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Don't look now, Mom, but the neighbor kids are throwing their noodles in the pool!

Red noodles. Green noodles. Oodles of noodles!But no need to sprint for the spaghetti strainer. That's where they're supposed to go. That's because these "noodles" - soft and pliable 3- to 6-foot polyethylene foam rods that children carry to the water like giant neon swizzle sticks - are the hottest pool toy since the beach ball.

More than 6 million pool noodles were sold last year in the United States and Canada. Several large retailers in Kansas City were sold out of the toys earlier this month.

Kristine Norton of suburban Lenexa, Kan., bought her first one several weeks ago.

That's all she could find. One.

She has three kids. Three.

"I got one for the little guy (her 4-year-old son, Tyler). And when I got home, my other kids (Sarah, 8, and Travis, 10) are like, `Hey, did you get me one?' "

She didn't. But she plans to as soon as stores restock.

Norton likes noodles (marketed under the name Funnoodles, Water Logs, Aqua Stix and other brand names) because they're safe, nontoxic and - at less than $5 - relatively cheap.

"All the kids seem to have them at our pool," she said.

And at every other pool that allows them. (Some don't.)

What do you do with a noodle?

Some kids float on them. Some fence with them. Others bop their big brothers with them. You can even bend them around your waist or make shapes using various connectors (sold separately; about $5 for three).

One caution, safety experts say: Noodles should not be used as flotation devices for children who cannot swim.

Michael White, vice president of sales and marketing for Industrial Thermo Polymers Ltd. in Toronto, which developed the pool noodle, said the device has endless uses.

"I see half the kids playing with them in the water and half out of the water," he said. "It's only limited by their imagination.

Norton agreed.

"I like them," she said. "At first I thought, `Aw, this will be a waste, something they won't use.' But it seems like a lot of kids do bring them to the pool and they do use them."