, and any number of games can be played.
If Trac-Ball doesn't make it, it's back to the Hula Hoop. This season's new, improved model talks: it makes a "shoop, shoop" sound as it whirls around a gyrating body.