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Day 11: The Yomega Wing Force

Writing the 28 Days project has been a lot of fun so far. It’s great to analytically dig through my collection and share what I find. What’s really been a blast has been looking at old yo-yos with a new perspective.

Take, for instance, the Wing Force by Yomega. The Wing Force, manufactured in 1998, was Yomega’s first “butterfly” shaped aluminum yo-yo. Upon first glance, the only thing that makes this yo-yo interesting is it’s very narrow body, but I was surprised when I opened mine up and found a removable spacer system that also doubled as a friction sticker surface.

When I thought about it more, I remembered that Yomega had a hard time selling all of their Wing Forces, so they actually experimented with various machining methods to update their pieces still in stock. The original model was a starburst yo-yo, which might have worked if not for the thick powder coat paint that ended up smoothing over the starburst teeth. The later models had a deep area lathed away where the starbursts used to be. The Raider style spacers had been replaced with a new, wide spacer system that was designed to fit the old friction stickers made by Custom.

It seems that Yomega made the precursor to the SPR system currently made by Buzz-On Yo-Yos. Since they were designed for a smaller friction sticker, the Yomega Wing Force spacers are slightly narrower than SPR spacers, but the design is very similar otherwise. SPR systems even fit great into Wing Forces.

With the narrow gap though, the yo-yo was far to responsive, I took out one of the wide spacers and replaced it with a Raider spacer. I then put the friction sticker into the gap that used to be covered by the wider spacer. This recessed sticker worked great if I only did it on one side and had a wide spacer with no sticker on it, but two recessed stickers were not responsive enough to get decent response. If only we’d known about bind returns back then.

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Day 10: Prototype Freehand

When Steve Brown first started working with the folks at Duncan on the Freehand yo-yo, he called me up and asked if I would be test some of the prototypes. Of course I accepted and a week later a box of yellow Freehands arrived. Like most yo-yos of that time, the Freehand protos used a simple starburst design for response. The only differences between the different prototypes were the sizes and shapes of the starbursts. One week passed, and Steve called and asked what I thought of the yo-yos. He thanked me for testing them out and said he had to call the other testers to see which was their favorite. A month later the production model Freehand was released. When I got mine, I ripped into the package to see what size starburst he used. Man was I surprised to find out that Duncan had decided to use friction stickers.

At the time, ProYo was suing Custom for releasing friction stickers, which Tom Van Dan Elzen claimed were infringing on his patent. The lawsuit was costing both companies a ton of money, so it was surprising that Duncan would release their own version on the Brake Pad (ProYo’s friction sticker) during this time.

When I next talked to Steve, he mentioned that they had also molded many other response system prototypes, including a bunch of Freehands with negative starbursts. He shipped me a box of these halves, and I put together a working prototype using two halves of translucent blue Freehand prototypes. One half is smooth with a friction sticker, the other half has a combination of positive and negative starbursts. I wanted caps on it, but didn’t want any opaque caps to prevent light from going through, so I had my friend Skizzy remove the centers from them to allow light pass through.

I assume the reason he didn’t send me any of these protos was because ProYo held a patent on negative starbursts. It was a bullshit patent (toy patents are often awarded without close scrutiny), but the guys at Duncan didn’t want to waste time fighting it. Then I guess they must have felt that if they were going to release something that may infringe on a patent, they might as well go for the full monty and release their own version of a friction sticker.

Negative starbursts are usually just dimples in the surface of a yo-yo. Both positive and negative starbursts are just providing an interrupted surface which pulls on the string when it has slack. One of the most unusual prototypes that Duncan made was the batch of Freehand prototypes with “DUNCAN” written around the area where the starbursts would go, thus creating negative starbursts AND branding at the same time. A few years later, a company called Yes, Absolutely completely ripped off the name around the inner hub of the yo-yo idea.

Room104- feel free to post pictures of your awesome freehand proto collection.
Steve- Feel free to correct me. I’m sure I got some info wrong.

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Day 9: The (modified) Viper

Yesterday I blogged about Henrys AXYS yo-yos, so today I’d like to wax on the classic Viper yo-yo. Actually, I wanted to discuss some of the old fashioned modding techniques associated with the Viper, using the pictured yo-yo above as an example

For many years, the modified Viper was my favorite yo-yo. I used modded Vipers when I placed third at the World Yo-Yo Contest in Florida, in fact this is one of those yo-yos.

The stock Viper was great for offstring play, but suffered in traditional yoing by it’s small gap and lack of response (when single looped). Shims could be used to widen the gap a little, but the classic Viper was equipped with a very narrow bearing. So you could only shim it out so far before the side of the bearing was exposed.

Henrys used an unusual bearing size that made it impossible to find wider bearings that fit, so to fix the gap problem I would take to Viper bearings and place them side by side on the axle. This technique, which I called the Beefcake Mod, gave the Viper a huge gap, but it also seemed to have a secondary benefit. Yo-Yo string would often rest on the groove between the two bearings, thus keeping it centered and away from the sides. This concave technique was also used by Black Mamba’s auto return yo-yo and would later be developed by Frank Difeo to use in his Dif-e-yo bearings.

The Viper came with the string double looped around the axle and relied on the yo-yos tapered narrow gap for response. Now that the gap was wider, a new response system would be needed. This was most easily done of by simply adding a Duncan friction sticker, but other methods where sometimes used as well including added super-glued “starbursts” or engraving. This Viper has a sticker on one side and has been engraved on the other side to create a negative starburst. The engraving was done at a Things Remembered store in the Mall of America. They charge by the word so I asked them to engrave “010101010101010101010101010101010101010101010101” in a concentric circle around the hub.

In a final touch of beauty, the shells where taken in to a friends tattoo parlor. Using older needles he etched away at the shells with his tattoo gun. He did a few shells for me and I had him make some for Steve Brown and Jen Niles as well. Once tattooed, the shells are very textured. In fact you could probably read the writing by just feeling it with your eyes closed. My friend even numbered the tattooed shells “0001”, I guess he felt someday he may make it into the thousands.

Later on, Henrys released the AXYS Viper which came with a much wider bearing, making it much easier to mod.

ps- Happy National Yo-Yo Day!

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Day 8: The Coral Snake

The Coral Snake, manufactured by Henrys, is an aluminum yo-yo with rubber rings and an adjustable gap. For many years Henrys only produced a single yo-yo, the Viper, which was popular with offstring players but outdated as a one handed yo-yo. With the release of AXYS system (which included The Cobra, Coral Snake, Lizard, and an updated version of the Viper), Henrys was trying to step up their game.

This particular yo-yo was one of the very first ones released at the Midwest Regional Yo-Yo Contest in The Mall of America. I was working for Air Traffic, the US distributor of Henrys, at the time, so I was one of the first guys to grab a Coral Snake when they arrived. To our surprise, the Coral Snakes had engraving on both the inside and the outside of the yo-yo. Apparently the engraver, who probably didn’t have much experience with yo-yos, engraved the wrong side on the entire first batch of yo-yos, so they sent them back to him and he engraved the other side too.

Some people say that the engraving actually affects the play of the yo-yo, making it more responsive or eating up string etc. I can’t really attest to either of those theories, but I can say that I’ve always been inspired to have a yo-yo engraved on the inside like a “secret” gift that only the owner gets to see… Of course this eventually did happen with The END yo-yo, when we engraved “S-H-M-O-O-V-E” into the recessed silicone yo-yo. It was more work and cost, especially considering you can’t see it from the outside, but I remember how much fun it was to open up my Coral Snake and show that awesome engraving off to friends.

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Day 7: The Rev-G

During the big yo-yo boom of the 1990’s, yo-yo’s and kite stores went hand in hand. While it was nearly impossible to find any transaxle yo-yos in most chain toy stores, kite stores often had a full rack or display case of the hottest new yo-yos.

So it is little surprise then that a kite company would try to get into the yo-yo game. Revolution Kites, known for their fantastic quad line kites, stepped into the yo-yo market with the Rev-G in 2000. This was the first (and possibly only) carbon fiber yo-yo around. Due to it’s light weight and high strength, carbon fiber is common material for producing kites but we probably never saw it used for yo-yos due to it’s complex manufacturing process.

Working with carbon fiber allowed Revolution to build a yo-yo with very little inner weight. In fact I believe more than %75 of the yo-yos weight is in it’s outer rims (the pinkish-purple part), but I can’t find anywhere that lists the specific rim to hub weight ratio right now.

Yo-yo companies are always trying to pack in more rim weight without making their yo-yo too heavy, but at 53.6 grams, I don’t think anyone has a higher rim to weight ratio than the Rev G.

It should also be noted that, like the Doble Titania, the Rev G was sold with a adjustable finger loop sleeve. Unlike the finger loop on the Titania, Revolution’s sleeve slipped over cotton yo-yo strings. Revolution patented their finger sleeve along with their “ultra performance modular yo-yo” in 2000.

So what stopped the revolution? Their yo-yo design was just to weird and cumbersome. The yo-yo’s outer diameter was very large, while it’s gap was comparatively small making it awkward to hold. The yo-yo just didn’t have the smoothness of competitors such as the Bumblebee GT and the SuperYo Renegade.

Do I think that a carbon fiber yo-yo could ever be successful? Sure, why not? But given the popularity of most aluminum yo-yos, I think a company attempting to design a carbon fiber yo-yo should stick away from novel shapes and try to work more within the realms of a the more common yo-yo. Imagine a carbon fiber Samurai or a carbon fiber hubbed YoYoJam with celcon weight rings.

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Day 6: The Titania

With the recent popularity of YoYoFactory’s hubstack system, it’s a good time to take a look back at some similar yo-yo innovations from the past. Some folks like to point out that yo-yos with free spinning caps or ball bearing tips were being made back in 2002, but nobody has mentioned the Titania yet.

The Titania by Doble Yo-yo was really a head of it’s time. In 1993, the Titania (along with Doble’s Ariel and Calypso yo-yos) became one of the first patented adjustable gap yo-yos. What makes the Titania so noteworthy though is that it is designed from two free spinning halves with a solid axle running through the yo-yo with two knobs attached at either end. Making this the first yo-yo that you could grab by the hubs while it was spinning.

So hubstack and spinning cap mods usually consist of a normal yo-yo with added ball bearings on either side, but the Titania has the same effect by using one extra large axle and two loose halves with holes drilled all the way through.

For it’s time, the Titania was probably something of a modern marvel, although the company never seems to receive much recognition for it’s innovations. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even until a few years ago that competitors started using the company’s Calypso to break world sleeping records, even though it had already been around for over a decade.

The Titania does not have any ball bearings (which probably could have helped it out), but with it’s heavy weight (120 grams!) and unique trans axle system, it could still out-sleep most (if not all) the other trans axle yo-yos of it’s time. Due to the yo-yos weight, it used a very thick cord that was tethered to a small free spinning brass sleeve. The cord was also equipped with a leather finger loop.

By today’s standards, is a cool looking, but clumsy yo-yo with a narrow gap (in fact Doble has never made a butterfly yo-yo), but the idea of a solid post with free spinning halves could still be a good idea. When you try to grab the hubstacks on an 888, you are grabbing parts that are moving and stopping them. Even with good ball bearings this is going to add more drag on the yo-yos momentum, but with a solid axle, the hubs are never spinning… so they are easy to grab and don’t add any extra friction to the yo-yo when they are held.

I recently checked and Doble is still quietly making their beautiful yo-yos, please check out their site, www.dobleyoyo.com.

And here is a great collection of yo-yo patents online.

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Day 5: The AXL Elite

The AXL Elite, by Custom Yo, was a very unique yo-yo. At the time of it’s release, Custom was most known for it’s MAG yo-yos, a series of aluminum yo-yos that were designed to resemble exotic car wheels. These MAG yo-yos, like most other aluminum yo-yos, where heavily rim-weighted for longer spins.

So it was surprising that when the AXL Elite was released, Custom had decided to try to make a very lightweight aluminum yo-yo with no added weight along the outer rims. The theory being that although rim weighting a yo-yo slows it’s rotational speed (thus lengthening it’s sleep time) a heavy yo-yo requires more energy. So Custom created a very light yo-yo that wouldn’t require as much energy to keep spinning.

It works. At only 42.1 grams, the Custom AXL Elite is even lighter than most mini yo-yos (including Custom’s own Chain Reactor which weighs 49 grams), but it outspins most yo-yos in flat sleep time. However the AXL Elite did tend to lose spin quicker than most rim weighted yo-yos. I think it’s narrow gaps and grip-y pads were largely responsible for this.

With bind return yo-yos becoming more and more common, I’d like to see another attempt at the less is more mentality in yo-yoing. A wide gaped & ultra light butterfly yo-yo could really take the gold.

Speaking of [how’s that for a segway?], today’s blog is a two for one as I also wanted to mention Custom’s gold plated version of the AXL Elite, the Golden Fly. This 24k beauty came packed with a matching stand (as do most Custom Yo-yos). I just realized that although Custom no longer manufactures yo-yos, they apparently do still offer them through their site!

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Bungee String

Sorry if my last post seem ed a bit “rambly”. I had a 5 hour yo-yo gig that day, so I wanted to write it in the morning (in case I wouldn’t have time later that day to blog).

Speaking of that gig, I was absolutely thrilled to wake up this morning and not be sore. Lucky me, I was really worried I might have overworked myself.

During my last visit to Minneapolis, Josh asked me to try one of his new yo-yos which happened to have Bungee String on it. Bungee String is the creation of Mathew Thoemke (aka YoYoFargo) and is created out of nylon blends. Mathew sent me a sample many months ago, and I thought it was fun but not really my style. When you first try it out, Bungee String is extremely stretchy which makes eli hops really fun, but consistent play is a bit difficult. After a few hours I put the string away and didn’t really mess with it again. Josh, on the other hand, kept playing with his Bungee for a month before I tried it.

I usually change string every half an hour of solid play, but Bungee String actually gets better with age. It retains it’s smoothness, but the elasticity goes away, making it play more like an ordinary piece of string. As a yo-yo performer, who often does day long walk around performances, this string is ideal, so I pulled my piece of Bungee String out yesterday morning and used it all day. Not only did it keep me from constantly changing my string, but I’d also credit it with preventing any new string burns.

I believe the only place to get Bungee String from is Joe Mitchell’s Train and Beanie Baby store in Deleware, let me know if I’m wrong though.

BTW, my eBay auctions will all be ending within the next 24 hours.