- Associated Press - Thursday, November 4, 2010

ROCHESTER, N.Y. | Deal me in! Playing cards are the latest iconic diversion — in some circles, a pack of trouble — to land in the National Toy Hall of Fame.

They were enshrined Thursday along with The Game of Life, a perennial favorite first devised in 1860 by American game pioneer Milton Bradley.

The pair joined an all-star lineup of 44 classics, from the bicycle, kite and teddy bear to the stick, cardboard box and Mr. Potato Head. The 12-year-old hall was acquired in 2002 by the Strong, a children’s museum in Rochester, from A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village in Salem, Ore.

Longevity is a key criterion for getting into the hall. Each toy must be widely recognized, foster learning, creativity or discovery through play, and endure in popularity over generations.

“Play is so key to human development and to maintaining a healthy perspective on all of life, for kids and adults,” said Chris Bensch, the museum’s curator of collections. “It’s something that allows us to toy with possibilities — it helps us grow into who we are and who we can be.”

The modern version of Bradley’s moralistic board game was refashioned in 1960 by Reuben Klamer and employed a spinning wheel, paper money and car-shaped playing pieces. Endorsed by famed broadcaster Art Linkletter, it quickly became one of the nation’s most popular board games. It is now owned by Hasbro Inc.

From gin rummy to solitaire and Go Fish to Texas Hold ‘em, card-playing has been universally enjoyed across centuries by people of all cultures, skills and ages. Historians are fuzzy about its origins, pointing to evidence of ceramic-tile decks in ancient Egypt and leaf cards in ninth-century China.

Mr. Bensch said that with the possible exception of dice, he could hardly imagine a game tool that matches playing cards in terms of popularity across the ages as well as variation of forms and degrees of difficulty.

“It’s so easy to learn some of the most basic games, but the more complicated ones like bridge have such depth of interaction and probabilities,” he said.

Cards carry rules, of course, and not everyone plays by them.

“Card-playing does have a kind of … dark side for those people who indulge too much or do so with a purpose of gambling to excess,” said Patricia Hogan, the museum’s curator of toys and dolls. “But I think the majority of people play with cards for the enjoyment of it, the social aspects and probably also the intellectual stimulation.”

Many judges on the hall’s national advisory panel recognized the inclusion of playing cards as long overdue. But the 10 other nominees that fell short in 2010 included more than a few heavyweights, from chess and the pogo stick to Cabbage Patch Kids and the Rubik’s Cube.

“They all can’t wedge through the door simultaneously, and we want to do it slowly enough that the inducted toys get the attention they deserve,” Mr. Bensch said.