Ever since the invention of soap, bubble-blowing has been up there with lemonade, the beach, and long, trashy novels in the pantheon of great summery pastimes. Vats of liquid soap in which a few luckless ants attempt the backstroke, gleeful laughter as jets of tiny bubbles stream out across the grass—and who can forget Mom and Dad cursing violently at the itsy bitsy screws in the tiny little battery compartments, requiring a Barbie-size Phillips head screwdriver that is lost somewhere along with the camping gear?
The days of simple bubble blowers are long gone. Virtually every blower available in the average American drugstore now requires AA batteries and not so much as a puff of human breath. A child with his jaw wired shut would have no trouble operating these devices. Maybe that's for the best, but just be advised: If it doesn't purr, whirr, or mix up your sangria, you won't readily find it. A simple loop on a stick? Not unless it's part of your vacuum cleaner.
As a lifelong bubble-lover somewhat perplexed by the modern marketplace, I set out to find the best bubble-blowers money could buy—within a five-mile radius. Does one next-gen device stand out like wheat among the chaff?
To be sure, there is nothing scientific about shopping for a bubble blower. There are literally thousands of products on the market and there will be hundreds of new ones released tomorrow. There are machines so large you can fill hockey rinks with soap suds.
To narrow the field somewhat, my husband and I opted for bubble blowers that might readily be operated by young children. The closest we could come to comprehensiveness was purchasing every single such device on the shelves of our local Toys "R" Us, Kmart, and CVS. To preserve some semblance of empiricism, we used the same soap for each blower: Imperial Toy Miracle Bubbles Solution. Beyond that, we just hopped up the testers (our children, ages 4 and 6) on Jelly Bellys and instructed them to blow. Or, rather, pull many, many triggers. Results below are ranked from worst to best.
Placo Toys Exstream ($14.99) An outstanding product if your object is weeping children. The package promises "no messy spills! No drip!" And in order to make good on that promise, there are evidently no bubbles, either. This model is a battery-operated, handheld gun affair with a trigger that if squeezed for five-minute intervals produces a bubble or two. But not when anyone is looking. Pass.
Imperial Bubblator ($12.99) Another battery-required, trigger-operated bubble gun, this one promises to make "huge bubbles." While this gizmo looks a good deal like a satellite dish and my 6-year-old was indeed enchanted by the size of the bubbles he could occasionally produce, the ratio of blanks to bubbles was quite high. Eventually, my 4-year-old figured out its real purpose and stuck his tongue directly into the tiny propeller blade. That wasn't all that much fun, either.
Fisher Price Bubble Tunes Flute ($8) To the extent that the single biggest annoyance in the bubble-industrial complex is the great quantity of spilled bubble soap, one has to question the wisdom of a bubble "flute" into which masses of liquid soap are poured. Even toddlers with the hands of a surgeon are doomed to spill this stuff each time they make a move. The bubbles they produced were small and multitudinous—pretty much the same effect you get if you blow continuously into the straw of your chocolate milk. That said, my testers very much enjoyed the brain-searing screaming noise that accompanied each blow. They enjoyed the taste of bubble soap on each in-breath far less. "Gross," said my 6-year-old, who then spat out an impressive, fully formed bubble from his own mouth, in the manner of Alfalfa from The Little Rascals.
US Toy Bubble Sword ($4.99) This product has the benefit of requiring no batteries. The wand is a massive sword that dips into a long sheath full of bubble soap. The bubbles were large and long lasting. The real benefit was the parental relief provided by switching briefly from bubble toys that look like real guns to toys that look like real swords. My testers initially loved this. Awesome was the universal verdict. Until they realized there were no batteries. Also, the sword snapped almost instantly.
Toysmith Voice Activated Microphone ($14.99)
This is yet another battery-operated product. But unlike most of its cousins, the likelihood of slopping soap everywhere is next to none. You simply dip the blower into a tub of soap, flip a switch, and then scream into the top of the "microphone," at which time great, big bubbles pour out along with your vocal track. This blower serves the dual purpose of producing both outstanding bubbles and also revealing that your children know all the lyrics to Bobby Brown songs.
Ja-ru Fun Bubbles ($4.99) I wanted to hate this product. It, too, was battery-operated. Its extra-large bubble reservoir guaranteed spillage. It looked like an Uzi. But the thing produced three consistent streams of magnificent bubbles shooting out in every direction, requiring infrequent reloading and never misfiring. My testers—or, as we like to think of them around here, the kids—raved nonstop. The manual-labor-to-bubble ratio was amazing. No frustration, no tears, no stripped tongues. OK, so it ain't your grandma's bubble blower. But if I had to have just one lingering bubble to last me all year, this would be the blower to produce it.