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A new 'chip' off the old block

These kids are smarter than their parents. They are more technologically oriented. And they quickly learn what they want.

Sound familiar?

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We're talking about toys. Son of Furby has arrived.

Those furry toys that speak their own language, talk among themselves, and drive parents into a buying frenzy now have had their own children. Well, maybe not exactly children, but a newer high-tech version of themselves. Just call them a bigger chip off the old block.

The new version of the toy, called Furby Babies, is one way Tiger Electronics Ltd. hopes to keep the Furby fad going. Indeed, maintaining interest in toys is often a challenge. Only Tuesday, Ty Inc., the manufacturer of Beanie Babies, said it would retire their toys this Dec. 31. The announcement immediately created headlines - and perhaps new interest.

Last year, Furbies were the hottest toy around, snaring a chunk of the $1.6 billion spent on plush toys. Tiger Electronics estimates it sold 10 million of the strange-looking plush pets. According to the company, the shelf life of the $29.99 toys is three days.

This year, Tiger is trying to get as many toys to the retailers as possible, hoping to avoid the parent-buying panic of last December when the toys hit over $75 on the Internet auction lines.

"We're not anticipating any great shortages, we're shipping as many as retailers order," says Roger Shiffman, president of Tiger. "We hope things don't get as crazy as last year."

The toy has spawned a virtual industry. For example, Tiger licensed the rights to Furby for T-shirts, games, and backpacks.

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"It's gone beyond a toy - it's become a brand," says Shiffman.

You don't have to tell that to Phyliss and Frank Bonetti of Staten Island in New York. Their six-year-old daughter, Jenna, has six of the toys, plus everything from slippers to coloring books. She has added 72 Furbies from McDonald's, four bean-bag versions, and three backpacks.

"It's at the top of her list for Christmas," says Mrs. Bonetti as she purchases more of the new generation toys at a Toys 'R' Us store in Manhattan.

The baby Furby has a 25 percent larger vocabulary and 233 percent more phrases and responses than the original. It also can tell when it's communicating with a parent or another baby. It may even be "intelligent" enough to be called a smart aleck kid.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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