The yo-yo is primitive toy with no verifiably traceable origin. Stories of
it being used as a weapon in the Philippines are entirely unfounded, scientifically
refuted by the physics of yo-yoing. It would be pointless to use a yo-yo for a
weapon, since it loses most of its energy halfway between being launched and the end of the string,
and if it hits something, it is nearly impossible to "yo" it back due to the instability
of collision and the fact that the yo-yo has already lost a good portion of its momentum.
Besides that, a yo-yo requires much practice to be effectively directed anywhere besides
straight down. Bolo weapons and
other "rock on a string" concepts may well have been used for weapons at some
point or another, but they are completely non-analagous to the "return top" aka "yo-yo."
"yo-yo" was used often in the Philippines, where it was a popular toy before
hitting the United States with force. The "Flores Yo-Yo" was the first
major model sold in the US, and the company was soon gobbled up by
Duncan(tm). Yo-yoing has gone through various spurts of popularity, but it
will never die, as there always always seem to be a "hard core" of
looking for the latest and greatest yo-yos.
To the outside onlooker, there is very little difference between one yo-yo
and the next. However, the history of the modern yo-yo is long and
complicated, with the first major innovation being the invention of the
"starburst pattern," the pointy raised plastic that exists on the center of
nearly all plastic yo-yos. Wooden yo-yos are somewhat rough and grainy,
especially on the axle, so there is little problem in retrieving the yo-yo
after throwing it down as a result of friction. Plastic yo-yos, however, require a starburst
pattern or some other sort of braking technology in order to slow down the
string when the yo-yo is pulled up, due to the fact that they generally have
a plastic or metal axle (far more slippery) instead of wood. One notable
exception is the ProYo(tm), a world-record setting plastic yo-yo with an
internal wooden axle. It has no startburst pattern because it actually has
wood inside. If you can't visualize it, that's because I want you to
buy a yo-yo right now!
Nearly every yo-yo trick relies on the ability of the yo-yo and yo-yoer to
sustain a long "sleeper," the period where the yo-yo simply rotates at the
end of the string before being retrieved. Sleeping is possible due to the
nature of the yo-yo string -- any true yo-yo has a twist-braided string that loops
somewhat loosely around the axle, allowing it to spin within the string
loop. Cheaper party favor type yo-yos are sometimes an exception, with a
cheap string directly tied onto the axle, which makes it impossible to make
the yo-yo sleep. Yo-yo tricks are often divided into "old school" and "new
school," where old school tricks are generally pretty simple and thus don't
require a long sleep time. New school tricks can be nearly impossible with
an old fashioned yo-yo, which is where the transaxle comes in.
Classic yo-yos have a fixed axle, which means that the entire yo-yo, axle
and all, spins within the loop of string. There is an inherent limitation
in this method, as it takes more force to get the yo-yo to sleep longer, but
the yo-yo tends to snap back up when thrown down too hard and with imperfect
finesse. Modern yo-yos often incorporate a transaxle instead, in which the
string is looped on an independent axle that rotates around an internal
fixed axle. This reduces the friction inside the yo-yo, allowing it to be
thrown down much harder and to sleep much longer. Basic transaxle yo-yos
like the Yomega Fireball(tm) consist of a plastic sleeve that rides on a
metal axle. This sleeve must be lubricated with oil from time to time, as
the oil adds a necessary element of friction and reduces the squealing sound
created by the plastic sleeve. The most modern transaxle innovation is the
roller bearing. Just about any yo-yo worth $10 or more contains a
ball bearing transaxle, which takes friction reduction a little further by
incorporating an actual roller bearing instead of a mere sleeve. The added
benefit of transaxle yo-yos is that they can be taken apart, making it easy
to rescue a knotted string on the axle. The ProYo II (tm) from ProYo is the
one exception to the fixed axle rule -- in essense it appears like a
transaxle in that it can be taken apart and it has a wooden sleeve over a
metal axle; however the wooden sleeve is held firmly in place by the halves
of the yo-yo, which keeps it from spinning and gives it the function of
fixed axle and the convenience of a transaxle.
The design of the actual yo-yo halves is extremely important in its
functionality. The oldest design, the "imperial," focuses most of the
weight around the axle of the yo-yo, keeping the yo-yo stable during certain
looping tricks like "loop the loop." The second oldest design, the
"butterfly," focuses most of the weight around the rims and is effective for
string tricks where the yo-yo must precisely land on a certain area of the
string. Butterfly yo-yos are also superior for certain looping tricks like
"hop the fence," "shoot the moon," and "punching bag." The newest design,
known as "modified," is a combination of the two; it has most of the weight
around the rims, but is narrow like the imperial. The extra weight on the
rims has the added benefit of giving the yo-yo more momentum in spin,
allowing it to sleep longer.
Currently, the world record sleep time is in excess of 12 solid minutes.
The world record for a fixed axle is just about one solid minute, held by
the wood-axle, modified design, plastic ProYo. ProYo (a company name and
their original yo-yo's name) actually invented the modified design, which is
incorporated in many new yo-yos on the market. This design is a
best-of-both-worlds combination that allows for looping as well as "new
school" style string tricks. Butterfly designs are still the best for
learning string tricks, as there is more margin for error that leads to
encouragement and motivation to improve.
ProYo has essentially ignored the classic "starburst pattern" found in most
plastic yo-yos, due to their newest patent, "BPT," short for "brakepad
technology." Brakepads are essentially little cork disks with an adhesive
backing and a starburst-like shape. The cork is far more effective than
raised plastic, and it has the added retailer benefit of being consumable,
forcing customers to buy new brakepads as their yo-yos diminish in
performance over time. Tom Kuhn, another yo-yo expert with his own line of
yo-yos, uses "turbo disks," which are essentially the same thing, using a
plastic/rubber material instead of cork, which can be custom-added to any
take-apart yo-yo on the market. The "Axl(tm)" line of yo-yos also uses a
similar method that involves adhesive rubber rings.
Another recent innovation is the adjustable string gap. The gap between the
yo-yo halves is extremely important in determining a yo-yo's ability.
Yo-yos with a wide gap tend to work best for string tricks because they
sleep longer, whereas a narrow gap is better for looping and beginner play.
The adjustable string gap yo-yo uses rubber o-rings to allow the yo-yo to be
tightened to varying degrees, allowing for a wide range of capability.
Now is a great time to be a yo-yo enthusiast. There are hundreds of yo-yos
on the market, many of which are simply amazing in performance. In my
collection, I have the Yomega RPM, which actually includes internal sensors
that will tell you the top RPM speed it reached during a throw. I have
achieved over 9600 RPM, and nearly 280 miles per hour rim speed. Is it
accurate? All I know is that more performance oriented aluminum yo-yos have
been clocked at over 15,000 RPMs. The highest priced yo-yos are made of
anodized forged or billet aluminum. The cheapest aluminum yo-yos on the
market are around $15, the most expensive can reach $200. What are the
over-all best yo-yos to look for, you ask? There are many.
The best bang-for-your buck yo-yos include the ProYo Turbo Bumblebee(tm)
(generally around $12-20) and the SuperYo! Renegade(tm) (also in the same
price range). The "bee" features brakepad technology and an awesome ball
bearing. It's a great all-around yo-yo, a favorite in many collections.
The SuperYo! Renegade also has a ball bearing axle, but uses a traditional
starburst pattern. Some say that certain models of Renegade are made with a
cheaper plastic that can erode over time, leaving the starburst pattern
effectively flat. To combat this, krazy glue or clear nail polish can be
used to coat the pattern. The coolest thing about the Renegade is its
design -- it can be employed in an imperial or butterfly shape by simply
flipping the sides and bolting it back together. The brakepad technology in
the Bumblebee makes it a great looper, but the string gap cannot be
adjusted, forcing the user to "break in" the brakepads to a certain degree
before attempting tricks safely.
If you want true value, get a plain old ProYo or ProYo II. This is the
plastic yo-yo with the wooden axle mentioned earlier. It sleeps very long
for a fixed axle yo-yo, and loops incredibly well. They can be found dirt
cheap just about anywhere.
My favorite "training yo-yo" for learning new string tricks is the Henry's
Viper. Thoughtful "German engineering" results in a highly effective
modular ball-bearing axle, and a non-anodized central yo-yo hub with large,
detachable rubbery rims that make it a lot less painful when it smacks you
in the head/hand/chest/etc. The Viper is butterfly shaped and slightly
oversized, making it very easy to learn complicated and precise string
I currently only own one solid anodized aluminum yo-yo, which is the ProYo
Ace(tm). It's miniature sized, but big enough to pull off just about any trick.
It uses brakepad technology as well as a precision ball-bearing.
I also own a variety of Yomega yo-yos, mostly because they were being
liquidated for pennies on the dollar at the time. For the most part they're
usable but not preferred when compared to better yo-yos like the Bumblebee
and Renegade. Popular Yomegas include the Fireball(tm), Saber Wing
Fireball(tm) (a butterfly design), and the Brain (tm). The brain
utilizes a new device known as a "centripetal clutch," which allows the
yo-yo to return automatically without any effort. It's only fun for a
little while, and best suits beginners. It makes string tricks nearly
impossible due to the added friction of the clutch.
If you're looking to blow a wad of money on an expensive model, look for the
ProYo Cold Fusion(tm), which normally sells for $100-150 but can be found
online for $50. All yo-yos made by "Custom Yo-Yo"(tm) such as the Axl(tm),
Chain Reactor(tm), and Axl Elite(tm) are good buys as well. The YoYoJam
Spinfaktor(tm) is also a great buy, featuring a slender butterfly design
with an aluminum "core" and plastic rims. One of the most expensive yo-yos
on the market is the SuperYo! Samurai(tm), which recently shattered the 10
minute sleep time record of the ProYo Cold Fusion by nearly two full
minutes. It uses a ceramic ball bearing, a recent innovation that produces
incredibly loud squealing noises combined with incredibly long sleep times.
Warning -- serious chronic yo-yoing can be addictive. I remember my first yo-yo
many years ago, but never developed any interest in them until I started working
at my current job. As a phone support technician in a somewhat relaxed call center,
I was introduced to yo-yoing and have spent hours on end (while on the phone of course)
practicing. I have all of the hallmarks of addiction -- I yo-yo in the morning, I yo-yo
so much that I've developed callouses that have cracked into evil nasty-looking fault lines
that sting miserably after a solid bout of heavy yo-yoing...but I persist every day,
further damaging the beaten, hardened, cracked surface right below my middle finger.
It is almost impossible to become adept without hurting yourself acutely at least once,
e.g. sending it right into the head. Perhaps it's an urban legend, but I've heard of one
fellow who managed to kill himself by smacking himself very badly on the forehead.