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Which toys will be hot? Here are a few guesses

SHARE Which toys will be hot? Here are a few guesses

Dear Dr. Tightwad - Any word yet on what is shaping up to be the Tickle Me Elmo of this holiday season? I like to do my toy shopping early to avoid crowds and hysteria.

Answer - So unpredictable is the toy market that manufacturers themselves are often surprised when a toy takes off. Lynn Rosenblum, president of Toy Power, a consulting firm in Glendale, Wis., says Elmo owed his success to the "one-of-a-kind media opportunity" that resulted when Rosie O'Donnell built a segment of her talk show around the Muppet.

This year Elmo will have competition from a Sesame Street neighbor, Sing & Snore Ernie (about $30) who warbles "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," then snores away as his tummy moves up and down. Plush dolls based on the classic storybook character Corduroy, PBS's popular "Wishbone" and "Arthur" series, and the Tasmanian Devil of Warner Brothers' cartoon fame will also be popular.

Even at prices near $100, electronic versions of Barbie and Barney are walking out of the stores. ActiMates Barney (around $99), Microsoft's first venture into the toy business, comes with a 2,000-word vocabulary and the ability to interact with CD-ROM games or the "Barney" TV show. (In addition to the cost of the doll, you'll pay about $60 for the CD-ROM and about $30 for the TV accessory kit.)

Talk With Me Barbie (about $90) has her own plastic computer and carries on a personalized conversation with her owner via CD-ROM.

A couple of crazes from earlier in the year are spilling over into the holiday season. The latest generation of those virtual pets that kids carry in their pockets and hang around their necks includes movie characters such as the Little Mermaid.

And Beanie Babies haven't lost their appeal. At a recent trade show, "buyers were lined up three deep" at the Beanie booth, says Devorah Goldman, senior editor of the newsletter Selling to Kids.

Among action toys, the Hot Wheels JPL Sojourner Mars Rover, a $6 replica of the real thing, is an early hit. And anything associated with Star Wars is a perennial favorite with both kids and adults.

To avoid shortages - and disappointment - try to supplement your children's wish list with toys that aren't advertised on TV. Stevanne Auerbach, who directs the Institute for Childhood Resources, compiles an annual list of the top 100 toys that "build skills after the batteries have run out." You can find the list online at www.drtoy.com.

Meanwhile, if you see something your kids might like, scoop it up.