Yes, it’s just a string and a spool! –A spherical spool attached to one’s finger with a cord that is looped around the grooved middle of the spool. When run up and down the cord with skillful throws and jerks, the spool takes positions and does tricks.
It’s been around since ancient Egypt and was played with by Greek youths in 500 B.C. There are reports that Napoleon and his army played with yo-yos just before the Battle of Waterloo. The yo-yo was very popular in the Philippines, and it was a Filipino American, Pedro Flores, who made the yo-yo popular in the United States and the rest of the world in the 1920’s. He sold his company to D.F. Duncan, Sr. who trade-marked the name “yo-yo” and set up his factory making wooden yo-yos in Luck, Wisconsin, which then became the “Yo-yo Capital of the World”.
Contemporary yo-yo culture, however, now includes innovative techniques, sophisticated technologies, large online communities, yo-yo collecting, and international competitions for individuals and teams. Most competitions consist of two parts—compulsory tricks and freestyle. Yo-yo enthusiasts are making efforts to include yo-yoing as an Olympic sport.
Major technological innovations since the 60’s include the automatic return and the ball-bearing yo-yo. Other innovations include the transaxles, free-spinning plastic sleeves, friction pads and O-rings, wide variety of shapes, and materials improvement. A number of yo-yo accessories are available as “after-market” modifications—players buy items, such as ceramic bearings, friction stickers, brake pads, or weight rings, separately from the yo-yo to augment performance over the original model shipped from the factory.
Today’s yo-yo manufacturers feature new materials from titanium to exotic woods; unique names such as Oxygene and Syzgy; and limited editions like “Ride the Void”. Recent innovations include an aluminum body, the auto-return clutch system, and a brake pad response system. China has become the top selling yo-yo market.
How to Select a Yo-Yo:
- There is no single best yo-yo. Certain shapes and models are better suited to various tricks and to different styles of play, as well as different skill levels.
General Guidelines: Skill Level
- For Beginner—Select standard fixed axle with a take-apart design (so one can more easily untangle knots) and an auto-return mechanism.
- For Intermediate—Select transaxle yo-yo, as longer spin times make learning tricks easier.
- For Advanced—Select ball-bearing yo-yo.
General Guidelines: By Style of Play/Tricks
- Imperial or Standard—Best for looping, as having weight towards the center gives increased stability in the air.
- Butterfly—Best for string tricks, as the wide gap makes it easier to catch the yo-yo on the string.
- Modified—Good for both looping and string tricks, as the weight around the rims creates the extra circular inertia that causes the yo-yo to sleep long.
- Off-string—this yo-yo requires two hands, as the string is not attached to the yo-yo. The Chinese Diablo is a giant version of this type.
- Adjust string according to your height.
- Find the correct string tension for each trick.
- Basic yo-yo techniques include sleeping, looping, freehand, and off-string.
Care and Maintenance:
- Do not overtighten a take-apart yo-yo.
- New strings are safer and perform better. Replace string when it looks dirty, shows signs of wear, or feels stiff or hard.
- Help maintain wooden axles by placing a small amount of wax on the last few inches of the axle end of the string.
- Placing a couple of drops of light oil on a bearing yo-yo will help it to sleep and return better.
- The yo-yo is said to be the first toy to fly in outer space. In 1985 NASA sent a basic spinning yo-yo on the Space Shuttle Discover to see what effect microgravity would have on it. In 1992 the yo-yo again made its way into space on the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
- The highest priced yo-yo, signed by Richard Nixon(!) and presented to country music singer and fiddler Roy Acuff at The Grand Ole Opry in 1974, was auctioned off for $16,029.00.
- In 1968, activist Abbie Hoffman was cited for contempt of Congress for “walking the dog” (a yo-yo trick) during a session of the House Subcommittee on Un-American Activities
- Many yo-yo enthusiasts also enjoy sporting yo-yo shaped objects, such as cell phones, salt and pepper shakers, clocks, and cocktail shakers.