You know, when it came to toy commercials in the 1980s, very few of the toys advertised actually delivered on their promises. This is to be expected — after all, there’s a certain amount of deceit in advertising and kids are pretty gullible.
Take the Nerf turbo football, for instance. It was black and pink and had aerodynamic grooves that were supposed to help you throw a perfect spiral all the way around the world, or at least according to the commercial. I didn’t expect to be able to throw it that far, but I did expect it to improve my spiral. Alas, it didn’t–to this day, my football throws still look like shot ducks.
The Orbi, on the other hand, was one of those rare toys that lived up to its potential. It came out in the late 1980s and was a heavy rubber orange ball with plastic “wings” that had two ribboned flags on their ends. You grabbed the ribbons, swung it around, and then flung it through the air. It sounds like it was based on some sort of medieval weapon. But, you know, neon colored.
Anyway, I don’t know who manufactured the toy because the only evidence I’ve ever found aside from the occasional Yahoo Answers post of someone looking for one is this commercial on YouTube (seriously, I can’t even find it on eBay) …
I realize that everyone in the ad looks like an extra from an Eighties fraternity movie or a student at Degrassi High, but when I was 10, I wasn’t really paying much attention to physique of the guy on roller skates swinging two Orbis. I was focused on how far the thing seemed to go. And much like a couple of people I was in elementary school with, I wanted and eventually got one, probably for Christmas or my birthday — unfortunately, my memory’s a little fuzzy on this.
Like I said, the Orbi worked as well as it was supposed to, mainly because the orange ball was solid rubber and therefore heavier than most rocks. I am sure that if I had ever aimed my Orbi at a car, I would have been able to put a nice dent in the door. Fortunately for the drivers of Candee Avenue, I was not a destructive kid (and even if I was, my aim was shit).
My friends and I played with the Orbi in three phases. First, we actually played catch, but in the street in front of our houses, not on the sandy beaches of the Great South Bay or with our fresh-faced, high-school-aged girlfriends. My neighbor, Matt, and a few other guys and I, would stand at one end of our neighborhood while someone else stood at the other and chucked the ball down the street as far as possible. Most of the time he easily cleared three houses and we all ran after it so we could be the next person to wing it back.
Unless, that is, the Orbi got caught in a tree. If it did, this meant a second phase of play: using someone else’s Orbi to get your Orbi to fall out. Because it wouldn’t get caught in a low branch that you reach by jumping or climbing. No, this thing would get its ribbons stuck in the highest branch on the highest tree, which meant that you spent at least three hours chucking the other Orbi at it, hoping a lucky shot would loosen the ribbons enough to send the ball to the ground. Most of the time, however, this was abandoned in favor of letting the Orbi fall out on its own.
The ribbons were the first thing to go anyway. Like many toys of my childhood, the Orbi found its way into a “storage pile” (read: crap in the corner of the garage) with the ribbons shredded and at least one of the plastic rings broken. It had its last gasp of glory sometime in my early junior high days when it was used in a few backyard baseball games and disappeared after being hit with an aluminum bat.
What’s amazing to me is that the Orbi never really took off, and that very few people tend to remember it whereas toys like the Pogo Ball and Skip-It have fond places in the memory banks of children of the 1980s. Then again, not everything does.