- Buyer's Guide
As long as there have been bored or antsy people, there have been fidget toys to help them cope. In school, prior to smartphones, many students chewed on the tops of their No. 2 pencils or Bic pens. Pen spinning and twirling were popular too.
For years, there wasn’t much movement in the fidget community but sometime in 2017, fidget spinners hit the scene. The early iterations were created on a 3D printer and consisted of a skateboard ball-bearing friction fitted into the center of a 3-lobe spinner. Circles cut out in each of the three arms allow for additional bearings to be installed, adding weight. The user would simply pinch the center with his or her index finger and thumb and spin the stress-relieving toy.
Soon, savvy entrepreneurs found ways to turn a simple and inexpensive DIY project into something more professional and serious. The first of these inventors was Scott McCoskery who invented the two-lobed Torqbar, the first high-end fidget spinner, and the rest, they say, is history…
Types of Fidget Toys
Despite their popularity, fidget spinners are not the only type of fidget toy. In fact, any sort of device that helps with stress or anxiety, or just boredom, could be considered a fidget toy. Usually, these devices are small, and pocketable, and promote some sort of movement; whether the toy itself or the user handling the device.
Previously discussed fidget spinners are still among the most popular fidget toys today. They are typically simple affairs consisting of a capped sealed bearing in the center and weighted arms or wings that allow them to achieve long spin times. Like tops (arguably a fidget toy in its own right), makers have worked on improving spinners by using high-quality bearings and experimenting with different (exotic) materials and weights. For example, Torqbar offers everything from stainless steel to titanium spinners, and even some with Mokuti buttons for that extra show.
Enjoying their time in the spotlight right now are Sliders. They typically consist of two plates with flat surfaces that are joined using magnets. Occasionally, sliders like the Lautie Shuffle have small slits where metal nubbins slot in and keep the sliding on track but most rely on the unique and seemingly-magical way magnets work to get things homed to the right position. With different arrangements and numbers of magnets, slider designs can allow for multiple stages or clicks, and some even allow the user to spin the plates before bringing them to a reset position.
Some sliders are downright artistic like the Camera-M, meant to invoke memories of a Leica M-series film camera. Produced by WANWU Studio, the Camera-M has separate clickers for both the lens and shutter.
Finally, makers like Magnus Macdonald of New Zealand have experimented with different textures and grooves on sliders, which add a different dimension and feeling to the sliders.
This could be a whole category itself but it simply refers to any fidget toys that provide a tactile and sensory experience. One of my personal favorites in this category is the Chill Pill, which like the name implies, consists of two halves of a (medicine) pill, connected with a pair of strong magnets that you can roll around your palm, clicking the pill apart and then together again. Made from both metal and plastic, and coming in a variety of colors and alloys, the Chill Pill functions as a flipper and slider. A combination that’s super addictive!
Button fidget toys are exactly like the name implies – one or more buttons mounted on a device that is often spring-loaded and allows you to click. Lautie, a popular fidget toy maker, recently released the Puffercrash, which is meant to mimic popping bubble wrap, something we’re all familiar with! A variation to a button fidget toy, but a lot less portable, are mechanical key testers. These are small devices that allow the user to install different types of keys to test for actuation, noise, and pressure before committing to an expensive build. However, some users keep them around to fidget with.
Rockers are fidget toys that work by snapping a plate back and forth over a fulcrum, much like a see-saw on a playground. Again, utilizing strong magnets, the rocker allows for satisfying repeatable motion back and forth with distinct homing in with each pass. Like Sliders, different grooves and designs can be incorporated to add different tactile experiences. The choice of plate material also has a large impact on performance as well, with Teflon, brass, titanium, and zirconium being popular choices.
Cubes and Combo Devices
The Fidget Spinner’s creator gives credit to the Fidget Cube as a source of inspiration. It still remains the third most backed product in Kickstarter history and was unique in that it brought six different functions (one for each side of the cube) into one vinyl desktop toy. The brothers Matthew and Mark McLachlan went on to raise nearly 6.5M from backers. There are plenty of variations now and some makers even allow you to customize the function on each side.
At the end of the day, a fidget cube is just a specialized multi-function fidget toy. The Camera-M device mentioned above is both a slider and clicker/button. These types of fidget toys are not unusual and offer multiple experiences in one package, which is ideal if you’re the type of user who likes to mix things up.
Last but certainly not least are fidget rings which look like traditional jewelry you wear, except they are able to freely spin with the use of ball bearings. Like all rings, they come in a variety of materials and sizes and have the added benefit of always being there all the time. Tangentially, a company from Ukraine called Fingears has introduced a unique product with the same name. It’s a set of three rings that attach to each other, magnetically, through the outside surface. With enough practice, there are at least ten tricks you can master, rotating and spinning the rings around each other.