The old-fashioned hoop and hoople stick are back with us but, as with almost everything else these days, the hoop and stick now have a space-age twist. Whereas the hoop of yesteryear was whacked with the stick and went rolling merrily along, the new hoop—called an orbit wheel—is controlled, not whacked, by a double-wire device called the guidance system. But once our minds are cleared of space terminology, the "system" is simply a different kind of hoople stick.
The hoop itself weighs 3 to 4 ounces and measures about 15 inches in diameter. The stick is a chrome-plated spring-steel wire bent to resemble a rather long picnic fork with a short hook at one end. The bent, or hook, end of the stick is placed against the hoop one inch above the ground and allows such precise control that the player may keep the hoop at a standstill, brake it when it is moving, spin it in place or reverse it.
The inventor, Paul Sakwa, president of ElectrO-Mech Industries, visited relatives in eastern Poland as a child. There, he remembered years later, the children used a one-wire device to guide the hoop, much like that employed in ancient Greece. He wondered why he had never seen children at play with the device in the U.S. Experimenting with several different designs, he finally came up with the double-wire idea, and this seemed more practical than the single wire "for reasons of symmetry, simplicity and in order to eliminate possibly dangerous wire hooks." Mr. Sakwa thinks of his orbit games as the "astronautical sport." They include space hockey (using the hoop as a puck and guiding it into an opponent's area); 40-yard and 80-yard double orbit (simple speed races), 80-yard lunar excursion, which lays out a pattern of orbit in a figure-eight design, with one orbit going around the earth, another around the moon. To make the game more challenging, a lunar bump, which consists of a log or a can filled with sand, is placed in the orbital path.
There are other variations called asteroid slalom, 90-yard double slotting, space walk (a raised six-foot walk for the wheel) and a final follow-the-astronaut game in which players follow the leader, who makes the game as challenging as possible by utilizing the terrain and equipment at hand. Should the lead astronaut fall out of orbit, i.e., lose control of his wheel, the next in line becomes the leader "'until all followers are shaken off and assumed lost in space."
The hoop, with the wire device and rules, costs $2 and may be ordered from Creative Playthings or directly from ElectrO-Mech Industries, Inc., 825 New Hampshire Ave. N. W., Washington, D.C. 20037.