Yo-yos existed in Germany in the 1920s.

IHidden Talents, Bwog digs up the downright wonderful and strange abilities of that kid next to you in CC! Today, Mark Hay delves into the shadowy world of yo-yoing with Andrew Ghazi, SEAS ’13. If you have any  suitemates/Facebook friends/awkward hookups who do cool things, tell us at tips@bwog.com.

“So there are five modern styles of yo-yo,” says Andrew Ghazi, SEAS ’13. He had just opened a pouch in his backpack to reveal a cache of spools and strings, at least half a dozen yo-yos of varied size and shape. “1A through 5A.”

To believe that yo-yoing, a pastime most children pass by quickly after tooling around with an old wooden spool their parents threw in a box in the late 50s or early 60s, can be cultivated as a talent—it gives pause. But to believe that someone could devote such time and energy to a childhood relic to learn a series of schools and techniques, well: “Some people call me yo-yo nerd,” says Ghazi. “… You know, haters gonna hate.”

Ghazi himself had not seriously pondered yo-yos until five and a half years ago when hurricane Rita knocked out the power in his Texas home. Rummaging around in the dark, he found an old yo-yo and began to fiddle with it. And when the power came back, he immediately went online, watching videos of people doing yo-yo tricks, and tried to emulate them.

He’s no master now—he owns about twenty yo-yos, whereas some savants have hundreds, and he will be the first to admit that he’s not as good as he could be five years into his craft. Although when pressed as to how he is lacking when he seems to have a knack for all five styles and can pull off some impressive tricks, Ghazi just gazes off into the distance, beyond the two yo-yos spinning in synced circles forty-five degrees above his head, pumping his hands lightly back and forth in alternating bursts to keep them going (2A, if you were wondering—one of the most visually appealing and the hardest styles). “It’d be hard to explain to a non-yo-yoer,” he says.

As Ghazi demonstrates the other styles (simple up-and down 1A, the intricate spinning patterns of 3A, the Chinese-yo-yo-style catches of 4A, and the counterweighted, center-spinning 5A) of yo-yoing, he explains the yo-yo community.

“Yo-yo technology has changed vastly over the last decade,” says Ghazi. Whereas your father’s old wooden yo-yo can sleep (spin in place) for five minutes max (but you’d be hard-pressed to get it to spin for over half a minute as an amateur), the addition of bearings in the spools of modern yo-yos, modifications to make them easier to return to the hand, or hard, have changed the rules of the game. A modern yo-yo can sleep for ten minutes. And with that extra time, one can use the same simple tool, expand upon the motions that tug that tool about, and develop more and more challenging and intricate tricks.

The rest was the work of the Internet. Invent a trick, put it on a yo-yo community site, and watch as it gets adopted and adapted across the world. This is the mindset of skill-toy enthusiasts—they love the relaxing, repetitive, almost meditative quality of the motions that go into creating a trick, and they love the complex (bordering on absurd) stunts they can pull off with simple, mechanical motions, and basic toys.

Growing out of that mindset, they tend to love to compete, to showcase their skills and see what the competition has come up with. New York used to have such a competition, but it ended after its organizer moved away (highly informal institutions indeed). Ghazi is the exception—he does not compete, but he does meet regularly with five to fifteen other hardcore yo-yoers in the city to commiserate about their skill. None of New York’s other yo-yo fanatics, to his knowledge, attend Columbia.

And of course, they love to transfer one set of skills to another—Ghazi puts his yo-yo down, pulls out three colored balls, and starts juggling, his arms moving in almost computerized harmony as he murmurs calmly about some of the more popular skill toys, like Astrojacks. “It sounds really dumb and looks really dumb when you’re playing with them,” says Ghazi. “But it’s fun. It’s just kind of like … wooooooooo.”

And in these stressful days, Ghazi wants to help us all find that rhythmic, calming wooooooo. Though he is no exhibitionist and practices in his room more often than anywhere else, he will teach a trick to anyone who asks it of him—basic tricks take ten minutes to learn, more complex ones an hour, and from there, he hopes, you will take the initiative yourself. If you would like to find the woooooooo in your life and learn a few tricks, contact Andrew Ghazi at arg2157@columbia.edu.