Lite-Brite has been on wish lists for more than 50 years, but it’s not quite the same as it used to be.
Remember them from childhood? (Pictured above, image courtesy of Eighties Girls on Instagram.) The concept is simple. You put a piece of place paper with a colored picture over a grid of holes covering a light. Then you punch clear little pegs into the corresponding holes. The light inside shines through, creating a beautiful picture against a blank background.
It’s not fancy or flashy, but I think that’s one of the reasons I like it. You can get lost in creating the perfect picture with coordinating pegs. It’s no wonder it made Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Toys list.
The times they are a-changin'.
I didn’t even know Lite-Brite was still around until I saw one while shopping in Target with my husband. We were both so excited to come across it. Our daughter, Fiona, loves organizing little things. We were sure it would be a hit, so in our cart it went.
We got home, opened the box, dumped out the pegs, and slapped the first paper template over the grid. Then we showed her how to poke in the little colored pegs ...or not.
Come to find out, the pegs in this new version had been shaved off flat, making them pretty much useless. The point on the top that I remember as a kid—which did the work of pushing through your design template—was completely gone. And no amount of force would get this "new" version through. Dan and I both tried without success, and so of course, Fiona couldn't do it either.
Our fun was over before it even started. But at least we were unharmed, right?
When did Lite-Brite get so dangerous?
I can’t imagine why they changed the very foundation of the Lite-Brite design. The original design had warnings of electric shock, which is a topic for another time. But what possible life-threatening injury could’ve come from being jabbed by a tiny plastic Lite-Brite peg? Maybe prison inmates were pretending to play with Lite-Brites while secretly digging their way out of jail with the pointed pegs. Hmmm.
I couldn't help but wonder what the original inventor of Lite-Brite, Joseoph Burck, would think of this new design. He created Lite-Brite in the 1960s while working for a toy and design company in Chicago who later licensed the design to Hasbro. Would he be disappointed? (By the way, you can pick up a vintage Lite-Brite on eBay for $20 to $40. The original, first design goes for about $300+.)
I certainly was, and so was Fiona. I was so excited to show her this toy, and it just left her confused.
But the story doesn't end there. I still had hopes of Fiona experiencing a little bit of that Lite-Brite magic that I had as a kid. So in one of my more clever parenting moves, I pulled out a toothpick. I showed her how to use the sharp end of it to poke a starter hole in the paper. Then she could carry on just as the original design had intended. Here's a video, below, of her modifying the Lite-Brite in order to play with the toy. Of course, I realize this could now serve as evidence of giving my child sharp objects. And I don't want to be tossed into jail for the gross violations of safe parenting exposed within it. Especially since I won't be able to dig my way out with these pegs.