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Pulling Strings

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Eleven-year-old Scott Brown, who attends Pinecrest School in Thousand Oaks, began doing yo-yo tricks only a year and a half ago. But he quickly got so good at this ancient recreational art that he’s become a mentor to other kids.

This summer he has been participating in the “Yo-Yo Trick Exchange,” which takes place Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at Zany Brainy, an educational toy store in Westlake.

Asked how he became interested in something that many adults might think went the way of poodle skirts, he replied nonchalantly, “I saw there was this other kid with a yo-yo and it looked pretty cool, so I decided to try it.” Apparently, yo-yos, like diamonds, are forever.

The instructor who leads the trick exchange at Zany Brainy is Gene Bock. He says the free program has been going on since the first of the year and was “popular right from the beginning--with dozens of kids showing up each week.”

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Bock and several of his colleagues at the store demonstrate the more advanced tricks themselves. Some of these tricks have colorful names, such as “Sky Rocket,” “Double or Nothing” and “Ursa Minor” (the string is manipulated to form a star while the yo-yo is still spinning).

But the trick exchange gatherings have been quite collegial, said Bock. “When kids show off the simpler tricks,” he said, “kids learn more,” because they are learning from each other. Thus, Scott and several other kids quickly became valued members of the demonstrator team.

Bock’s role has consistently been that of safety instructor. “The first thing I cover at each event is safety. Yo-yos were supposedly used as a weapon in the Philippines--you can see it’s possible.”

To the kids he says, “Yo-yos can go flying all over the place, so when you throw it hard, don’t throw it at someone in front of you. The string might come undone.”

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He also explains that, when doing yo-yo tricks, “You have to have room. Sometimes kids don’t watch what’s going on around them in an enclosed space--and I hope no one will do some of the tricks (they may know) inside the store.”

The well-known trick called “around the world” is one that should not be performed in an enclosed space for obvious reasons. As some readers may recall, it involves spinning the yo-yo around you while it’s extended the full length of the string.

Reflecting on the status of this form of recreation, Bock (with a straight face) said, “It’s a very up and down industry.” In all seriousness, the sport has its lulls in popularity.

Right now, the interest level is level. Price is probably a factor, with a serviceable yo-yo averaging only $10, although more expensive ones are available--including some made with ball bearings.

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Bock, who is himself a purist, does not quite approve of some of the more elaborate yo-yos. But he will teach kids how to do special tricks with them, nonetheless.

BE THERE

“Yo-Yo Trick Exchange,” kids 7 and up learn the latest yo-yo techniques, Fridays, 7-8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2-3 p.m. Zany Brainy Educational Toys, 111 S. Westlake Blvd., Westlake. Free. (805) 449-4277

“The Annual National Yo-Yo Championships” will be held in Chico on Oct. 3. For information, call (916) 893-0545.

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