All of a sudden everyone remembers it.
Twist, turn. Twist, turn. Make a line; make a picture. Unhappy with the outcome? Shake it and start over again.
Since 1960 Etch A Sketch has been one of those classic toys that most everyone plays with in elementary school, then leaves behind.
And then, a verbal gaffe by a Mitt Romney strategist named Eric Fehrnstrom made the iconic red-framed toy the talk of the Republican campaign.
Etch A Sketch is a star again. Many people are either pulling the toy out of the bottom of dust-covered chests or buying new ones. Sales are surging on Amazon.com, the stock price of its parent company more than doubled Thursday, and it's center stage on the campaign trail, with Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich brandishing the toy with the same pride as when Steve Jobs showed off a new Apple gadget -- mocking Romney's etch-a-sketchiness.
All because Fehrnstrom answered a question about Romney's politics now versus next fall, by likening the campaign to an Etch A Sketch: "You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."
While Fehrnstrom's statement may have created a political firestorm, some North Jersey residents don't want to see their beloved toy tossed in the muck of campaign mudslinging.
"The Etch A Sketch is traditionally red," said Scott Harris, a painter and owner of Blast Gallery in Teaneck. "I would hate to see it aligned with the Republicans. Maybe the Etch A Sketch has to see a blue version of itself."
The Ohio Art Co., makers of the Etch A Sketch, were the clear winners in this political battle. Its stock price closed at $9.65 Thursday after opening at $4, and sales on Amazon are up more than 1,000 percent this week, according to company spokeswoman Nicole Gresh.
Long before Republican strategists co-opted the toy, Dr. Chaye Lamm Warburg of Pediatric Occupational Therapy Services in Teaneck used the device with her patients. Etch A Sketch is a great tool for developing children's coordination and motor skills, said Warburg, who has been in practice for 30 years.
Most kids have the toy at home so they can practice outside of therapy, Warburg said. "One of the great things about the Etch A Sketch, it doesn't leave a visible record. If a kid doesn't like the result, they can shake it out and have the opportunity to start again" she said.
Lauren Finkel, 17, of Tenafly found multiple uses for her Etch A Sketch. As a child, when the mood struck, she said, she would shake it like maracas, creating a sandy rhythm. "It was my absolute favorite toy as a child," Finkel said. "Just making crazy designs and scribbles and then shaking my art was enough fun to keep me entertained for hours."
Since 1960, about 150 million Etch A Sketch devices have been sold, Gresh said. In addition to the classic red rectangle with a gray screen and two white knobs, the brand now sells everything from Etch A Sketch pens, key chains, travel-size versions, Spider-Man and Disney Princess models and, of course, a smart-phone app.
Finkel recently tried the iPhone Etch A Sketch app but found it unsatisfying. "It's not the same as having a big toy and weight in your hand. It obviously wasn't the same," she said.
Keith Drake, an Etch A Sketch artist and graphic designer from Plainfield, knew he'd be receiving phone calls as soon as Fehrnstrom's comments went viral.
"I thought, 'Oh, boy people will be interested in me because of the Etch A Sketch comment,'" Drake said. "It's not really pro or con for the Etch A Sketch, but it's an unfortunate association."
Drake, 57, received his first Etch A Sketch as a Christmas gift from his grandmother in 1963, just three years after the toy debuted.
"I was sketching at a Christmas party and got a lot of complements from adults. I thought it was a cool thing to continue." One of his early drawings was a sketch of a piano with a candelabra.
Among the pieces Drake has been commissioned to produce is a version of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album cover with the client's family members inserted into the background. To lock in an Etch A Sketch image for customers, he breaks open the device, removing the fine silver powder on the inside.
Harris' crowning moment of joy as a child was mastering Fred Flintstone's likeness.
"It's a very simple tool," he said. "To be able to do round shapes and angles, it's just timing and moving your left and right hand in the right way."
For Harris, the magic of the toy is its impermanence.
"It's not about saving everything. The preciousness is in creating and not the actual object you make."
(c)2012 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
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