World's most awesome cheap Chinese toy

My daughter earned this spinning top for selling wrapping paper in a school fundraiser. It plays the theme from Beverly Hills Cop and draws a laser circle on the floor. Thirty years ago the technology in this toy would have cost $100,000.



  1. I quote Liz Lemon. “What the what?”

    I love that it’s also in the shape of a soccer ball. FOR NO REASON.

    1. i had one of these as well. we used it as a weapon in a “batman” satire movie we made for a high school film class in 1993. which i guess is my life in a nutshell.

  2. Noticed that once the sphere looses velocity the laser tilts upwards possibly burning the retina off the back ones eyes. Not good.

  3. #4: Yes, because they use 10 watt CO2 lasers in a cheap plastic toy.

    I’d wager they’re using a low power Class I laser. Although, it IS Chinese… you never know with their toys.

  4. Here’s a counter example: A couple of months ago I spotted a toy car that would drive around on a table top without falling off. Just like a Roomba with its “cliff sensor”, the car would swerve away from the edges. The catch was that this toy was built in the 1920s.

    Today we throw an all-powerful microprocessor into everything. Back then they used cams, physics and ingenuity to achieve the same goals. A 1920s version of this spinning ball is certainly feasible. Use a miniature record player for the sound, and a light bulb focused on a fixed point. No digital electronics needed. It would probably cost the equivalent of $100.

    1. #10 – Using a microprocessor counts as “physics and ingenuity” in my book. Inventing microprocessors was pretty darn ingenious of us humans. Not sure why that’s somehow less cool than cams. They’re both cool in my book!

  5. Song is Axel F, artist is Crazy Frog. Axel F was originally performed by Harold Faltermeyer for the movie Beverly Hills Cop. Axel Foley was the name of Eddie Murphy’s character in the movie.

  6. yeah, but… the spinning would cause the needle to skip on the record, the light bulb wouldn’t be strong enough to see in daylight, and the batteries needed to power such record player or lightbulb would make the unit very weighty.
    Neil, just try to enjoy the advances made without trying to convince people that we could’ve done the same thing way back when… ’cause we couldn’t… without todays technology. There, I said it.

    1. A spiral record would skip, so that’s why old toys such as talking teddy bears would have photographic cylinders in them. Those will not skip since the head’s position is controlled by a worm drive. Haven’t you seen those notorious speaking dolls where you pull the cord? “Math is hard, let’s go shopping!” They predate electronics.

  7. How about those balls you throw up in the air and they change colours almost like a rubics cube. Those things consistently blow my mind.

  8. I got a musical top with a more traditional shape about twelve years ago. It lit up, but did not project anything on to the floor. The music did not get so distorted.

    It played “Wipeout”!

  9. If by awesome you really mean ANNOYING, I’m right there with you. My son got one of these too. I’m waiting for him to tire of it so I can take it apart. I give it no more than two weeks. I’m interested in the distorted music and whether thats how it plays out of the speaker or if there is some acoustic effect from the spinning that is causing the distortion.

    1. AS it spins, centrifugal force causes a circuit to be made inside the thing that turns the lights and music on. As it slows down, the circuit falls apart causing the distortion

    1. FURRIES!!

      This toy is awesome though, I love that it’s shaped like a soccer ball for reasons unknown

  10. From the 1930s through the 1950s there was a standard design for AM radios called the All American Five because its circuit consisted of 5 vacuum tubes (uh, valves). There was just as much a drive to cheapen consumer goods back then as now, and this design was about the minimum that would provide usable performance to a non-technical user. Many manufacturers churned out the same basic design. TVs used a similar minimalist design, and I remember tinkering with several 1950s sets that had about 13 tubes.

    A vacuum tube is roughly equivalent to a transistor. A simple modern radio (analog tuning) will likely have a hundred transistors (mostly in integrated circuits). A radio with digital features could easily have thousands of transistors. Your digital TV likely has more than 100,000 transistors.

    The 1930s engineer used the same math to describe how a radio works as is used today, but the circuits available implemented a very crude approximation of that math; yet they worked. Today with digital signal processors we can simply type the appropriate equations into a compiler and *poof* a radio (in the form of software) pops out.

    I have a great deal of respect for engineer from 70 years ago that could make neat stuff from iron-age tools.

    1. “I have a great deal of respect for engineer from 70 years ago that could make neat stuff from iron-age tools.”

      Too bad this was an anonymous comment because I was going to nominate it for perhaps one of the 100 coolest things ever said.

  11. I’m pretty sure the “distorion” effect is a result of the Doppler effect.

    I was marveling over my $12 DVD-ROM drive I bought on sale the other day. The technology in that $12 box of parts contains more computing power than was on all the Apollo missions combined, and contains all sorts of components that didn’t exist fifty years ago (miniaturized lasers, for one, integrated circuts for another)… AND it shipped across the largest ocean on the planet, to Dallas for this cost. And someone still made a profit on it. You can’t buy a 12 pack of bottled beer for $12, but you can buy a small miracle (DVD-ROM) drive for that. Mind boggling.

    1. Hadlock, ever seen The Story of Stuff? That DVD player cost someone more than $12, but it only cost you $12.

      And the people that it cost the most weren’t the ones who made the profit, I’ll guarantee…

    2. Hadlock – the same thing that you point out consistently blows my mind as well… The disproportionate importance and value that we place on some items is so bizarre, but this line of thinking always leads me to the conclusion that max_supernova pointed out….

      Someone is always paying the price for cheap goods. This doesn’t mean we should guilt-trip ourselves out of buying what we want, but what it does mean is that we, as consumers, have a duty to limit our consumption to what we will really use and need. It is also important to ALWAYS look at the label.

      If you are worried about the track record of the country in which the product was produced then ask yourself if you *really* need it. If so, your next ponderance should be how much it it is going to cost to buy a comparable product from a country with decent workers conditions.

      But I agree. This is cool.

  12. This toy does stand on the shoulders of giants, but it is a cheap toy. The only reason that it uses such technology is that it’s ubiquitous and cheap as dirt.

    The silicon chip that plays the music is not much effort to produce. It’s a set of canned semiconductor processing steps, repeated millions of times in some big factory to make it seem rather mundane.

    The same with the laser – it’s quite a bit of ingenuity encapsulated in that little chip of InGaAs or whatever, but it’s become boring by now, since they have been made by the billions.

    This gizmo is sure to be full of the hand-made solder joints that indicate that it was made by horribly underpaid labor in China. See Cory’s book Makers.

  13. Makes me think of how we used to use a $60,000 GPS reciever (about 2X bigger than your average PC) for research cruises on ships. Now I’m using one on my phone to figure out where the closest Starbucks is.

  14. Thirty years ago the technology in this toy would have cost $100,000.

    And ten years ago it was probably $45 from the Sharper image. And the handle probably had a lcd clock in it.

    p.s nice floors

  15. Ah yes, but you neglected to mention that your daughter obviously had to sell $100,000 in wrapping paper to earn that toy!

  16. how can you let your kid play with a cheap chinese toy? do you have any idea how much lead is in the plastic, the paint, the solder? not to mention plastics that turn into GHB in a child’s stomach. Just kidding, slightly, still maybe you should take it away for “the child’s safety”, so you can take it apart and see what makes it tick.

  17. without trying to sound creepy, your daughter is cute. (i’m female and not into children the creepy way) and your floors are amazing. if stealing floors were possible and i know where you live, i would come and steal your floors.

    1. I was going to say something about the toy, but what really amazes me is how we live in such a society of distrust that you feel you have to point out you are female and “Not into kids that way”.

      Does one lend validity the other? Are males by default “into kids that way”?

      And trust me, I’m not criticizing, I deal with the same awkwardness. My friends have kids. I meet potential mates who already have kids. It’s a fact, maybe even an instinct: If you’re male, and don’t have any kids of your own, people look at you VERY carefully when you’re around theirs.

  18. Yeah, aside from a bunch of already stated opinions that I agree and disagree with… great floors. I watched it twice to see if your “cross beams” were wood or ceramic tile with imprint.


  19. Hadlock, ever seen The Story of Stuff? That DVD player cost someone more than $12, but it only cost you $12.

    It is hard to get upset though, with the delicious irony of the whole thing. People living in a Maoist workers paradise are the ones ruthless exploited by capitalist corporations, because workers are too powerful to be as exploited in the capitalist west.

  20. My favorite part of Makers wasn’t when the dudes were taking cheap ubiquitous tech and doing things with it. It was the part where dudes who weren’t doing anything were talking about that cheap ubiquitous tech and saying “there’s no sense to it, and anyway we did that shit before” now that was a story worth telling.

    Next from Cory Doctorow: Naysayers.
    (exclusive peek)
    No one did dick.
    (end manuscript)

    Now that’s something I could get behind. This was done in the 20’s but we used turnips instead of computers, because that was the fashion at the time. We weren’t hipping and hopping, We cried if our toy played Axel F, because we hated Detroit cops making our cops look foolish.

  21. Just for posterity, can I point out that I also knew the actual name of the Beverley Hills Cop theme, but wasn’t aware that it was performed by Harold Faltermeyer. I assumed that his career had begun and ended with the music from Top Gun.

  22. “I assumed that his career had begun and ended with the music from Top Gun.”

    He’s the German Vince Clarke – synth boffin/collector extra ordinaire! (Though Vince has flogged his synths and gone virtual recently).

    Faltermeyer has worked with a load of cheese monkeys but his production for Sparks and Pet Shop Boys is ace. The synths on So Hard run tings!

    Oh… and he worked with Moroder on ‘The Chase’ which has to be one of the best techno tunes ever…

  23. The note about this costing a fortune 30 years ago is absolutely right. Aluminum gallium arsenide laser diodes were hundreds, if not thousands of dollars each and the gallium nitride systems needed for bright blue LEDs wasn’t even invented. To say nothing of the DAC processor and solid state storage for the music. Amazing.

  24. I have to confess that even as a child I never understood battery-powered/wind-up toys that you started and then just sat there… looking at them.

    Give me Legos any day. And Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Estes Rockets and Gilbert Chemistry Sets.

  25. Hmm, a spiral record in a spinning housing, you say? Reminds me of the airplane on a conveyor belt dilema. Would the record play if the housing was spinning? Would the rpms stay the same?

  26. I bought an inertia driven spinning top, with neat flashing LEDs, on a recent trip to the USA. Here’s the thing: It gets manufactured in China, shipped to the USA, distributed via (presumably) smaller and smaller ‘trade sales’ outlets before ending up in the novelty shop I purchased it from – for under $5. Yet everybody involved makes a profit – how can this be?

  27. A spiral record doesn’t have to skip, if the needle is held in the groove by a spring — remember the old See-n-Says (before they got chipped) ?

    You can spin those like a top while they’re playing, and they keep playing.

    It’s a need bit of mechanical tech inside.

    I read once that the multi-groove record with spring-locked needle was designed for US Army field instruction (a talking manual that would operate under diverse, and usually unpleasant, conditions) but I haven’t been able to find back a reference to this. Maybe I imagined it, but it sounds great, military tech turning into Chatty Cathy dolls. Oh, Phil Dick, you missed this one!

  28. All this talk of the technology, the song title, but everyone has failed to recognize the psychotic genius that fused soccer, Beverly Hill Cop, and lasers into one toy. Seriously, what kind of deranged fever dream gave birth to this toy? It’s genius. Genius, I say!

  29. You wouldn’t need laser to project 10-20 cm away, only bright LED with a focus. Maybe even there is only one single white LED in the ball and the colors and beams are made by lenses. It would be really cheap.

  30. Stupid toy? Yes, probably. The stupid thing is, Americans will buy it but we can’t or won’t create the factory and the jobs required to make anything similar.

  31. Very true about 30 years ago. They might have only let high paid engineers play with it also. Crazy that a cell phone has more technology in it then the first rocket in space.

  32. My kids got the same spinning top for a school fund raising event… I don’t think that the red light is from laser though. After carefully dissembling the toy, I conclude that it’s simply a focused red LED.

    But, the toy is pretty cool nevertheless.

  33. My boy got a toy at a booth at a festival last year for $4. It was Spiderman’s head and did the exact same song/laser dance as your ball. I could never figure what Spiderman and BHCop had to do with each other. Or Crazy Frog for that matter. Cool toy, though.

  34. Nice toy. I will have to get one of them for my friends 5 year old. I am sure they will love hearing that all day long.

  35. Would people please stop referring to “Crazy Frog” as an “Artist”? That abomination was never ‘art’.
    Someone needs to make an MP3 tag for “Ruiner”, that’s a more apt description.

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