Nov 21, 2012 12:50 PM by Ben Popkin, NBC News Contributor

Need a gift idea? Check out the 2013 toy of the year nominees

(NBC NEWS) - If you need some ideas for what toys to get the kids on your list this year, the 2013 Toy of the Year nominees is a pretty good place to start. Picked by the Toy Industry Association, these are some of the hottest, fun and most innovative toys on the shelves this holiday shopping season.

The industry picked 84 different toys in 12 different categories. That's a lot of toys to go through, so I went ahead and made a virtual "toy chest" of what I think are the best of the best, based on some clear biases I have as a 30-year-old nerdy new father of a one-month old. I haven't played with any of these toys and my ideas are not reinforced by experience; my kid can barely grab a giraffe ring, let alone choose between a "4-D puzzle" and the Playmobil E-Rangers Headquarters.

"But I like toys that encourage kids to move around," says NBC contributor Ben Popken. "I like toys that are intellectually fun and make you get creative."

"I'm skeptical of toys with a long list of all the discrete skills they supposedly teach, and toys that replace imagination with electronics for no good reason," Popken says. "I also looked for that ‘wow' factor that will light up a kids eye's when they open up the package."

You can see the full list over at and vote for which ones you think are the best. The toy with the most reader votes will receive "The People's Choice Award." As an incentive, when you vote, you also enter for a chance to win every single toy in one of the voting categories. That'll take care of your holiday shopping pretty quick!

Here are Popken's picks for each category:

Crayola Digital Light Designer
It's a LITE-BRITE on a cone! Draw the lights on the surface with a special electronic pen and animate your creation.

HEXBUG® Warriors Battling Robots Battle Stadium
Whirring battlebots clang and bang against each other in this curvy stadium, using vibrations to knock each other from green to red. Because it's never too early to start learning chaos theory.

A robot ball you control with your smartphone or tablet and when you look at it on your device, appears to be a beaver hungry for cupcakes. You toss the cupcakes to him on the device and then move the real ball in real life, by tilting and turning your device, to catch them.

The followup to last year's smash hit LeapPad. Like the iPad it's modeled after, the second generation of the device adds a camera and more power. It's a book-sized all-encompassing child entrancement device. Sure to save many a car ride from an epic meltdown.

PerplexusTM Epic
A 3-D maze puzzle inside a sphere. Literally mind-bending.

Disney Princess Cinderella Magic Lights Dress
Motion-activated lights on this princess dress encourage the child wearing it to dance, spin, and jump around. Princesses aren't static sleeping beauties or demure ladies in waiting anymore, they go on adventures! Accessorize with a pair of light-up sneakers.

LEGO® Duplo Creative Sorter
Kind of like training wheels for Duplos, this set features pre-cut animal shapes that help little ones assemble their first block creations. The colors are bright and awesome, too, and I love the big eyes.

Nerf Firevision Sports Football
It always stunk, or stung, when it got too dark outside to continue tossing the football in the backyard. But with the NERF Sports FIREVISION Football, just put on the special glasses and it lights up with a 100-foot range glow.

YBIKE Explorer
A 3-wheeled Go-Kart with big wheels for sturdy riding. Kind of a souped up Big Wheel for the 21st century, with more precise handling, and handles. Speaking of Big Wheels, if the $199.99 price tag for the YBIKE is too "off the road" for your budget, you can't go wrong with the reintroduction of the classic Big Wheel for $59.99, also in this product category.

Doc McStuffins "Time For Your Check-Up" Doll
If the kid on your list is a fan of this Disney Junior animated series, which is laudable for featuring female ethnic doctor (who's 6 and heals stuffed animals and toys), this is a sweet and cool interactive toy. With her bedazzled stethoscope and tools, Doc McStuffins listens to her friend Lambie's heart and her magical toys make Lambie talk. This toy also has the added benefit of hopefully making the kid more compliant and less freaked-out the next time they see the doctor.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
After a long hiatus, the heroes in a half-shell are in a new reboot, and it actually looks cool. As a fan of the Turtles, even more so after I discovered the edgy underground comics that were their origin, all I can say is...TURTLE POWER!

All Duct OutTM
Duct-tape wallets seem to get rediscovered by each generation of kids. Here's a kit for making them, along with headbands, belts, and more out of neon duct-tape. How cool is that?

Check out the other finalists at and sound off in the comments which ones you think should be the winners.

Image courtesy Courtesy

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