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Toy story 

Let Boris tell you about it.

click to enlarge Best of Arkansas 2011: Heights Toy Store

Boris is a $59.99 T-Rex from Learning Curve, a plastic articulated embodiment of the character from TV's "Dinosaur Train." You might say, so what, another T-Rex at a toy store. But Boris has 70 different phrases up the virtual sleeves on those little forearms. This reporter was listening to him talk about what he likes to eat and what he weighs and how tall he is when suddenly Boris was interrupted by another dinosaur. Ned, a $27.99 brachiosaurus grazing nearby in his display area, told Boris hello, and Boris said, "Hi Ned!"

So the dinosaurs are talking to one another at the Heights Toy Store, thanks to little embedded electronic ears. "They don't interact with the [TV] program ... yet," owner Greg Bonner said. They are the kind of toy that parents whose kids are grown will be wistful about (though perhaps not too wistful, given what it could cost if your child would like to surround herself with chatty pals from the Cretaceous). Parents might also wish to have the new, much easier and just as much fun version of the old bongo board, the Spooner Board (Spooner Board, $47.99). If you rounded off one end of a very fat skateboard (without wheels) and made it concave instead of flat, you'd have a Spooner, on which you can rock back and forth, spin around, ride down a grassy slope, sled down a snowy one and, the bubbly and exuberant Bonner said, dance as an "exercise for buns," as he said an adult customer told him she was doing in an aerobics class. It's tempting, very tempting, and it requires no batteries.

Not even in the shop yet, but ordered, is Bonner's latest find at market, Animails by Marky Sparky, rubber animals that you can write on and put in the mail. He had an example in the store, a pink pig he'd mailed to his granddaughter. You write the address on one side of the pig and your message on the other. Some well-heeled folks, he hears, are buying them as party invitations; at around $10 a pop plus postage (not cheap) they'd be perfect for a really high-class barbecue. Bonner will also be getting frog and dog Animails. The toys come in pink and blue; Bonner is begging the manufacturer to turn the pigs out in red and make him a very happy toy store owner indeed.

This reporter was pretty happy to beat Bonner at a game of Fastrack (Blue Orange, $19.99), a simple wooden box in which opposing sides launch discs from a rubber string (a la a slingshot) at each other; the first to get all the discs through a narrow slot and onto the opponent's side wins. This reporter not only won, but won while sitting upon a Bounce-A-Roo Hopper, a 32-inch-diameter rubber ball, an old toy but a good one (Geospace, $31.99).

Alas, we could not beat Bonner at the "Spot It" matching card game of astonishing algorithmic design (Blue Orange, $12.99), but it was last year's toy anyway; more recent is Blue Orange's "Trigger" ($12.99), which requires players to answer a question yes or no by slapping the right or left hand down. It would double as a drinking game ... as so many children's games requiring dexterity do.

For babies, the Heights Toy Store still sells what Bonner vows is Angelina Jolie's favorite baby gift, Sophie la Girafe ($22.99). It is, Bonner says, "basically an expensive dog chew toy" that every baby loves.

Then, of course, there are the toys we buy knowing they will break right away but are such a hilarious concept we can't help ourselves. That would include the "Spinmallow" (Marky Sparky, $14.99), a metal stick that "spins at exactly the right RPM" to insure an evenly toasted marshmallow. A flashlight has been built in so the toaster can see if his marshmallow has caught on fire yet and if he's stepped on the Hershey bars. It requires, sigh, batteries.

Bonner's parents, Royal and Ina Bonner, bought the Heights Toy Store in 1966. They were its fourth owners. Bonner said the store is about 70 years old, and the third or fourth oldest family-owned specialty toy store in the nation. People ask him how he's managed to stay in business for so long. "We don't know any better?" is his reply.

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