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This is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report on IEEE SPECTRUM'S 2009 Holiday Gift Guide
The yo-yo, like the Frisbee before it, has gone pro.
It's no longer just a US $2 piece of circular plastic that unspools down a string and spools back up. A top-of-the-line yo-yo these days is a precision-engineered device with a two- or three-figure price tag. Just ask Ernest Kaiser, a.k.a. "General-Yo," an aerospace engineer working in Riverside, Calif., for a "medium-sized company that supplies big companies," as he puts it.
Last year, when out shopping for a new computer mouse, Kaiser ran across a bin of Duncan plastic yo-yos and picked one up on a whim. He hadn't played with one since he was a kid. (The yo-yo term of art, Kaiser soon learned, is throwing rather than playing.) Some number of throws and Google searches later, Kaiser discovered an entire Internet yo-yo subculture that thrives on new tricks that can be thrown only on new yo-yo designs.
Using his computer-aided design, manufacturing, and machining expertise, Kaiser created what became the first General-Yo product, the Torrent, released last December.
Built with aerospace-rated bearings, the Torrent could spin in place at the end of the string (known as "sleeping") for minutes at a time. Thanks to precision machining, it balanced well for tricks that could only be described as a kind of fast-moving, ultradynamic combination of juggling, plate spinning, and cat's cradle.
"I thought about what makes these things tick," Kaiser says. "I tried to put the weight as far out on the diameter as possible and put a very small axle on the inside, [making it] very hard to machine."