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Pop It! fidget toys are in everyone’s hands. But why?

The viral TikTok toy of summer - ah, so satisfying - has a surprising history.
A variety of imitation Pop It! popping toys, the summer's hottest fidget item.
A variety of imitation Pop It! popping toys, the summer's hottest fidget item. [ STEPHANIE HAYES | Times ]
Published Jul. 8

If you have kids or TikTok, you know about Pop It! Yes, the brand name ends with an exclamation mark, so I hope you like zesty punctuation!!!

The toy is an endless bit of bubble wrap in a molded tray. Once you pop one side, flip it and pop the other. Knockoffs galore come in shapes such as Unicorn, Rainbow and Dereliction of Daily Duties. You’ll hurl it across the room, but it will return somehow. You can’t! Stop! Popping!

I discovered these recently on a beach vacation with kids. By the end of the trip, I was popping out of control, slowly unraveling like Lady MacBeth. When we returned home, our “friends” had sent us a set in the mail. Haha! Hah! Ha!

It’s the toy of summer, the new fidget spinner, slap bracelet, Rubix’s Cube. They’re simple but powerful. Some experts say sensory toys can be helpful for calming and focus.

Mickey Howard of Dunedin learned about them when her grandchildren, 17 and 11, visited from St. Louis. One is on the autism spectrum and the other has post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and sensory issues.

At the Florida Aquarium, her granddaughter gravitated toward a display of bubble toys. The girl thought they might soothe, the way rubbing her two-way sequin pillow did. The girl carried her new green turtle popper everywhere, in the car, to dinner, even into bed to “get sleepy.”

“I think they’re a brilliant little invention,” Howard said.

How did we arrive at perpetual popping? To get the whole picture, listen to the Power Kid Podcast, where host Phil Albritton interviews David Capon, president of FoxMind Games. I will summarize.

It started with Theo and Ora Coster, a married couple who invented lots of games, including Guess Who? Theo was a Holocaust survivor and classmate of Anne Frank who ended up in Tel Aviv, where he met Ora. One night, following her sister’s death from breast cancer, Ora had a dream filled with bubbles. She told Theo it was time to make a bubble toy.

This was 1975, and they tried to sell the triangle prototype for some 30 years. FoxMind acquired it in 2009 and started making iterations. Ten years later, the company and partner Buffalo Toys got an exclusive deal with Target under the name Pop It! They also made forms of the game under umbrella brand Go PoP! Following?

Enter TikTok. The toymakers started approaching influencers. Aided by pandemic boredom and viral videos, “we started to see all hell break loose,” Capon said on the podcast. “It was really a nuclear reaction.”

Go on TikTok now, if you dare, and search #popit. The footage exists at the sweet spot of entertainment and comfort, mixing in a bit of ASMR — that’s autonomous sensory meridian response, which is a whole other internet detour if you have six hours to spare. People stick marbles in the holes and create patterns. Lately, they’ve been making candy bars in the divots.

@gracemarywilliams

What color should I do next?😜😝 #popit #popits #popitchocolatebar #popitchocolate #trending #MACscaraface #tiktoktrends #tiktokchallenge

♬ original sound - gracemarywilliams

The frenzy has birthed a spate of rip-offs, which the company is trying to combat. Understanding the origin story, Capon said on the podcast, is important in making an ethical buying decision. I felt bad staring at the Baby Yoda popper on my desk, most certainly a knockoff.

How did I deal with the guilt? Popping, of course. The best part about this toy, I think, is that it lets you sit alone in your feelings. Sure, you can play with others. An earlier version, Last One Lost, involves two players popping as many bubbles as they want in a single row. Last one to pop loses.

But honestly, it’s more satisfying to replay that awkward thing you said at a post-vaccine party, staring into the middle distance and popping into infinitude. It feels productive. It feels therapeutic. It feels…

!

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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