Archive for Toy reviews

Magic: The Gathering

Playing our first tournament…

My kids are in the middle of playing their first Magic: The Gathering tournament.  We’ve been practicing for weeks, fine tuning our decks. Now we’re ready to try our first tournament.

We get there at 5 p.m., but they don’t actually start until around 5:45. Parking is tough. There’s a mix of about 40 people – little kids (look like 10 yr olds), college kids, and adults.  Gray hair, nerd hair, normal-Joe looking hair. One guy is wearing a pink-checked cap with matching pink backpack. Geek heaven. All guys, except for 1 girl.

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What’s Hot: Toys for holiday season 2010

Like it or not, the holiday shopping season is upon us.  Latest reports say that times may be tough, but shoppers will be buying toys and clothes for kids this holiday season, and only a few things for themselves.  They’ll also be looking for a good value and lower priced items.  Says Lisa Harnisch, Toys R Us VP, there are continued concerns about the economy, but toys for kids are “the last thing they [parents and caregivers] will cut from their budgets”.

Our family is no exception.  While we are fortunate to have income coming in, we’re watching every penny, nickel, and dime.  Christmas in the past usually meant a wii, Nintendo DSi, or iPod, along with a bunch of toys.  Last year, and this year, we are spending much less. 

Every gift has to count – it’s a delicate balance between bringing joy to your child’s heart, and not overtaxing your wallet.  Since we’ll be buying less toys overall, getting the “right” toy – one your child is wishing for, and that you can afford – is important.

With that in mind, and to give you a few ideas, here’s a look at the top and bestselling toys lists from Toys R Us, eBayAmazon, and CNNMoney.

Toys R Us Fabulous 15 – best new toys of the holiday 2010 season:

  1. Calico Critters Luxury Townhouse
  2. Cuponk
  3. Disney Princess & Me dolls
  4. Toys Story 3 Imaginext Tri County Landfill
  5. Fast Land Wild Fire RC
  6. Fisher Price Imaginext Bigfoot Monster
  7. Leapster Explorer
  8. Loopz
  9. Lego Minotaurus
  10. Monster High dolls
  11. Nerf Stampede
  12. Pillow Pets
  13. Sing-a-ma-jigs!
  14. Squinkies Cupcake Surpise! Bake Shop
  15. TOMY Tomica Hypercity Mega Station Set

Toys R Us Holiday Hot Toys List 2010 – by age group:

Baby’s First Christmas

  1. Go Baby Go™ Stride-to-Ride™ Dino from Fisher-Price®
  2. Ocean Wonders™ Deep Blue Sea™ Table from Fisher-Price®

13 months to 2 years

  1. 1-2-3 Large Zoo from Playmobil®
  2. Disney Dance Star Mickey from Fisher-Price®
  3. Lil’ Zoomers™ Spinnin’ Sounds Speedway™ from Fisher-Price®
  4. Ladybug Smart Trike

2 to 4 years

  1. Baby Alive Bouncin’ Babbles from Hasbro®
  2. Calico Critters Luxury Townhouse from International Playthings
  3. Disney-Pixar® “Toy Story 3” Imaginext™ Tri-County Landfill from Fisher-Price®
  4. Geotrax™ Transportation System Christmas in Toy Town RC Set from Fisher-Price®
  5. Imaginext™ Bigfoot the Monster from Fisher-Price®
  6. Lalaloopsy™ from MGA Entertainment®
  7. Pillow Pets™ from Ontel Products Corp.
  8. Small Schoolhouse from Playmobil®
  9. Sing-a-ma-jigs!™ from Mattel®
  10. Squinkies™ Cupcake Surprise! Bake Shop from blip® toys
  11. Thomas & Friends® Thomas’ Mountain Adventure by MEGA Bloks ®
  12. Tomica Hypercity Mega Station Set from TOMY®

5 to 7 years

  1. Disney-Pixar® “Toy Story 3” U-COMMAND Buzz Lightyear from Thinkway®
  2. Disney® Princess & Me™ dolls from JAKKS Pacific®
  3. Fan’s Choice City Public Transport from LEGO® Systems, Inc.
  4. Fast Lane® Wild Fire RC from Toys”R”Us®
  5. Leapster Explorer™ from LeapFrog®
  6. Loopz™ from Mattel®
  7. Monster High™ Cleo DeNile™ and Deuce Gorgon™ doll set from Mattel®
  8. Magic Orbeez Maker from Maya Group
  9. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back AT-AT™ in vintage packaging from Hasbro®

8 – 11 years

  1. Air Hogs® Pocket Copter™ from Spin Master™
  2. CSI Junior Investigator Kit from Toys”R”Us®
  3. Cuponk™ from Hasbro® Games
  4. Ground Force® Drifter from Razor®
  5. Minotaurus from LEGO® Systems, Inc.
  6. NERF N-Strike™ Stampede ECS™ from Hasbro®

Big Kids

  1. Kinect for Xbox 360 from Microsoft®  
  2. PlayStation® Move Bundle with Sports Champions™ from Sony PlayStation®
  3. SCRABBLE FLASH from Hasbro® Games

eBay, Most Popular Searches, Toys:

  1. Transformers
  2. Lego
  3. Lego Star Wars
  4. Star Wars
  5. Nerf
  6. Wonder Woman invisible jet (a Comic Con 2010 inside joke)
  7. Hot wheels
  8. Predator
  9. Power Wheels
  10. Bakugan

Amazon bestselling toys:

  1. Vulli Sophie the Giraffe Teether
  2. Disney’s Toy Story Buzz Lightyear inflatable Jet Pack
  3. Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes
  4. Syma R/C Helicopter
  5. Bananagrams
  6. Uncle Milton Moon In My Room
  7. Baby Einstein Bendy Ball
  8. Playskool Alphie
  9. Fisher Price Sesame Street Silly Sounds Remote
  10. Fisher Price Brilliant Basics Baby’s First Blocks
  11. Multi Voice Changer by Toysmith
  12. Lego Ultimate Building Set – 6166
  13. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Easel
  14. Stomp Rocket Jr. Glow Kit
  15. Alex Toys Friends 4 Ever Bracelet Making Kit
  16. Lego Hogwarts game – 3862
  17. LeapFrog Learn & Groove Musical Table
  18. LeapFrog Scribble and Write
  19. Buddy Bands
  20. Silly Bandz (sea creatures, princess, pets)
  21. Loopz Game
  22. Lego Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle – 4842
  23. Melissa & Doug See & Spell
  24. Qwirkle Board Game
  25. Lego Hagrid’s Hut – 4738
  26. Nerf N-Strike Stampede
  27. Scrabble Flash Cubes
  28. Uncle Milton Rainbow in My Room
  29. Lego Quidditch match – 4737
  30. Fisher-Price Sing-A-Ma-Jigs, Pink
  31. Melissa & Doug Wooden Shape Sorting Clock
  32. LeapFrog Leapster 2 Learning Game System
  33. Squinkies Cupcake Surprise Bakeshop
  34. Lego City Advent Calendar – 2824
  35. Settlers of Catan Board Game
  36. Lego Creationary Game – 3844
  37. Bakugan Dragonoid Colossus
  38. Yookidoo Flow ‘N’Fill Spout
  39. Squinkies Bubble Pack, Series 1

CNNMoney – Hottest toys of 2010:

  1. Air Hogs MotoFrenzy
  2. Hot Wheels Stealth Rides
  3. Paper Jamz
  4. Nerf N-Strike Stampede Blaster
  5. Sing-A-Ma-Jigs
  6. Monster High dolls
  7. Disney Princess & Me dolls
  8. Loopz game
  9. Scrabble Flash game
  10. Leapster Explorer
  11. V. Reader
  12. Real Construction
  13. Lego games
  14. Squinkies
  15. Zoobles
  16. Tonka Chuck & Friends Chuck’s Stunt Park

There you have it – lots of great gift ideas, lots of price ranges, and lots of boy or girl targeted items to choose from.  Start your planning!

Photo by plindberg.

P.S.  In the next week or so, I’ll be updating my What’s Hot:  E rated video games for kids list.  One recently released game sure to make the list is Kirby’s Epic Yarn – here’s a teaser:

 

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What’s Hot: Furreal Friends Furry Frenzies or Zhu Zhu Pets?

Christmas is only a little more than 3 months away.  I know – scary, isn’t it?  Pretty soon it will be Halloween, and then *BAM*, it’ll be Christmas in every store.  It gets a bit overwhelming.  Since every dollar counts in this economy, each year I try to be sure to get a few select toys that my kids really want.

Last year, around November, I found myself desperately seeking Zhu Zhu Pets, with none to be found.  After searching every store in town, one night I went on eBay, and around 1 a.m., found myself bidding $160 for 4 pets.  $160!  For 4 small, furry toys, that I knew would make my kid smile on Christmas morning.  And then, I panicked.  What in heaven was I doing bidding that much for some cheap, little toys that retailed for only $9 each?  Was I insane?  Amazingly, during the middle of my panic attack, I was outbid (by some other sleep-deprived crazed parent, no doubt).  In the end, no Zhu Zhu pets came for Christmas.

I just did a review of Furry Frenzies Cruisin’ Carrier, and I’m trying to guess ahead of time, which will be more popular this Christmas – Furry Frenzies or Zhu Zhu Pets?

Furry Frenzies:

Furry Frenzies are essentially Zhu Zhu Pet clones, but come in a wider variety of animal types – dog, cat, rabbit, hedgehog, raccoon, and chipmunk.  Other differences include:

  • Shorter, thicker bodies, and slightly taller (3.9 x 5.4 x 5.1 inches)
  • Nose button is bigger, and looks more like a normal nose
  • Have ears, and tails
  • Fur is tight fitting on body
  • Stuffed animal type eyes (colored with black center)
  • Recommended for ages 4 and  up
  • More cuddly and cute*

Best selling Furry Frenzies include:  City Center Play Set, Buster Bow Wow (dog), Senorita Scamps (cat), Whirl Around Playground, and Flurry in a Hurry (rabbit).  Pets are typically between $7.99 and $11.99.

Zhu Zhu Pets

It’ll be hard for Furry Frenzies to catch up to and compete with Zhu Zhu Pets.  Zhu Zhu Pets has released many different pets and building sets, including a new line of girl-targeted pets (hamsters and rabbits) in girly colors, plus a new line of Kung Zhu to appeal to boys, with warriors, ninjas, armors and a battle arena.  With Zhu Zhu Pets, not only can you collect all the different pets released (like Beanie Babies), but you can build your Hamster City and continually add different items to your metropolis.  Another notable difference – Zhu Zhu Pets have a website, and hamster blog, and Furry Frenzies have nothing.  Differences include:

  • Pets are primarily hamsters
  • Longer, thinner bodies (2.4 x 5.9 x 2.2 inches)
  • Smaller button on the nose
  • Fur is looser fitting on body
  • Black dot eyes
  • Recommended for ages 5 – 10 years

Best selling Zhu Zhu Pets include:  Jilly, Mr. Squiggles, Funhouse, Kung Zhu Special Forces Hamster set of 4, Nugget, Adventure Ball, Add On hamster wheel, Hamster House Starter Set, Pipsqueak, Wild Bunch set of 4, Sweetie, Scoodles, Kung Zhu Battle Arena, Add On ramp and slide, Carrier and blanket, Funhouse set with hamster, Blanket and bed, Convertible sports car, Rocky, Fluffy, Tex, Carly, Moo, and Justice.  Pets are typically between $8.99 and $11.99, but can be as high as $20 or more depending on popularity and scarcity.

Although there doesn’t appear to be any of last year’s Zhu Zhu Pet craziness yet, on eBay several items – the Giant Hamster City Playset, a Kung Zhu Battle Arena lot (along with Ninja and Warrior hamsters and armor), an Airport, Pizza Parlor, and Beauty Salon set lot, and a set of the girlie pets (Jilly, Pinkie, Sweetie, Roxie, Carly, and Peaches) are in high demand and going for $100-$180.

Similarities between Furry Frenzies and Zhu Zhu Pets include:

  • Both are activated by pressing on pet’s back or nose
  • Both make a variety of sounds
  • Both are on rubberized wheels
  • Both – have to watch don’t get caught in hair

In summary, Furry Frenzies are a relatively new toy, and at this point, they are not even close to Zhu Zhu Pets in sales or popularity.  There is only a very limited selection currently available – 3 playsets, 6 pets – and they are barely offered anywhere; Target online only has the Cruisin’ Carrier and City Center, although in-store they also have the individual pets.  Even though Furry Frenzies are well designed, and *my daughter prefers them over her Zhu Zhu pets, I imagine they will not sell as well as Zhu Zhu Pets, but will probably continue to be in short supply anyway this holiday season.

For Christmas, I’m planning to get my daughter the Furry Frenzies City Center Play Set, and will NOT be waiting until November to order it this year.

What about you?  We only have a small number of Zhu Zhu Pets – I’m interested to hear from people that have the whole hamster habitat-city-metroplis set up.  What do you like best?  Do you feel it was worth the money you spent on it?

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Review: Furreal Friends Furry Frenzies Cruisin’ / Pet Carrier

Furry Frenzies are “fast, furry, and full of funny sounds”.  Basically, they are a new Zhu Zhu Pet clone.  My daughter received the Friends Furry Frenzies Cruisin’ / Pet Carrier for her birthday.  (This toy is SO new, they can’t seem to agree on a name, as on some sites it’s listed as Pet Carrier, and others as Cruisin’ Carrier.)

The Cruisin’ Carrier comes with 1 Furry Frenzy pet – Bumper McBones (a dog).  The take-along carrier case is easy to snap together, and we had fun putting all the colorful stickers on.  It’s a nice little thing to carry 1 or 2 pets in, and the little extra pieces were fun for imaginative play.

The carrier has a handle, and see-through sides, and several openings (none big enough so that your pet will fall out, though) so you can check on your pet.  Inside is a circular area for your pet to run around on.  Doors on 3 sides of the carrier open – one automatically closes when your pet runs in.  The side door opens and has spots to attach the include food and water dishes; you can let your pet run round and round, then open that door and it’ll come out and “eat”.  Comes with 9 accessories (mini plastic teddy bear, hairbrush, pillow, small blanket, can of snacks, water bowl, food bowl, collar, an attachable leash) a mailbox, with moveable door and flag, and “real” letters to put inside, and a large sheet of stickers to customize your carrier.

We also played with the pet on the hardwood floor (no carpets – bad for the wheels) and had races, but then put it to bed with its pillow, blanket, and teddy.

The Cruisin’ Carrier is a fun and engaging toy, perfectly priced for a birthday gift for your child’s friends.  My daughter loves it!  Furry Frenzies are cuddly, cute, zip around on wheels, and make not-too-annoying noises.  Interestingly, my daughter says she likes her Furry Frenzy pets MORE than her Zhu Zhu pets, because they are “more cute and cuddly”.

Recommended age is 4 and up; there are small parts, so you’d want to be careful of that with younger kids.  With any age, it’s important you don’t get the wheels going near your child’s hair (just like with Zhu Zhu Pets) as hair will get tangled in the spinning wheels.  If your child plans to sleep with it, just take the batteries out.  Requires 2 AAA batteries (not included).

A quick price check shows you can get the Cruisin’ Carrier online at Amazon for $17.99, Target for $14.89, or HasbroToyShop for $14.99.

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Review: Nerf, Part 3, Lazertag!

Ever play Lazertag?  It’s basically a game where you run around and target each other, with guns that are smart and can keep track of how many hits you‘ve taken (health) and shots you’ve fired (ammo).  After so many hits, you’re “dead” and the other person wins.  It’s good active fun, with lots of running, hiding, and sniping.

Hasbro sells a Nerf branded, basic Lazertag System 2 Pack set that comes with 2 Phoenix LTX taggers (1 blue, 1 gold) and retails for around $50.  This 2 player system is a relatively inexpensive introduction for your kids into the world of lazertag.

Each Phoenix LTX tagger (made by Tiger Electronics) has interactive lights, sounds and vibrations, including:

  • Built in fire recoil – activated with every shot fired.
  • Rumble pack – hit vibration lets you know when you’ve been hit.
  • Manual reload – when you run out of your virtual ammo, you have to “reload”, which activates an integrated ammo clip, and you need to smack it back up into the handle of the tagger.
  • Force field style shield – blocks hits for 10 seconds.

The tagger comes with switches for:

  • Indoor/outdoor
  • Strength:  10 or 25 (This sets how many times you can be hit before you are “dead” – make sure everyone has these set to the same level before you start)
  • Off/solo/team 1/team 2

and also has indicator lights for:  ammo and strength (that’s your health/hits meter).

The Lazertag System 2 Pack is designed for home use, but we take ours with us and play at playgrounds, and parks.  You can also buy additional taggers for team battles; we only have 2 taggers, and will probably get 2 – 4 more, so more of our family can play in team battle mode (parents vs. kids?).

Recommended for ages 8 – 15 years.  I’m not sure a 6 year old would be able to understand the different lights and settings, or if they would just run around screaming.   Very small kids would probably be more comfortable holding their taggers with 2 hands (which will help them be dropped less), while older kids and adults can easily use 1 hand.  Also, these guns are electronic, so I would avoid dropping them as much as possible; I imagine they it’s not good for them to be smacked into things, or dropped.  Be warned – be sure to pick up a big pack of AA batteries, as you’ll need 6 for each tagger. 

Some people take their lazertag very seriously, with tournaments and massive team battles, along with expensive equipment.  Me?  I just want a quick, fun, inexpensive game for the kids (who beat me every time – clearly I need more practice). 

Note:  The Lazertag 2 pack system you can buy for $50 is just the basic 2 LTX taggers.  For $300+ (on eBay and Amazon) you can get the Lazertag multiplayer system which, in addition to the 2 LTX taggers, includes 2 SHOT BLAST attachments, 2 Pinpoint Sight (green dot sight) targeting units, and 1 video game module.

In conclusion:
All in all, I’ve found that Nerf toys are a good investment – they last a long time, and get played with a lot.  Unlike some toys that break quickly, or that get played with once and that’s it.

The thing I like best about Nerf, though, is that they’re family toys.  Mom and Dad can get in on the action during epic, house wide Nerf gun fights with secret bases, sniping, and lots of overly-dramatic jumping and rolling around.  And, I’ve taken on the boys more than once, in elimination-style swordfighting tournaments.  Lastly, there’s that lazertag practice I need, too – I will defeat them someday…

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Review: Nerf, Part 2, Guns!

Nerf makes guns more than any other weapon.  Most Nerf guns have interchangeable ammo – larger guns with ammo clips, or rapid fires, use snub nose darts; smaller guns use suction cup tipped darts.  They also have dart tag guns that use Velcro tipped darts, and a few guns that shoot foam balls.

When you’re selecting a gun, there are some important considerations:

  • easy to carry – especially when running or hiding
  • good maneuverability – not too big and unwieldy
  • easy and fast to reload
  • accurate aim
  • fires darts a good distance (usually the bigger the gun, the farther it fires, but that is not always the case)

It’s also fun to have lots of guns for teams, so when in doubt, go for quantity and price – it’s better to have 4 $10 guns, than to have 1 huge $40 gun.

The most important thing about Nerf guns?  Respect your ammo.  Take good care of your darts – keep them in a container where they won’t get smushed, squished, or bent.  Damaged darts won’t fire as well, or go as far.

Want to know the secret to winning a Nerf gun battle?  It’s all about the ammo – the easiest way to shut down the other team is to pick up, and keep (or hide) all the ammo they fire at you.

Some of the guns we have:

  • Longstrike ($35) too big gun.
  • Raider Rapid Fire CS-35 ($29) sick, awesome gun; lightweight, lots of ammo, but takes time to load all that ammo.
  • Maverick ($13) small, can hold 6 darts.
  • Recon CS-6 ($20) way too big; we don’t even use the back/shoulder piece or the site.
  • Dart tag ($27) we don’t use the Velcro darts too much, as they’re dangerous to the eyes; we don’t use the vests at all, or the glasses.  It’s a nice idea though, we just use it differently.
  • Nite Finder EX-3, 2 pk ($13) My favorite guns by far; small, lightweight, and accurate.  Add a couple AA batteries, and you get a red laser site, which is fun.  Only comes with 6 darts, so get an extra pack of darts, or you’ll spend all your time hunting for ammo.
  • Firefly REV-8 ($21) nice size, comes with 8 glow-in-the-dark darts.
  • Big Bad Bow ($20) we didn’t bother assembling the plastic bow parts; we just use it as a gun, with extra big rocket arrow darts!
  • Magstrike ($20) rapid fire nerf guns are dear to my heart; there’s nothing like pouncing out and nailing someone with 10 darts in a row!  Comes with a quick loading magazine that holds 10 darts.
  • Longshot CS-6 ($58) another too big gun; we could never successfully keep this gun assembled, and the actual gun part broke.
  • N-strike ($75) worth the money; this gun is actually 3 separate blasters – a Scout Blaster pistol, a Hornet with 6 shots, and the Titan Blaster which is a huge rocket launcher (we don’t let the kids use this one unsupervised in the house).  You can assemble them to make “one awesome unit of soft foam rubber destruction”, but we just use them separately, ‘cause seriously, this thing is massive and heavy as one unit.
  • Nite Finder (single pack) ($7 – 10) the best gun for quantity; buy the 2 pack, tho, it’s cheaper.
  • Micro Darts refill pack ($10) include 30 suction tipped micro darts, and a little mesh bag.
  • Suction Darts 36 pack ($10) no mesh bag, but you get 36 darts.
  • Clip system, snub nose darts 36 pack ($9) for using with rapid fire or recon guns.

Update:  Just read on Crunchgear about the up and coming Nerf N-Strike Stampede ECS-50. The first fully automatic NERF Clip System blaster – shoots 18 darts a minute and includes 3 full clips, 1 small 5 dart clip, a bipod, and a blast shield.  Retail cost will be $55.  This gun looks huge, but wow, sounds like maximum extreme fun.

Hands on with the Nerf Stamped ECS-50 from CrunchGear on Vimeo.

 

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Review: Nerf, Part 1, Swords!

Our family loves Nerf.  Loves, loves, loves Nerf!  When I buy a Nerf toy, I know I’m getting a durable, quality built, fun toy that will keep my kids active.  We should buy Nerf stock.  Seriously, with the amount of Nerf toys we have purchased over the years. 

Nerf sells a wide variety of dart guns, foam swords, and even a lazertag set.  If you’re looking for good, safe, active fun that’s great for indoor play especially on rainy or subzero days, get a Nerf.  And having a bin full of Nerf toys is always good for something to do when your child has friends over.

Part 1:  Swords

Nerf makes 2 different foam swords – a smaller one, and a bigger one.  They’re both durable and colorful, but are very different.

Nerf’s smaller sword (32” long) is the N-Force Fury Sword, which comes in 2 colors:  Shadow Fury Blue and Thunder Fury Yellow.  These are lightweight, 1 handed swords, good for younger kids.  They have a shorter reach than the larger sword, and don’t hurt when hit, unless you’re seriously smacking someone.  You can move quickly, and slash fast with these swords – there’s no flopping around like the bigger sword.  Recommended for ages 6 – 9; I think they’re perfect for any age that can hold a sword, more like ages 3 – 93.  Retail is around $12 – $15.

Nerf’s larger sword (41” long) is the N-Force Marauder Long Sword, which comes in red and black.  These are weighty, 2 handed swords, good for older kids.  They have a long reach, and will hurt when you get hit.  Slightly floppy due to the weight and length, you do need to be a little bit careful when swinging.  Recommended for ages 6 – 12.  It would be difficult for a child under 6 to wield this sword, but for preteens or teenagers, or even grownups (like me!) this sword is a dream.  It’s so much fun to hold the Marauder long sword in your hands – your really feel like Link, with the Master Sword (for Zelda fans out there).  Retail is around $20 – $30.

We tell the kids that swordfighting is more about form, style and movement, and using your imagination than it is about hurting your opponent.  It’s important when battling to have a fair fight, and that your weapons have similar reach.  No hits to the head or face are allowed, of course.  We typically play with touch damage rules, meaning for example, if your opponent touches or strikes your arm with his sword, you can no longer use that arm.  It gets pretty hysterical when you only have 1 functioning arm and leg, and you’re hopping around blocking hits.  Next on our list to buy?  The Warlock Axe – at least 2 of them.

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