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By Teri Goldberg

The first batch of one of this season’s hot toys “sold out” before kids even had a chance to write Santa a letter. Whether generated by manufacturer’s hype — the toy is packaged in a windowless box labeled “TOP SECRET” — or seen by savvy consumers as a great opportunity to resell on eBay, Fischer Price’s 10th anniversary has been out of stock at many mainstream retailers and selling on cyber auction sites for as much as $150, more than three times its retail value of $39.99.

So what is all the hype about? Elmo has done the Hokey Pokey, disco-ed to YMCA and in his first blockbuster year, when the electronic version debuted as Tickle Me Elmo, he giggled. Well, he’s come full circle. Sort of.

This year, he laughs. But he doesn’t just laugh. He lies on the floor face up, kicks his feet and laughs. He rolls on his side and laughs. He lies face down on the floor, pounds his fist and laughs. Actually, his laughing fit easily could be mistaken for a tantrum.

Elmo has competitionPerhaps it’s time to look elsewhere. That is, why scramble when there are other adorable, if not more adorable, toys on the market? Take for example, Thinkway Toys’ Tap Dancing Mumble, ages 4 and up, $34.99. The tap dancing toy, which requires 4 AA batteries, is based on the cuddly penguin featured in “Happy Feet,” an animated musical film set in Antarctica.

The Backyardigans: Sing & Spin Pablo Plush

Mumble, can’t sing (unfortunately because every penguin needs a heart song to attract a mate) but he sure can dance. Talk to Mumble and he not only flaps his wings and tap dances but also talks back. “I don’t know my feet are just happy,” is one of his favorite expressions. He also struts his stuff to one of the songs in the movie “Jump N Move” and dances along with any music you play from a MP3 player, stereo or radio.

If Tap Dancing Mumble doesn’t woo you with his fancy footwork, there’s always the singing and dancing plush toy , ages 18 months and up, $29.99. Pablo, who requires 4 AA batteries, is one of Nickelodeon’s five Backyardigans, who regularly meet in their backyards and conjure up imaginary adventures together. In contrast to Mumble, however, the bright turquoise-and-yellow penguin can sing. Just squeeze Pablo’s right hand and he belts out “The Backyardigans”theme song.

No batteries needed

Monopoly

Several toys that made trade magazines’ and retailers’ lists (the folks who release these kind of lists) don’t even require batteries. Hasbro released a new version of Monopoly, called , ages 8 and up, $29.99. The new board game resembles the old classic but “like in the real world, everything has gotten more expensive,” says a Hasbro spokesperson.

Times Square, the most expensive property, replaces the coveted royal blue Boardwalk at a price tag of $4 million. Cleveland’s Jacobs Field and Dallas’ Texas Stadium, housed in the “low-rent” district (dark purple), will set you back $600,000. In all, 22 top travel destinations are featured rather than limiting play to the Atlantic City boardwalk area as in the original game.

Players also collect $2 million instead of $200 when they pass go. Game pieces have also morphed and now take a the form of a cell phone, laptop computer, hybrid car and a trendy mixed breed called Labradoodle — a cross between a Labrador Retriever and the standard poodle.

Speed Stacks cups

Another surprise on several of this year’s hot toy lists is , ages 4 and up, $39.99 — basically a pile of 12 plastic cups. The object of the game is to stack and unstack the cups in pre-determined sequences as fast as possible. The game comes with an instructional DVD, a special mat, a timer that records your speed up to 100th of second and a mesh carrying case to tote around the goods.

The idea behind the game is it already exists as a sport. Believe it or not, Speed Stacking has been part of physical education programs for more than a decade and is now played at more than 12,000 schools nationwide. Until this year, however, the “equipment” was sold directly to the schools, says Jay Foreman, president of Play Along, a division of JAKKS Pacific, the company that is mass marketing the concept “over the counter” to the public.

What makes the sport unusual is that it’s co-ed. “I challenge anyone to find a sport where boys can compete against girls and girls can be a good as boys,” says Foreman. As a matter of fact, the world record holder right now is a girl, he adds. That title belongs to Emily Fox, who competed at the World Championships in Colo. Check out the video online.

Other electronic wonders
Of course, other electronic wonders showed up on several hot lists including LEGO’s , ages 10 and up, $249.99, a toolset used to design, build and program robots; , ages 6 and up, $250, Nintendo’s newest video game console; and , ages 4 and up, $299.99, a life-sized animatronic plush toy that makes realistic movements when touched.

A cool moderately priced gadget courtesy of Fischer-Price is the , ages 3 and up, $69.99. The rubberized pink or blue camera looks like an old-fashioned View Master but takes real digital pictures. Kids can view their photos on a 1.3-inch color LCD screen and then trash the shots they don’t like. The memory card, which comes with the camera, holds 60 pictures. Photos can be transferred to a computer using the USB cord and software (included). The camera is compatible with Macintosh or Windows 2000 or higher, and runs on 4 AA batteries and 1 lithium battery.

Other toys that made Toy Wishes magazine hot list and received Family Fun’s T.O.Y. awards (selected and voted on by kids nationwide) include:

  • Baby Alive, Hasbro, ages 3 and up, $49.99
  • Barbie and the 12 Dancing Princesses, Mattel, ages 3 and up, dolls $24.99; horse & carriage, $32.99
  • Bead Blast, Perler Beads, ages 5 and up, $20.99;
  • Biggest Littlest Pet Shop, Hasbro, ages 4 and up, $44.99
  • Bratz Forever Diamondz, MGA Entertainment, ages 6 and up,$29.99
  • Bratz Cyber Style Laptop, MGA Entertainment, ages 6 - 10, $59.99
  • Deal or No Deal Electronic Game, Irwin Toy, ages 8 and up, $29.99
  • Diego’s Talking Rescue Center, Fisher-Price, 24 months - 6 years, $29.99
  • Digi Makeover, Radica Games Ltd., ages 8 and up, $59.99
  • Fly Wheels XPV,Jakks-Pacific Inc, ages 8 and up, $59.99
  • Lil’ Luvables Fluffy Factory Spin Master, 36 months - 8 years, $19.99
  • Magtastik,Mega Brands Inc., ages 3 and up, starter set $29.99; individual sets $5.99 and
  • Star Wars Transformers: Millennium Falcon Hasbro, ages 5 and up, $34.99

As the season heats up, look for sales or promotions at neighborhood toy stores and major retailers, such as KB Toys, Toys R Us, Amazon, Kmart, Walmart and Target, if they can manage to keep them on the shelves.