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One of the hot toys this Christmas season starts with an ancient concept - the spinning top. This new version is called a Beyblade, and Hasbro is expecting Beyblades to be popular stocking stuffers. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: One day on the playground at my son's elementary school, I saw a pack of boys all huddled around, watching or doing something possibly illicit. I was suspicious. But now I let them do it at the house.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Three-two-one, let it rip.
BLAIR: They were battling Beyblades - these round metal tops. Six-year-old Charlie Mills has about six of them.
CHARLIE MILLS: You rip it with a launcher and a string and it falls in a stadium.
BLAIR: The stadium is really just a plastic tub.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah!
BLAIR: Now kids have been spinning things for fun ever since there were acorns. But the Beyblade has a lot of extras: different colors and styles. Its own cartoon.
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BLAIR: And, best of all, interchangeable parts, so you can build and customize them. Derryl DePriest is vice president for marketing at Hasbro.
DERRYL DEPRIEST: Some tops, if they have a very flat bottom, will just launch into the arena, not move very much at all and kind of spin forever. And those are called stamina tops. Some tops if you have a little narrow, like a pencil point at the tip, will jump all over the place. And those are called attack tops.
BLAIR: So they're competitive, mechanical, collectible and mostly under ten dollars - a jackpot for Hasbro. The company says 120 million Beyblades have been sold worldwide.
Hasbro has a history with Beyblades. The company first launched them in the U.S. about ten years ago. And they were a hit back then too. But Derryl DePriest says it was only conceived as a three-year brand. So to spruce up the relaunch and capture a whole new generation of boys, they added a website where kids can have virtual Beyblade battles.
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BLAIR: The original Beyblade was made by the Japanese company Takara Tomy, the same folks who made Transformers. And, like Transformers, there are different Beyblade characters like Gingka and the nefarious L-Drago who spins to the left.
DEPRIEST: Our Japanese partners created the series with a storyline built around basically a collection of kids who harness and master the power of spirits, spirits drawn from the constellations who have kind of housed themselves in the form of tops.
BLAIR: This year, Hasbro also held the very first National Beyblade Battle.
ZAKIAH GARCIA: My name is Zakiah Garcia. I'm 11 years old and my title is Beyblade National Champion for the U.S.
BLAIR: Zakiah Garcia lives near Los Angeles. He says his strategy is to practice a lot and to understand what all of the parts do. He also gives credit to his Beyblade of choice - the underdog Big Bang Pegasus.
GARCIA: Big Bang Pegasus, I like it because it's stamina then defense. So it's still the underdog. But I like using the underdogs and, hey, I made it to the world championships, so I guess Big Bang Pegasus has been working for me.
BLAIR: In March, Zakiah Garcia will compete in the World Beyblade Championship in Toronto. Bladers from over 25 countries will compete.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
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