Computer games haven’t always dominated the world of childrens’ toys. Two classic wooden folk toys, the whimmydidle and the flipperdinger, have been enjoyed by children for hundreds of years throughout Appalachia. These toys were handmade by people for their own use. Many of the designs for such folk toys were passed down from one generation to the next.
The gee-haw whimmydiddle, also called a ziggerboo (TN), geehaw (GA), hoodoo stick (Cherokees), and lie detector (OH), is made of smooth twigs stripped of bark. Its two parts are a notched stick with a spinner – or whirligig – pivoted on one end, and a smaller rubbing stick. The object of the whimmydiddle is to make the whirligig spin smoothly to the right (gee) or left (haw), seemingly at your spoken command.
To do this, you must hold both parts lightly to produce maximum vibration. This vibration is set up when you stroke the rubbing stick rapidly back and forth across the notches. If at the same time, you let the tip of your index finger slide along the far side of the notches, the whirligig will twirl unfailing to the right. To reverseits direction, you simply bring your thumb to bear on the near side of the notches. With a little practice, you can switch contacts so inconspicuously that anyone who doesn’t know the trick will have a hard time guessing why the whirligig responds.
The Flipperdinger is a hollow-reed blower with a plug in one end, and a nozzle, made of a smaller reed, projecting from it just behind the plug. In one model, and acorn cup with its center bored out is cemented over the nozzle. In another, a little ‘basketball ring’ bent from copper wire is aligned with the nozzle about three inches above the tip. Both models come with a featherweight ball formed from cornstalk pith.
To work the first flipperdinger, you place the pith ball in the acorn cup and blow lightly but steadily into the open end of the larger reed. When done right, the ball rises slowly in a jet stream of air, hovers a few inches above the nozzle, and then as you ease off, settles back.
The other flipperdinger is harder to master. Here the pith ball has a wire thrust through it – one with a crook in one end. You hang the crook over the basketball ring. Then, with plenty of well-controlled lung power, you can unhook the ball, lower it through the ring, and finally, blow it back up again and replace the crook on the wire.
Popular Science, Mar 1960, pp. 144-7
related post: “All I want for Christmas is a whimmy diddle”