04/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bucky Balls: Who'd Have Thought 2010's Hottest Toy Is About Creating Geometric Shapes?

Ever wonder what Wall Street big shots buy when they're in the mood for toys?

I don't mean Ferraris and wooden motorboats. Just toys. Things you have out on a table. Or give to your kids. Or put in goody bags when it's your turn to chair the charity ball.

I live in the Manhattan neighborhood where the rich spend their winters. So, naturally, when our daughter came home with a gift from a friend, we spotted more of that gift in the window of Feldman's, the chic housewares store on Madison Avenue. When I went inside, I learned how big this phenomenon is.

Think: huge. The plaything of the rich turns out to be the current obsession of... millions. This thing is everywhere. Adults love it even more than kids. (And you wonder why American productivity is slipping?)

I mean, of course, Bucky Balls.

Imagine BBs with such enormous magnetism that you have to pull hard to separate them. That's Bucky Balls. For the very nervous, they're expensive rosary beads. For everyone else, they're an invitation to create. Necklaces. Bracelets. Geometric shapes. This morning, our daughter made a watch. Cool.

Things you can do with Bucky Balls:

And more:

And still more:

Where did they come from?

Well, as with so many genius technologies, Buckminster Fuller is the godfather to this one --- thus the name.

[Skip the next paragraph if, like me, you are science-challenged.]

Buckyballs were discovered in 1985 --- the product of an experiment on carbon molecules in space. However, it was not until 1991 that buckyball science came into its own. Just how do buckyballs manage their chemical and physical feats? In C60, hexagons and pentagons of carbon link together in a coordinated fashion to form a hollow, geodesic dome with bonding strains equdistributed among 60 carbon atoms. Some of the electrons are delocalized over the entire molecule --- a feature even more pronounced in that workhorse of organic chemistry, benzene. Benzene is flat and many of its derivatives also tend to stack in flatsheets. Spherical buckyballs literally add a new dimension to the chemistry of such aromatic compounds. Buckministerfullerine has been named the Molecule of the Year. In addition to opening up new fields in chemistry, C60 also shows interesting physical properties. It is resistant to shock and it has been suggested that as a lubricant, there is even evidence of superconductivity and it may provide the added ingredient that makes diamond films more practical.

Easier science: watch this video.

Some warnings.

Keep them away from computers.

Keep them away from credit cards.

Keep them away from small children. The manufacturer suggests Bucky Balls are for "12 and above." We've told our kid what happens if you put small things in your mouth. And, because she's our kid, she understands. Yours --- regardless of age --- may not. Discretion...please.

And do try to get some work done before you start with Bucky Balls. Because it may be the last work you'll ever do....

[Cross-posted from]