If you've ever Walked the Dog, gone Around the World, or
Skinned the Cat, you've clearly spent some time with a yo-yo.
An ancient Greek image of a yo-yo - Bibi Saint-Pol
ancient Greeks were making them out of terracotta, they're one of the oldest
toys around -- and thanks to a massive renaissance in the twentieth century,
they've never been more popular. But did you know that they (probably) weren't
ever used as weapons? Or that a yo-yo once presented to Richard Nixon fetched over $16,000 at auction? Read on for a fresh spin on an old
Why are they called
It's a curious name, isn't it? Something about the symmetry
of the word seems appropriate for the up-and-down motion of the yo-yo itself, but
the name actually comes from Tagalog, the language native to the Philippines.
According to legend, it came to America
by way of a Filipino immigrant named Pedro Flores, who made the U.S. his home
in 1915. While working as a bellhop in Santa Barbara,
Flores hit upon the idea of mass-producing the yo-yo, a popular toy in the Philippines --
and he's credited with giving it its modern name. Before Flores,
the toy was known in the West as the "bandalore."
Were they originally
designed as weapons?
So goes the popular myth: yo-yos were first used by Filipino
warriors as hand-to-hand weapons. But although we indeed owe the word "yo-yo"
to the Philippines,
and the device itself was popular on the islands long before it made it big in
the West, its status as a primitive weapon isn't so solid.
Modern Yo-Yo - Duncan
the thrower as to the target. And they're at their weakest when they're fully
extended -- hardly what you want in a fight. Not that a rock on a string can't
be a perfectly good weapon. Just ask the Inca, whose "bolas" could be wielded
to great effect by a skilled thrower. But a bolas isn't a yo-yo; notably, it
isn't designed to return to the hand after use. Unless you're prepared to
broaden the definition of "yo-yo" to include just about any rock-on-a-string
implement, we ain't buying it.
So what's the truth? We'll defer to the Americans of Filipino Descent FAQ,
which documents at some length where the weaponized yo-yo story originated --
and it wasn't in the Philippines. Instead, reliable individuals put the blame
for starting the tale at the doors of Donald Duncan, the 1930s inventor and
entrepreneur who bought out Flores, making the
yo-yo a pre-war smash. Clearly, Duncan
knew the marketing power of a good tall story.
What's the world's
most valuable yo-yo?
Yo-yos designed for pro tricksters can cost several hundred
dollars, but they've got nothing on the one-off presented to President Richard Nixon by country singer (and yo-yo virtuoso)
Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry in March of 1974. It would be quite a
performance for music-loving Nixon: he accompanied Acuff on the piano in a
rendition of "God Bless America,"
and in return, Acuff taught him a yo-yo trick or two. Nixon seemed impressed
with his gift, remarking: "I will stay here and try to learn how to use the
yo-yo; you go up and be President, Roy." The yo-yo, which carries Nixon's
autograph, was auctioned after Acuff's death in 1992 for over $16,000.
What's the most
Like any popular toy with a few years of history behind it,
almost any yo-yo is collectible to some degree. Just ask Lucky Meisenheimer,
M.D., who literally wrote the book on yo-yo collecting and owns more
than 4,000 himself -- a world record. If you were in school during the 1980s,
though, you'll probably think immediately of the range of Coke yo-yos made
popular at the time. Available with various soft drink branding and offered in
a wide selection of colors, they fetch enough money on eBay that we really wish
we hadn't lost, broken, or given ours away back in the days.
What's the hardest
Opinions vary. According to some, it's the Double-Suicide,
which involves rotating the stalled yo-yo around one hand before catching the
looped string with the other. Youtube user limoguy333
will teach you, but it's going to take some practice.
Others say it's the ladder
escape, where the yo-yoer knots the string into an impossibly
complicated hourglass shape before dropping it free. Arthur C. Clarke wrote
that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic;
watch those vids and you'll extend that to any sufficiently advanced yo-yo
Where to get started
Basic yo-yo tricks aren't difficult. Get yourself a simple,
solid model (around $10-20), make sure the string isn't too long (it should
stretch from the floor to your navel), wind it up, and go. The first technique
you'll want to master is the "sleep" -- making the yo-yo spin at the end of the
string without returning to your hand. From there, the sky's the limit: plenty
of online tutorials will show you the ropes, and Youtube is full of great videos that'll
give you a detailed look at the secrets of the pros. You'll be pulling a Ladder
Escape before you know it.
- Pedro Flores
- the Grand Ole Opry
- in the West
- Richard Nixon
- Roy Acuff
- ancient Greeks