Ah, the Cardboard Tube. These are kind of like the toy at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks — they come free with a roll of paper towels and other products but you have to wait until you get to the end of the roll before you can finally claim the toy. (Perhaps this explains why my kids — who love the small size — go through toilet paper so quickly.) The small- and medium-sized are most common, but the large versions that come with wrapping paper can be more difficult to obtain — I had a roll of Christmas wrapping paper that lasted about three years before my kids finally got the Tube. There’s also an extra-large size that is sometimes sold with posters, and a super-sized industrial version which you’ll generally only find from carpet suppliers. (Of course, carpet stores aren’t toy stores, and while their product also goes by the name Cardboard Tube it’s hardly the same thing and probably shouldn’t be considered a toy.)
My kids have nicknamed the Cardboard Tube the “Spyer” for its most common use in our house, as a telescope. (Or tape two of them together for use as binoculars.) But if you happen to be lucky enough to get a large size, the best use is probably whacking things. Granted, Stick is also great for whacking, but the nice thing about Cardboard Tube is that it generally won’t do any permanent damage. It’s sort of a Nerf Stick, if you will. If that sounds up your alley, look up the Cardboard Tube Fighting League — currently there are only official events in Seattle, San Francisco and Sydney, but you could probably get something started up in your own neighborhood if you wanted. Or if you’re more of a loner, perhaps the way of the Cardboard Tube Samurai is a better path.
Obviously if your own kids are younger you’ll want to exercise discretion about these more organized activities, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to provide them with a Cardboard Tube or two just so they’ll get used to the feel of it. You never know if your kid will be the Wayne Gretzky or Tiger Woods of Cardboard Tube Fighting, right? Best to give them the opportunity so that if they show some particular aptitudes they’ll have that early advantage. And if not, well, there are still plenty of people who enjoy playing with Cardboard Tubes casually without all that pressure.
Wired: Comes free with purchase of toilet paper, paper towels, and wrapping paper.
Tired: Doesn’t hold up to enthusiastic play.