In today's Wii-filled electronic game age, the hottest-selling summer pastimes are true throwbacks. No batteries or power cord necessary.
Beanbags, ladder golf and similar toss-type games are all the rage as kids and adults rediscover family playtime, often outdoors on the lawn.
"They're fun, simple, portable and light," explained John Erlandson, vice president of marketing and product development for game maker Sportcraft. "What we've seen industrywide is the whole category of toss games has all of a sudden exploded. Beanbags have become almost as big as such traditional lawn games as volleyball and horseshoes."
Even lawn darts are making a comeback — minus the pointy tip. Called Sky Darts, the new version comes with a soft tip that sticks.
And a Chico inventor is introducing a new beanbag ball— the WaterRipper — that can skip and roll over water (even in a kiddie pool) and never sinks, making it the ultimate water-friendly ball.
Portable, durable and safe, beanbags appeal to children, who are developing their coordination and aim, and adults, who like anything competitive. Teens and 20-somethings particularly gravitate to these updates of old-fashioned favorites.
Experts attribute the trend in part to the recession.
"We've seen an explosion in tailgating," Erlandson said. "Instead of going on a vacation, people are looking for things to do close to home or on their own lawn."
Tailgaters at football games and NASCAR races can toss the bags, darts or balls around. They can also take them to the park, the beach and campgrounds.
"Tailgating has become the new arcade," he added. "These are games that you can take anywhere."
This has brought out a wave of family and regional favorites such as cornhole. Also known as corn toss or bean bag toss, cornhole challenges players to toss dried corn- or bean-filled canvas bags through a board with a hole. Believed to trace back to 14th century Germany, the game became beloved in Kentucky and spread through the Midwest.
This game even has its own American Cornhole Association (www.playcornhole.org) with more than 30,000 members nationwide.
Why cornhole? The game is great fun for all ages and can be played anywhere, said association president Michael Whitton. "In the U.S., the game is spreading to every state."
Sportcraft makes about 350 outdoor and lawn games.
"Everything from croquet to shuttle pong," Erlandson said. "By far, our most popular game right now is ladder ball followed by beanbag toss."
Also known as ladder golf or bolo toss, ladder ball uses golf-ball bolos — two golf balls attached to opposite ends of a short length of nylon rope. The object of the game is to wrap the bolos around the three steps of a target "ladder" by tossing from a few yards away.
"It's a phenomenal seller for us," Erlandson said.
Erlandson, 30, discovered the original lawn darts while in college.
"They were a lot of fun," he said, "but I didn't know they were banned."
Notorious for their potentially lethal points, the original lawn darts were outlawed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1988.
Sportcraft spent about two years perfecting a soft-pointed version, Erlandson said. The hardest part was developing a weighted tip that would allow the dart to stand upright once it landed. The secret: A bag of weights is suspended inside the dart tip, connected to the inner polypropylene wall at five points.
Sportcraft also developed Bean Ball Bocce, a softer version of the traditional Italian game using vinyl bean-filled bags instead of the hard resin spheres.
"You could never play bocce indoors, but with Bean Ball Bocce, you can," Erlandson said.
In Chico, architect Tim Leefeldt perfected the WaterRipper, which will get national release next spring. (It's now available at a few Chico stores and on line at www.ripperball.com.) He first had the idea for a water-friendly ball 22 years ago while playing Hacky Sack on vacation in the Hawaiian surf.
"Hacky Sacks float," he said. "That got me to thinking, 'Wouldn't it be fun to have a high-performance water ball?' "
Two decades and two patents later, Leefeldt's brainchild is making its debut at Chico-area parks and pools this summer before its official rollout in February at the New York Toy Fair. Part beanbag, part ball, the WaterRipper absorbs water and flattens when it hits the surface. Instead of bouncing out of the pool, it skips and rolls.
"It skips over the water with this wonderful pattern ..." Leefeldt said. "My goal now is to develop waterball as a sport. ... You don't even need a pool to play — just 3 inches of water — and you can take it anywhere."
Cornhole or beanbag toss
Manufacturer: Cornhole.com or Baggo
Cost: Cornhole starter kit, $159.95; Baggo (bean toss) starter kit, $99.95
The skinny: In the 1990s, this traditional toss game was reborn on college campuses as a frat party and tailgating staple.
Game basics: Players take turns trying to toss cloth bags filled with dried corn or beans through a hole cut in a slanted board.
Fun factor: It's not as easy as it looks.
Ladder golf or ladder ball
Manufacturer: Ladder Golf or Sportcraft
Cost: Single ladder and bolos, $69.95
The skinny: Also referred to as "Hillbilly Horseshoes," this toss game has become a grass-roots phenomenon.
Game basics: Players toss bolos made of two golf balls fastened to opposite ends of a length of rope at a "ladder" made of three pipe, rod or tube "steps." Wrapping a bolo around a step scores points.
Fun factor: More portable than a putting green; the whole family can play.
Soft Tip Sky Darts
Available: Walmart, Target, Kohl's, Sears, Toys R Us, Kmart and other sports and toy retailers or www.sportcraft.com
The skinny: Soft-rubber-tipped, weighted darts replace pointy lawn darts in this safer version, designed for ages 12 and up.
Game basics: Players try to land the most darts inside a plastic hoop or other target on the lawn.
Fun factor: It combines darts and horseshoes — without impaling bystanders.
Bean Ball Bocce
The skinny: Vinyl-covered, 4-inch weighted balls replace traditional hard bocce balls in this take-anywhere version of the Italian favorite, for ages 12 and up.
Game basics: Follow traditional bocce rules on a 76-by-10-foot bocce court or improvise for the size of your lawn.
Fun factor: This youth-friendly bocce game can move indoors or to a sandy beach.
Manufacturer: Tim Leefeldt Designs of Chico
The skinny: Made of ultrasuede with a patented core, this could be the ultimate water-friendly ball, great for the pool, river, beach or a kiddie pool on the lawn, recommended for ages 7 and up.
Game basics: Leefeldt has come up with several in- and out-of- water games for this ball, which floats but doesn't bounce. See his suggestions on YouTube.
Fun factor: Because it collapses on impact, the ball skips beautifully over water — and it can roll across a pool.