Tangled Up

05/04/2021

A colorful, textured sculpture that’s also a fidget is becoming today’s hot collectible

by Tina Manzer

Let’s take a moment to consider the Tangle, celebrating its 40th birthday this year. After all that time, some of us in the toy biz may be tempted to take its twisty-turniness for granted. Don’t. Uses of the little toy we’ve sold millions of over the years continue to be reinvented and rediscovered by people of all ages. At the same time, the Tangle has managed to retain its original Zen-infused artistry and creative play magic.

The Tangle started life as a work of art. Created by renowned sculptor Richard Zawitz, it’s composed of a series of pivoting 90-degree tangent angles (“tangles”) that can be manipulated into an infinite variety of shapes. “I wanted to create something featuring curves and waves that would bring positive energy into the world,” Richard explains. A keen student of Asian philosophy, he was fascinated by the belief that curves in nature promote positive energy. He calls the movement through which Tangles are articulated “Curvism,” and explains that “it is both innovative and profoundly familiar because it is inspired by ancient design principles like those underlying the Tibetan Knot of Eternity and vortex energy.”

Since starting Tangle Creations, Richard has developed a myriad products based on the original, ranging from miniature sculptures and toys to science models and therapy devices registered with the FDA. The company’s bestselling product is the 7-inch long Tangle Jr. Classic. Adults I know like the six  metallic versions, and use them as mini desk sculptures and a beautiful shiny fidgets. Other Tangle Jr. themes include “Pets,” “Fuzzies,” “Masterpiece” (with stunning, colorful prints), “Crush,” “Hairy” and more.

Using a Tangle for a fidget actually helps untangle your brain for better clarity and focus. California psychologist Roland Rotz, whose area of specialty is ADHD, explains that his clients – children, teens, college students and adults – often gravitate to the Tangle he keeps on the coffee table in his office. “While they talk, some clients find themselves disconnecting the Tangle segments and re-connecting them based on color or texture patterns. Others seem to use Tangles like worry beads, fingering them with a rhythmic and repetitive motion. But no matter how they interact with them, they find that Tangles provide an important sensory stimulant that gives them the ability to focus on the discussion at hand.”

Roland composed the forward to Learning with Tangles Braintools, a book with activities and ideas for teachers, written in 2007 by Richard Zawitz along with teacher, writer and puppeteer Mary Beth Spann. The activity guide for educators features specially designed lessons and games and a Tangle Jr. to kinesthetically teach math, reading, grammar, emotional understanding, and much more.

“Kinesthetic learners absorb information best through movement,” explains Nick Zawitz, Richard’s son and executive vice president of Tangle Creations based in South San Francisco. “Twisting and turning Tangles draws the hands towards the midline and helps to improve focus and retention of information. Quiet fidgeting is beneficial for individuals with all kinds of sensory needs, as teachers have discovered.”

“I work with children with autism and motivation is always a concern,” comments a special education coordinator. “When I noticed a steady increase in the skill acquisition of one student after I gave him a Tangle toy, I started using Tangles with other students. I saw a dramatic improvement in their behavior. They were calmer and better able to deal with daily stressors. Older and more advanced students were highly motivated by Tangles.”

An ASD teacher writes, “My students with autism use them in so many ways, especially as a fidget.  When they take them to their general education classrooms, they are able to stay focused on instruction longer.”

As Nick Zawitz notes, fidget toys seem to be driving specialty retail right now, “but it’s not like the spinner fidget craze of 2017 when that one item drove the trend across all retail. The current spread of fidget items is currently very broad, from Fat Brain’s SimplDimpl to Schylling’s NeeDoh ball.”

Nick points out that the interesting aspect of today’s current fidget craze is that in-store sales are being driven by social media, where consumers are highlighting the collectability of different fidget assortments. “We’ve seen a massive increase in demand from Learning Express stores,” he says. “To attract attention to their fidget selection, they devote a section of their stores to selfie production, complete with a green screen and tripod. That way, customers can take pictures of themselves with the fidgets they’ve found and post them online. It’s become almost like a treasure hunt as people compete to find the most unique fidget items and colorways.”

In terms of Tangles, there are currently 25 active SKUs. Each series has different colors, patterns and/or textures, Nick explains. “The variety drives the collectability of Tangles so much so that hunting for unique and rare Tangles has become immensely popular on TikTok.”

The people at Tangle Creations are constantly innovating to meet the demand. “New textures, trendy colorways and adorable characters help keep Tangle play patterns endless. “Occasionally we’ll retire select SKUs and colors to make room for new versions,” Nick adds. “It’s important for us to stay on top of rising trends, although our customers are the driving force behind the colors and textures we choose. We listen closely to what they say, and watch to see what they share with each other.”

A current favorite is the new Tangle Jr. Atomic series that lights up as it twist and turns. It’s fun and stimulating – the lights activate the emotional, motor, and creative areas of the brain.

Tangle Creations is a family business spanning three generations. Nick wants specialty toy retailers to know that he and his team work tirelessly to grow their reach and bring about positive, meaningful change to the company’s community. “We believe in the power of our products,” he says. “Tangles are fidget toys, yes, but they’re also learning tools for school, therapy devices for minor stress and anxiety, and miniature and movable works of art. They’re mess-free, never expire and you can take one with you wherever you go.”

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