Yo-yo is played by holding the free end of the string known as the handle (by inserting one finger--usually the middle or index finger--into a slip knot) allowing gravity (or the force of a throw and gravity) to spin the yo-yo and unwind the string (similar to how a pullstring works). The player then allows the yo-yo to wind itself back to the player's hand, exploiting its spin (and the associated rotational energy). This is often called "yo-yoing".
Yo-yo was first made popular in the 1920s, yo-yoing remains a popular pastime of many generations and cultures. It was known in ancient Greece, but it is often associated with Japanese culture, because it is very popular in Japan. The World Yo-Yo Contest has historically been dominated by the Japanese--taking home 71 World Titles in the past 22 years. Shinji Saito remains the most decorated yo-yoer of all-time with 13 World Titles. Takeshi Matsuura is second with 6.
In the simplest play, the string is intended to be wound on the spool by hand; The yo-yo is thrown downwards, hits the end of the string, then winds up the string toward the hand, and finally the yo-yo is grabbed, ready to be thrown again. One of the most basic tricks is called the sleeper, where the yo-yo spins at the end of the string for a noticeable amount of time before returning to the hand.
Many yo-yo tricks are done while the yo-yo is said to be sleeping. One of the most famous tricks on the yo-yo is "walk the dog". This is done by throwing a strong sleeper and allowing the yo-yo to roll across the floor, before tugging it back to the hand. English historical names for the yo-yo include bandalore (from French) and quiz. French historical terms include bandalore, incroyable, de Coblenz, emigrette, and joujou de Normandie (joujou meaning little toy).
A Greek vase painting from 500 BC shows a boy playing with a yo-yo (see right). Greek records from the period describe toys made out of wood, metal, or painted terra cotta (fired clay). The terra cotta disks were used to ceremonially offer the toys of youth to certain gods when a child came of age--discs of other materials were used for actual play.
In 1928, Pedro Flores, a Filipino immigrant to the United States, opened the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, California. The business started with a dozen handmade toys; by November 1929, Flores was operating two additional factories in Los Angeles and Hollywood, which altogether employed 600 workers and produced 300,000 units daily.
The principal distinction between the Filipino design popularized by Flores and more primitive yo-yos is in the way the yo-yo is strung. In older (and some remaining inexpensive) yo-yo designs, the string is tied to the axle using a knot. With this technique, the yo-yo just goes back-and-forth; it returns easily, but it is impossible to make it sleep. In Flores's design, one continuous piece of string, double the desired length, is twisted around something to produce a loop at one end which is fitted around the axle. Also termed a looped slip-string, this seemingly minor modification allows for a far greater variety and sophistication of motion, thanks to increased stability and suspension of movement during free spin.
Shortly thereafter (c. 1929), an entrepreneur named Donald F. Duncan recognized the potential of this new fad and purchased the Flores yo-yo Corporation and all its assets, including the Flores name, which was transferred to the new company in 1932.
The name "Yo-yo" was registered in 1932 as a trademark by Sam Dubiner in Vancouver, Canada and Harvey Lowe won the first World Yo-Yo Contest in London, England. In 1932, Swedish Kalmartrissan yo-yos started to be manufactured as well. In 1946, the Duncan Toys Company opened a yo-yo factory in Luck, Wisconsin. The Duncan yo-yo was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York, in 1999.
In a trademark case in 1965, a federal court's appeals ruled in favor of the Royal Tops Company, determining that yo-yo had become a part of common speech and that Duncan no longer had exclusive rights to the term. As a result of the expenses incurred by this legal battle as well as other financial pressures, the Duncan family sold the company name and associated trademarks in 1968 to Flambeau, Inc, who had manufactured Duncan's plastic models since 1955. As of 2014 , Flambeau Plastics continued to run the company.
As popularity spread through the 1970s and 1980s, there were a number of innovations in yo-yo technology, primarily regarding the connection between the string and the axle. In 1979, dentist and yo-yo celebrity Tom Kuhn patented the "No Jive 3-in-1" yo-yo, creating the world's first "take-apart" yo-yo, which enabled yo-yo players to change the axle.
Swedish bearing company SKF briefly manufactured novelty yo-yos with ball bearings in 1984. In 1990, Kuhn introduced the SB-2 yo-yo that had an aluminum transaxle, making it the first successful ball-bearing yo-yo.
In all transaxle yo-yos, ball bearings significantly reduce friction when the yo-yo is spinning, enabling longer and more complex tricks. Subsequent yo-yoers used this ability to their advantage, creating new tricks that had not been possible with fixed-axle designs.
There are many new types of ball bearings in the market which deviate from the original design and/or material of the standard stainless steel ball bearing. For example, a certain type of bearing has an inward facing curved surface, to prevent the string from rubbing on the sides of the yo-yo, which would cause unwanted friction when performing intricate string tricks. Other manufacturers replicate this with a similar inwardly curved surface, but use minor modifications. Some high-end bearings use ceramic composites in the balls of the bearing, to reduce internal friction, again making for a smoother spinning yo-yo.
A yo-yo competition normally consists of two parts, a set of compulsory tricks and a freestyle, where points are scored for each and the winner is the yo-yo player who scores the most points. Compulsory tricks (also known as a trick ladder) are a set of tricks that have been chosen before the contest, and the competitor must successfully complete each trick on their first or second attempt to score points.
The freestyle is when the yo-yo player performs a routine to his or her choice of music in front of a panel of judges, and is judged based on difficulty of the tricks, synchronization with the music and artistic performance. At a National and World level, freestyles in the final round are usually 3 minutes long, with 1- or 1.5-minute semifinals and preliminary rounds.
The World Yo-Yo Contest was originally held each year in Orlando, Florida, and was hosted by YoYoGuy.com during early August or late July. However, in 2014, the World Yo-Yo Contest was held in Prague, Czech Republic, which was the first time the contest was held outside of North America. The 2015 Contest took place in Tokyo, Japan, and the 2016 Contest took place in Cleveland, Ohio. The 2017 Contest will take place in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the 2018 Contest will take place in Shanghai, China. The World Yo-Yo Contest takes the winners from national yo-yo contests around the world and pits them against each other. The eleven-time, double-handed world champion Shinji Saito is Japanese. Countries such as the United States, Brazil, Japan and the UK hold competitions at the national and regional levels. In addition, national yo-yo contests, without regionals, are held every year by Mexico, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, France, Germany, Switzerland, The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Australia.
In Europe, the European championship is usually held in Prague in the Czech Republic, although in 2015 it was held in Kraków, Poland. 'EYYC', as it is colloquially known, is the largest contest outside of America, and draws in competitors and spectators from all over the world. The 2016 European Champion is Tal Mordoch, who is from Israel.
The TV Times world yo-yo championship was held in the United Kingdom in 1974, with heats across the United Kingdom and a final in London in 1975; the championship was sponsored by the Louis Marx toy company with the 'Lumar' brand of yo-yo. The competition was judged by a celebrity panel in each city and also Lumar demonstrator and European yo-yo champion Don Robertson. The championship was not repeated.
The youngest winners of the World YoYo contest are John Narum of the United States, who won it in 2005, and Takeshi Matsuura, who also won the 5A division at the age of 11 in 2008. Mastuura went on to win the title in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016, while Narum came in 2nd numerous times but never won the title again.
There are six yo-yo divisions to compete in:
Competitors usually bring a number of yo-yos to the performance stage with them to allow for mid-routine replacements in the case of knots/jams (common with string tricks), string breakage (common with looping tricks), or drops (common with offstring tricks).
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The Sleeper is one of the most common yo-yo throws and is the basis for nearly all yo-yo throws other than looping. Keeping a yo-yo spinning while remaining at the end of its uncoiled string is known as sleeping. While the yo-yo is in the "sleeping" state at the end of the string, one can then execute tricks like "walk the dog", "around the world", or the more complex "rock the baby".
The essence of the throw is that one throws the yo-yo with a very pronounced wrist action so that when the yo-yo reaches the end of the string it spins in place rather than rolling back up the string to the thrower's hand. Most modern yo-yos have a transaxle or ball bearing to assist this, but if it is a fixed axle yo-yo, the tension must be loose enough to allow this. The two main ways to do this are (1), allow the yo-yo to sit at the bottom of the string to unwind, or (2) perform lariat or UFO to loosen the tension. When one decides to end the "sleeping" state, one merely jerks the wrist and the yo-yo "catches" the string and rolls back up to the hand. Ball-bearing yo-yos with a "butterfly" shape, primarily used for string tricks, frequently (but not always) have low response (or are, in fact, completely unresponsive), requiring a "bind" for the yo-yo to return.
In competition, mastery of sleeping is the basis for the 1A division. Inexpensive fixed-axle yo-yos usually spin between 10-20 seconds, while expensive ball bearing yo-yos can spin about 1-4 minutes depending on the throw  As of 2010 , the world record sleep times were 3:51.54 minutes for fixed-axle and 21:15.17 minutes for transaxle yo-yos. In 2012, the transaxle yo-yo sleep time record was broken by the C3YoyoDesign BTH, with a time of 30:28.30 minutes.
Looping is a yo-yo technique which emphasizes keeping the body of the yo-yo in constant motion, without sleeping.
Yo-yos optimized for looping have weight concentrated in their centers so they may easily rotate about the string's axis without their mass contributing to a resistance due to a gyroscopic effect.
In yo-yo competitions, looping both to the inside and outside of the hand with the yo-yo plays a strong role in the 2A division.
In the "off-string" technique, the yo-yo's string is not tied directly to the yo-yo's axle, and the yo-yo is usually launched into the air by performing a "forward pass" to be caught again on the string. However, some players can 'throw down' off-string yo-yos and catch it on the string just as it leaves the end of the string by pivoting the string around a finger as it unwinds, so that the yo-yo is caught on the string. This is exactly the opposite of a "forward pass", but with the same result.
Yo-yos optimized for off-string tricks have flared designs, like the butterfly shape, which makes it easier to land on the string, and often have soft rubber rings on the edges, so minimum damage is inflicted on the yo-yo, the player, or anyone who happens to be standing nearby, should a trick go wrong.
Yo-yo competitions have the 4A division for off-string tricks.
In freehand (5A) tricks, the yo-yo's string is not tied to the player's hand, instead ending in a counterweight. The counterweight is then thrown from hand to hand and used as an additional element in the trick.
Developed in 1999 by Steve Brown, as of 2008 freehand is considered to be the fastest-growing style of yo-yo play. Steve Brown was awarded a patent on his freehand yo-yo system, which was assigned to Flambeau Products (Duncan's parent company).
In yo-yo competitions, counterweight yo-yos are emphasized in the 5A division.
Yo-yo bodies come in a number of form factors or "silhouettes," each designed with specific advantages in mind. However, there are three popular configurations.
The modified shape is a very popular design for looping style tricks. This shape is also known as a flywheel or modern shape. It usually has a hollowed face (sometimes covered with paper or plastic) with extra material left in the rim. The modified shape yo-yo is also used for string tricks because of the long spin times due to its shape.
Duncan released its first wooden butterfly yo-yo. Wayne Lundberg, the inventor, was one of the demonstrators. The butterfly looks a bit like the separated halves of a standard yo-yo that have been reconnected back-to-back. The string gap is wider to make it easier to catch the yo-yo body on the string. Although the butterfly shape is good for 'string tricks,' it is not good for 'looping' tricks, because the winged shape of the body does not allow it to easily flip while looping. This shape is similar to a small Diabolo, sometimes called a Chinese yo-yo.
Almost all new modern yo-yos have a shape that is shallow near the bearing and then widens out towards the edges (similar to the original butterfly design). The area between the rims of the yo-yo which leads down the bearing is known as the 'catch zone'. Whilst there are numerous different variations in design, a lot of modern shapes can be labeled in one of the following categories.
The V shape is one of the most basic yo-yo shapes. Starting with a low wall, close to the bearing, it rises straight up and out to the edges, with no steps or other distortions. The catch zone resembles a steep V shape, hence the name.
The V shape allows for a very open catch zone that makes landing the yo-yo on the string with accuracy a lot easier.
The W shape, also known as the 'stepped V', is when the walls of the yo-yo start close to the bearing, as in the V shape, but as they move up and out towards the rim, they change angle at one or several points. This can allow for a smaller yoyo diameter without the yo-yo having to be excessively wide.
The O Shape, also known as the 'organic' shape, uses curving walls that curve outwards towards the edges, similar to the older designs. Organic yo-yo's strength is that they are normally very comfortable to hold.
The H shape features rims of the yo-yo that are noticeably pronounced into the catch zone. This design gives maximum rim weight, and therefore maximum stability, although this can come at the cost of speed.
Each silhouette may have more weight distributed at either the center of the yo-yo or the edge. More weight towards the rim will make the yo-yo more stable, meaning that it is less likely to tilt during play. The tradeoff is heavily rim weighted single-metal throws tend to play slower and heavier than more center weighted designs. Using other metals in construction can allow more weight at the rims whilst still keeping the overall weight down, which helps to give a yo-yo the best of both worlds.
Most modern yo-yos are made from a "take-apart" design, designed to be taken easily apart and reassembled by the player. This design was first created by Tom Kuhn. This enables the replacement of yo-yo components, including the string, renewable friction sources, or even trans-axle components.
In order to increase spin times, extra weight was added to the outermost portion of the yo-yo. The first to do this was Dale Oliver (Spintastics Skill Toys, Inc) with the addition of steel rings when he brought out the Tigershark yo-yo early in 1998.
Some take-apart designs allow the player to reconfigure the yo-yo's halves. In the Tom Kuhn No Jive 3-In-1, the halves may be attached in three different configurations, resulting in a traditional, butterfly, or "pagoda" silhouette. In the Yo-yo Factory FlyMaster, the body has two different "shells" to convert to and from an off-string yo-yo.
Some yo-yos have a response system implemented in their body, which betters the ability of the yo-yo to return to the user's hand. The return system is typically positioned around the axle in the inside of the yo-yo. Some take-apart yo-yos have replaceable return systems.
Another innovation to the yo-yo is the ability to adjust the gap between the two halves of the yo-yo, in order to increase or decrease response. In most designs, this is accomplished by twisting the yo-yo halves, but some designs (such as the Tom Kuhn Silver Bullet) can be disassembled for adjustment without twisting. This second option eliminates the possibility of the yo-yo coming out of adjustment during play.
The basic innovation since the 1990s is the transaxle, a system where the string is not directly connected to the axle that connects the two halves of the yo-yo.
Hubstacks are bearings added to the hub (the outside) of a yo-yo and covered with some form of side cap to allow the yo-yo body to be held while it spins. With the side cap bearing, the operator can hold the yo-yo in many different planes and perform different styles of tricks which are difficult (or impossible in some cases) to be performed with conventional yo-yos. These configurations may be called hubstacks, bearing caps, synergy caps, or jimmy hats.
When the yo-yo is first released, the throw gives it translational kinetic energy. As the string unwinds, much of this energy is converted into rotational kinetic energy, causing the yo-yo to spin rapidly. As the yo-yo unwinds, it also gains some energy from gravity. Because the yo-yo has significant rotational inertia, it can store enough energy in its rotation to fight gravity all the way back up to the hand.
The string winds in the opposite direction upon the return of the yo-yo. If the string is connected to the shaft with a loop, there may not be enough friction to overcome gravity and begin winding the string. In this case, the yo-yo will continue to spin at the end of the string instead of returning. However, if the yo-yo is jerked slightly, it will enter free fall for a brief moment, and the string's friction becomes the most significant force on the yo-yo. This allows the slack string to bind, and the energy from the yo-yo's rotation finishes the rest of the return.