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Day 18: Jason Tracy’s Cosmic Otter

In 1999, I moved to O’Fallon, IL (just a few miles from St. Louis) to open a yo-yo store in a local mall. What followed was one of the worst years of my life. Not to be overly dramatic, but it really just sucked. I lived out of my car, a Chevy Cavalier, for the first month and a half, and spent every day working my kiosk from 9am till 9 pm (except on Sundays 10am-6pm). I regretted moving from Chattanooga (my favorite little city in nation), especially when St. Louis’s long hot summer kicked in.

The humidity was so hot, that when I opened the door of my house to leave for work every morning, it felt like I was opening the door to an oven. The heat would press against me and I’d brace myself for another long day standing at a mall kiosk.

At least there was a Krispy Kreme across the street from my house.

One day I heard about the upcoming Van’s Warped Tour. I found out that many yo-yo companies would have pros there and there would be a performance stage set up and everything, so I bought a ticket… I think it was $60 bucks (or something crazy expensive), but I was able to find someone to work for me that day so I decided to splurge and attend.

It was another hot day, but I was really excited about seeing the pros, it was looking like it would the best thing to happen all year. When I pulled up to the event though, I was shocked to find out that there was only one parking lot and it was $25 to park. I had never been to an outdoor arena before, so I didn’t know this was really common. I literally had no money that day. Not in my bank account, not in my wallet, nothing. I had even spent the last of the change I could find on gas. So I had to pull away and find a parking spot at some apartments about a mile or two away and walked to the arena.

It turns out the land all around the arena (except for the parking lot) was swampland. I had no idea that they had swamp land in the Midwest, but soon I was knee deep in it. Finally I made it to the front gate and saw one of the kids from my yo-yo club sadly sitting against the wall by the ticket booth. They wouldn’t let him in with his yo-yo bag… a problem I soon came up against too.

“I’m sorry, those could be weapons. You’ll have to leave them in your car.” The door person said. I replied, “But Tommy was dropped off by his mom an hour ago and my car is parked a few miles away.” He gave me a look like I was full of bull, so I pointed to my muddy shoes as proof of my journey. “Look that’s not my problem, leave ’em outside then.” he said. We asked to see his boss, so he had us wait in an in between holding area for her. She ended up saying the same thing he did, and would not let us in with our bags full of yo-yos. She too suggested that we just leave them outside. I told her we were special performers and she could find someone from the yo-yo stage to verify that, so she left supposedly to look for the yo-yoers inside the event.

After sitting in that space for about an hour, I spotted a gap were there were no guards, so Tommy and I made a dash into the arena. Three hours after I had left my car we were finally in the Vans Warped Tour and on our way to see the pros. I was thinking about the expression “nothing good comes easily” and was starting to get pumped up again about being there.

This was the year following the big yo-yo boom, so all the companies had crazy money to spend on promotions. When a chance to exhibit and travel with the Warped tour came along, Duncan, Yomega, BC Yo-Yos, Henrys, ProYo and Fiend Magazine all jumped on it, making the Fiend North America Tour of 1999 the largest multi sponsored event in yo-yo history. The pros on hand were Steve Brown, Chris Neff, Mark McBride, Jason Tracy, Julius Szakolczai, Nick VanDerSchie, and Lester the duck.

When we found the yo-yo pros though, we soon realized that we weren’t the only ones effected by the heat and humidity. The energy at the yo-yo stage was low. At this point on the tour, I believe that folks were starting to wear on each others nerves, people were getting tired of travelling, string burns and aches were starting to develop, etc. So there was very little actual yo-yoing going on or near the yo-yo stage. Instead, the pros just seemed to grab the mic and find different ways to get girls to lift up their shirts in exchange for stickers. Julius, who is always a pro, was the only guy I can remember getting on stage and yo-yoing the whole time we were there. We did get to meet all of the pros though, and I recall Mark showing us how he made his extra long string, but most of the folks didn’t seem all that talkative. So after all of the crap we went through, Tommy and I just ended up yo-yoing with each other instead of with any of the pros.

Plenty of stickers were given out, and at some point Jason Tracy came over to us and gave us some of his beautiful Cosmic Otter yo-yos. The Cosmic Otters came in a few colors, my favorite is the “dreamsicle” one pictured above and below.

After an hour or two, Tommy said it was time for his mom to pick him up, so we said goodbye to some of the pros and I walked out with him. Unfortunately, after all the troubles of getting to the pros, the whole thing ended up being a total bust, I couldn’t have felt any sadder. While walking out the front gate I bumped into one of the pros that we didn’t see inside the event. His name was “The Lao”. The Lao worked for Infinite Illusions in Florida. He did yo-yo a little, but throwing tops was really his thing. The Lao and I totally hit it off, immediately feeding off each other and making up new tricks or variations of both yo-yo and top tricks. We hung out for at least an hour, it was great. The best part of the whole Warped Tour for me, happened outside the same gate that wouldn’t let us in with our yo-yos earlier. Man, if I would have known that I could have saved $60 bucks and had enough money to eat.

As I look now at my orange and white Cosmic Otter, it always brings back memories of one of the lowest points in my life. The crappy day, living in a city I hated, being flat broke with all of my money tied up in my store, eventually losing all that money because the store couldn’t even break even the year after the boom, etc. It’s weird to look at a yo-yo and be filled with this feeling of regret. It’s as if when I look at it, I’m looking into a crystal ball and seeing myself saying “Sure I’ll move to St. Louis, it sounds like a fun opportunity.”

Joe Mitchell has some awesome photos from the Philly stop here.

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Day 17: The Pink Duncan ProYo

Shortly after Duncan’s acquisition of the Playmaxx line in late 2001, new versions of old Playmaxx yo-yos were hitting store shelves nation wide.

This wasn’t the first time that Playmaxx made it into stores like Walgreens, Target, and Walmart. During the big boom, these stores had racks full of ProYos, Playmaxx’s wooden axled beginner yo-yo, but now the ProYo was back in stores.

It looked weird to see the ProYo in the Duncan section of my nearest convenience store. Seeing the Duncan pogs and same vacuum sealed packaging that is used for the Duncan Imperial, I couldn’t help but the two men most associated with the two companies… Steve Brown and Tom Van Dan Elzen. An odder couple could not be found.

Earlier today I saw a post on yoyoing.com/news about modding a Duncan ProYo. While reading it, I suddenly remembered that when Duncan released their first batch of ProYos in 2002, a mistake was made. All the pink ProYos were actually pink Bumble Bees (Playmaxx’s higher end ball bearing yo-yo). So for just $2, you were actually getting a $15 ball bearing yo-yo.

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Day 16: The Super Tournament Repro

If you walk around town and yo-yo, you’ve probably been stopped by someone and told about “the good old days” of yo-yoing. We all hear the same old stories about how the “Yo-Yo Man” would come to town and do a show in front of the corner store. Afterwards the demonstrator would carve his name onto yo-yos for the kids in attendance, often adding images like a palm tree on an island to supposedly represent the Philippines (most of the early demonstrators were Filipino).

So it’s no surprise that when Duncan released their wooden yo-yo reproductions 9 years ago, Steve Brown and Chris Neff re-instituted the tradition of yo-yo carving Duncan pros.

Neff gave me a carved Duncan Super Tournament during his first tour for Duncan. At the time, he basically lived out of a camper van for months at a time. It’s funny that while the early demonstrators were carving images of far away oceanic scenes, Chris was carving his camper van.

The blue “Doc Pop” Super Tournament was a gift from the awesome Tom Cunningham (aka oldyoyoguy). Awe inspiring, isn’t it?

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Day 15: The AXLerator

The AXLerator isn’t exactly the first narrow body aluminum yo-yo, but it’s probably the first one designed specifically for looping. Up until it’s release, aluminum yo-yos were designed as “sleeping” yo-yos, but Custom didn’t see any reason that aluminum yo-yos couldn’t be used for two handed looping tricks so they gave it a shot.

The AXLerator is a narrow body “Imperial” type design. Like the Roadster by Playmaxx, the sides are concaved, but since the body is hollow, this doesn’t exactly remove middle weight.

The yo-yo didn’t catch on, the two handed yo-yo market was dominated by the Yomega Raider (which is still a standard) and the AXLerator didn’t really offer any improved looping action. I think the biggest flaw in Custom’s design is it’s lack of gap adjustment. Even with brand new “tub tread response” (Custom’s friction sticker) the yo-yos would loop upward. This would only get worse as the stickers got worn in, thus increasing the gap.

The AXLerator appears to be heavy for a looping yo-yo but it’s only 1 gram heavier than the Raider.

Gap issues aside, the yo-yos are very pleasant to use and loop surprisingly well. Actually, if Custom could just narrow the gap I’d quite enjoy this yo-yo.

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Day 14: The Roadster

Most wooden yo-yos on the market are made from multiple pieces of wood. It’s the most cost effective way to make a wooden yo-yo, but working with multiple pieces of wood can cause performance issues since it’s very difficult to ensure that both pieces are the same weight.

According to Tom Van Dan Elzen, the only way to make a well balanced wooden yo-yo is by making it out of a solid piece of wood. That’s why Tom’s company, Playmaxx, released the Roadster Yo-Yo.

The Roadster was larger in diameter than most looping yo-yos. Aside from being a solid piece yo-yo, the Roadster was also given a higher rim weight ratio by concaving the sides (removing some of the yo-yos middle weight).

Around the time of the yo-yos release, Tom acquired the rights to Flores Yo-Yos. The Roadsters that were sold through Dave’s Skilltoys were emblazoned with individual numbers and called Flores Yo-Yos.

So the company that started off as Duncraft, and later became ProYo, but preferred being called Playmaxx, made wooden yo-yos called Flores. I think Tom even mentioned to me his plans of releasing other wooden yo-yos under the Flores name, but these were never made.

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Day 13: YoYoJam’s Ben Jammin

The Ben Jammin was based on a novel idea; why couldn’t two handed players have a decent soft rubber yo-yo like everybody else did?

Based (presumably) on their Gator Jam yo-yo, YoYoJam made their own looping yo-yo with a rubber outer surface. The Ben Jammin, named in honor of Team YYJ player Ben Conde, was their only attempt at this.

I guess the idea wassn’t that far fetched. The Coral Snake, Moonstar, and the Mondial were all supposed to be looping yo-yos with rubber exteriors to cushion the impact on a player’s hand, but all of these yo-yos were also aluminum.

Prior to the Ben Jammin, YYJ’s only experience with rubber was the large o-rings on the outer diameter of their popular Spinfaktor line. So they had very little experience with molding rubber. Dale started off with a soft rubber (see the pictured black rubber yo-yo), but molding this material was tricky and inconsistent.

For the final product, YYJ plasticized the rubber to make it more predictable. In the end though, the final Ben Jammin (with the white rubber) is so dense it basically feels like a hard plastic.

With both models, getting a consistent mold just never seemed possible. If you look at the pictures, you can see the irregular shapes of the rubber components.

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Day 12: The Rubber Bee GT

File Under: Coolest Yo-Yo That never got made.

While searching through some of my old yo-yo photos this morning, I came across these pics of a Bumble Bee GT molded out of a soft white rubber material. I’m not sure who took the photos, but I believe it was Tom Van Dan Elzen that emailed them to me (so presumably he took them).

The concept is awesome, a rubber yo-yo with no plastic or metal hubs. Just a simple one piece design with room for a brake pad and spacers.

Of course the yo-yo had a major flaw though… when spinning it would just go crazy. The centrifugal force would pull the rubber shells in crazy directions making the yo-yo wobble at first, then it would just totally lose control and go unstable.

To this day, I don’t think anyone has successfully built a yo-yo with a rubber hub. The closest thing would be Yomega’s Crossfire yo-yo (video of squishy hubs here). But of course the Rubber Bumble Bee GT was a very simple design and the Crossfire was equipped with like 16 pieces.

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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!