Rubik's TouchCube, $150
A lot of new high-tech toys are updates of older mechanical playthings. For instance, Techno Source will add a touchscreen and accelerometer to update the Rubik's Cube this fall. Dubbed Rubik's TouchCube, you simply touch it to move the colors around. You can save unfinished games, and the rechargeable battery will last around two frustrating hours.
Along the same lines, BluePixo will update the Etch-a-Sketch this April with its 3.2-inch LCD touch-screen BluePlay, on which you can draw and paint with the included stylus. You can mix your own colors, and inside is 2 GB of memory to store your masterpieces. Unfortunately, there'll be no way to output your doodlings until the next generation BluePlay, which is due to include a USB jack so you can connect BluePlay to a printer.
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Adding a new twist to existing tech, Screen Life Games has expanded its Scene It? line of DVD games with geek-friendly Star Trek and Simpsons versions. They allow you to test your knowledge of the cult-favorite shows with a trivia game that plays through an ordinary DVD player.
Several companies are using motion capture to take you out of the real world and into a virtual world with a green screen and camcorders. Yoostar, coming this spring, can put you into famous movie scenes, while XD Productions uses three Web cams included in its Animakit software package ($150) to turn you into a cartoon character.
Speaking of virtual worlds, 10Vox Entertainment lets you race cars online without an Xbox 360 of PS3 — for free. You buy a Hot-Wheels-like model car, enter the included code at Tracksters.com, then locate the online 3D version of said car. You can pimp your 3D ride online, or soup up your virtual gas-guzzler by buying parts cards, packs of seven baseball card-like trading cards ($4.95) with scratch-off code numbers for redeeming.
Once your ride is pimped and souped-up, race it online on one of an ever-increasing number of tracks against time, against your computer, or against up to seven of your connected Tracksters friends.
The physical car you bought? Let the dog chase it.
You don't need the sun for Owikit's variety of need-to-be-assembled solar-powered vehicles in its RobotiKit, which includes a boat, two planes, a windmill, a car and a puppy. All you need is a bright light to spin, twirl or whirl whatever moves the model.
To learn all about alternative energies, including solar, build the Power House: Green Essential Edition, the latest build-it-yourself science kit from Thames & Kosmos. You can build a solar oven, a solar-powered refrigerator and even a salination plant. The two alkaline batteries you see are for back-up, in case the lights are out.
If you don't consider batteries ecologically evil, and you want to drive your dog really batty, two button cells run the fourth Hex Bug Micro Robotic Creature, an ant ($10) that skitters across wood floors and carpeting at cockroach-like speeds, 10 times faster than previous Hex Bugs.
Spykee Robots $20-$200
Coming this summer from Erector are five rolling and dancing Spykee robots. Each answers to different command sources, including your voice, or communications from a cellphone. A Spykee with a built-in webcam can be controlled and accessed via WiFi from any PC, anywhere, to let you peer around your crib when you're not home. As befits the name of the company, assembly is required.
Gentle Giraffe, $24-$26
After a day of hard play, you'll want to take a nap. To help you — or, more appropriately, your play-weary child — to reach R.E.M., curl up with Gentle Giraffe, the latest Cloud B sleep-assisting plush toy. Like the company's AA battery-powered Sleep Sheep and Dozy Dolphin, the soft and furry Giraffe emits four different soothing sounds to send you to snoozerland.