Monday, August 13, 2007

Apple #260: Yo-Yos

I was on the phone with a friend of mine the other day, and he mentioned yo-yos. I hadn't thought about yo-yos in years.

Mini glitter yo-yos in Halloween colors.
(Photo from Costume Express)

  • The oldest known yo-yos are from 550 BC. According to paintings on Greek vases, Greek boys were given yo-yos, probably at coming-of-age ceremonies.
  • In the 1700s, yo-yos were called "quizzes."
  • In the 1800s, yo-yos were called "bandalores."
  • The first actual yo-yo was manufactured in 1928 by Pedro Flores, who was from the Philippines, where they called quizzes and bandalores "yo-yos." In Tagalog (language of the Philippines), the word means "come come," or "come back."

Pedro Flores, with one of his yo-yos that he manufactured in the United States
(Photo from Yo-Yos.Net)

  • Four years later, Donald F. Duncan bought Pedro Flores' yo-yo business and started making more yo-yos, and in more styles and of various materials, but primarily wood.
  • By 1962, due to Duncan's switch to plastic and with the help of TV commercials, yo-yos skyrocketed in popularity.
  • In 1965, a lengthy court battle over whether the word "yo-yo" could be trademarked resulted in Duncan losing the right to trademark the term, and the subsequent bankruptcy of both Duncan and the company that sued it.
  • In 1968, a company called Flambeau bought the rights to Duncan-brand yo-yos. They are the ones who make Duncan yo-yos today.

Diagram showing how plastic yo-yos are made
(Image from How Products Are Made)

  • The longer you can get a yo-yo to "sleep" or spin at the end of its string without winding back up the string, the more tricks you can make the yo-yo do. So people have made lots of innovations to yo-yos over the years, mainly to make them sleep longer and to make it easier for people to perform tricks with them.
    • Some of the innovations have included changing the spindle in the middle from wood to metal, thus reducing the friction.
    • Another innovation was inverting the two outer halves of the yo-yo so that the bulk of the material was on the outside and less material on the inside (the Butterfly).

This is John, and he did some of his own experiments about how to increase a yo-yo's sleeping time.
(Photo from PBSKids)

    • More recent innovations have included adding ball bearings, as well as a clutch. Yo-Yos are getting almost as complicated as cars!
    • Currently, the favorite type of yo-yo among champion yo-ers is called the freehand. In this model, the yo-er does not loop the end of the string around the finger but instead holds a counterweight (like a six-sided die). This helps keep the string taut but not to the point where the yo-yo wants to snap back up the string. In addition, the yo-er can move or drop or adjust the counterweight as needed while performing a series of tricks.

The Duncan Freehand Zero,
(Photo from Product Wiki)

  • A long-time competitive yo-champion is Stephen D. Brown, who worked at Duncan for years and patented several new yo-yos. He has since left Duncan and is pursuing a full-time career in yo-yo performance.

Here is a video of one of Steve Brown's performances. It's pretty entertaining. And, when you realize that with the exception of when he clutches the yo-yo in his fist, the yo-yo is spinning the entire time, it's quite impressive.

But then, this guy, Hiroyuki Suzuki, the 2006 World Yo-Yo Champion, kicks Mr. Brown's ass.

[edit: I'm not sure what video I had originally posted here, but it went away. This may not be the same video, but it is Hiroyuki Suzuki, showing off his unreal yo-yo skills.]

  • You can buy a Duncan yo-yos today for anywhere from $3.49 for the Butterfly or the Imperial to $21.49 for the FH (Freehand) Zero.

Duncan Yo-Yos
Lucky Meisenheimer's Yo-Yos.Net
Tom Harris, Howstuffworks, "How Yo-Yos Work"
Peter Weiss, "Reinventing the Yo-Yo," Science News Online, April 17, 2004


  1. Digging the videos, Apple Lady! I love hearing the crowds' reactions... and yeah, Suzuki pretty much owns the stage.

    Weirdly, I've heard of Steve Brown before. Through MetaFilter I think. I remember seeing this video.

    I guess he was "asked" to retire, or forced to, because he kept winning all the competitions he entered? But then digging around more on Wikipedia, it seems like he somehow returned to competitions (how?) after being fired from Duncan. Mystery and intrigue. :)

    As an aside - while I was digging around for that video clip (above), I found this MetaFilter thread. Did you know Duncan also founded the Good Humor ice cream company? And invented the parking meter? Craziness!

  2. Is it merely coincidental that The Apple Lady has been living a crazy, yo-yo autorepair life?

  3. Thanks for the additional info, avoision. You have a habit of adding nice extras -- I'm thinking of your comments to the original David Lee Roth entry, complete with photo extraordinaire.

    And anonymous, yes, it is coincidence that I chose to do an entry about yo-yos. And I should clarify: my life is not currently in a state of self-repair, but I am embroiled in endless automobile repairs. Or disrepair, actually.


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