Is iZ the next monster toy hit? That’s the question in the toy industry?#34;and specifically at Big Monster Toys, the Chicago-based toy design company that came up with the product. Two of the four partners at BMT, Don Rosenwinkel and John Zaruba, are Oak Parkers, so we called to find out more.

Rosenwinkel, who has been with the company since it started in 1988, says they invent toys and games and build toy prototypes, which they sell to manufacturers and for which they receive royalties. Some of BMT’s better known products include the games Guesstures and Uno Attack, and Fashion Polly Pocket, a line of dolls. About a year ago, Rosenwinkel said, one of the legends of the toy industry, Roger Shiffman, came by and asked them to come up with something “really big” (as in big-selling). Shiffman had taken a leave from the toy business and was just getting back in with a new company called Zizzle (also Chicago-based), and he wanted to make a splash.

He didn’t provide many specfics, said Rosenwinkel, but they knew him and the kinds of things he liked (He’s famous for Gigapets and Furby). About nine months later, they gave birth to iZ, which Rosenwinkel describes as a kind of “three-legged space alien.” They wanted to play off the popularity of the iPod/MP3 craze and knew Shiffman liked tech-based toys.

“It was a good fit for him,” Rosenwinkel said.

And Shiffman loved it. And the mainstream press loved it, giving it lots of play in such publications as Time, Wired, the Trib and the Sun-Times. Consumers seem to love it, too. The product is selling briskly, said Rosenwinkel, and will probably sell out by Christmas, but it’s too early to tell if iZ will be a runaway hit. The industry hasn’t had one since the halcyon days of Tickle Me, Elmo. Nowadays, he noted, kids seem to want more technology in their toys and iZ provides that.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Rosenwinkel said. “It gives kids the chance to be a music composer. They can mix, change volume, pitch, and it’s all wrapped around this robotic personality.”

Two of Rosenwinkel’s three daughters, who are “all beyond toy age,” have iZ in their dorm rooms in college and love them. The toy has a “broad band of appeal,” age 5 and up. You can plug iZ into your iPod, and it serves as an external speaker, which is part of the appeal. His eyes move, he comments on the songs when they’re over, etc.

It’s definitely one of the year’s hot toys, and it’s BMT’s most successful toy launch to date. The $20-billion industry is primed for a runaway hit, Rosenwinkel said. “We’re not at that level yet, but we’re hoping.”

I am Christian, hear me roar

Sculptor Peter Herman has been making ice sculptures for Vineyard Church of Oak Park for five years, and this year’s sculpture, inspired by Aslan, the transcendent character from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia (now a major motion picture), is his latest masterpiece on ice. Head over to the church, 705 Jackson Blvd., to check it out this head. But no rush. It’s not going to melt any time soon.

Thanks for setting the record straight

As Winston Churchill once noted, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on. The same may apply to rumors and speculation.

Lake County, Ind. prosecutor Bernard Carter triggered a flurry of press inquiries to the OP Police Department two weeks ago when he questioned whether local police adequately investigated the possibility that convicted serial murderer David Maust had killed anyone in his Oak Park apartment prior to moving to Indiana in 2002. That article, which appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, didn’t sit well with local cops who said it included a number of inaccuracies.

Last Saturday, a Chicago Tribune article on Maust’s sentencing noted that Carter was now lambasting Illinois prison officials for releasing Maust from custody after he was eligible for parole. In the middle of the piece, the Trib noted, “Carter said he does not believe Maust committed any murders in Oak Park.”

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