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Strong Words takes an unpretentious look at books


Ed Needham loves books. And he also knows a thing or two about making magazines; he was the editor of FHM in its late 90s heyday, and he went on to edit FHM in the USA, then Rolling Stone and Maxim. But his latest editorial position is altogether more humble – Strong Words is a new magazine that takes a fresh and unpretentious look at books, and Ed is its editor, publisher, marketing manager and van driver.

He dropped into the Stack office to speak about his new publishing project, the ways in which it has changed since it started earlier this year, and how he plans to develop it over the coming months. As is often the case with independent publishers who find they have to do everything themselves, Ed is open about the things he finds most difficult, and excited by the opportunity to tweak all aspects of the magazine as he goes. There will be lots of magazine makers who feel very familiar with his struggles over marketing, distribution and production.

If you enjoy this one, check out our archive on Soundcloud or iTunes for lots more conversations with magazine makers. (If you’re particularly interested in the business side of publishing, you might want to jump straight to our recent episodes with Jeff Taylor from Courier magazine, or Conor Purcell from The Magazine Blueprint.) And remember to follow us wherever you get your podcasts, so we can drop our future episodes straight into your feed as soon as they’re ready.




It Takes A Strong Girl To Obey God’S Word

Yes, I know that’s a little weird. What thirteen year old girl wants a weight bench for her birthday?

I knew that increasing my strength would make me a better basketball player and that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be strong so that I could be successful.

Don’t worry, I’m not into bodybuilding or anything like that. In fact, my weight bench is long gone and was replaced with running clothes and elliptical machines.

When I say that my desire to be strong has increased, I’m talking about being emotionally and spiritually strong.

I’ve realized that being a serious Christ follower requires strength like none other.

Our culture is not pushing us as Christian girls towards true strength. If anything, they are encouraging us to be wimpy women. We are being fed the messages day in and day out to believe in ourselves, to follow our feelings and to live for our own desires.

We have enough wimpy girls in the Christian community. Way too many of us have given up on God’s truths when it’s hard or takes sacrifice. We’ve given into peer pressure, allowed the culture to shape our views and followed our emotions.

If you want to join the ranks of strong girls, here are some ideas.

Get up every morning and spend time with God even when she’s tired.

Make the effort to dress modestly even when modest clothing is hard to find.

Control her words and choose to refrain from gossip.

Overcome her feelings and choose to give up a guy if she knows he isn’t God’s best for her.

Give up TV shows, movies and music that don’t pass the Philippians 4:8 test.

Respect her parents even when she thinks they are being totally unreasonable.

Intentionally invest in and spend time with her siblings, despite if they annoy her.

Choose to forgive someone who has sinned against her.

Intentionally hold back and allow the young men around her to lead.

Keep her mouth shut and avoid saying everything that comes to her mind.

Do you see how hard it is to be a strong girl?

That list is brief compared to everything that goes into being a strong Christian girl. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of courage, strength and focus on God.

I’d also love to hear how you would finish this sentence, “It takes a strong girl to…” I shared my list of ten, now it’s your turn.

Former Fhm Editor Launches New Book Magazine Strong Words

Magazine veteran Ed Needham decided to launch Strong Words after Dennis Publishing closed the print edition of Coach magazine, the health and fitness title he had founded and edited from 2024 to 2024.

His new title contains book reviews, news and interviews with authors, cover designers and independent publishers.

An avid reader, Needham said books hadn’t been getting the “representation in the media that they deserve”, adding: “They play a really important part in people’s lives and they should get as much attention as, say, films or TV but they just don’t.

“I wanted to produce something that enabled people to know a bit more about what’s out there, because at the moment a lot of people still rely on just wandering into a bookshop and hoping they’ll find something interesting – and sometimes they do, but quite often they don’t.”

Discussing the current provision for book lovers in UK newspapers and magazines, Needham added: “I think if you are of an intellectual or an academic bent then your needs are amply met, but most people aren’t doing a masters degree in medieval literature.

“Most people buy books for fun and there is this tendency among a lot of book reviewers to treat books as homework slightly, almost a pseudo-academic venture, and so books tend to be reviewed in a slightly solemn, serious, chin-stroking way.

“Whereas I don’t think most people read books like that. They read books for pleasure.”

The former Rolling Stone managing editor said his main competition for readers, “like with all magazines”, is time. “There just aren’t the gaps in people’s habits anymore that used to be there that allowed magazines to exist,” he said.

He told Press Gazette he wanted to keep staff costs as low as he could, adding: “I wanted to see if it’s possible to produce something of high quality at low cost.”

Needham believes there are “significant numbers” of people willing to pick up a magazine if it is dedicated to a niche subject they care about.

And something he considered as part of his business plan was his view that “if anyone’s going to want ink on paper, it’s book buyers”.

Strong Words has just marked its first anniversary and ninth issue – although it has already evolved from a tabloid newspaper format to an A4 magazine because, he said, “newsagents didn’t know what to do with it”.

The magazine is stocked in WH Smiths travel outlets, Selfridges and independent newsagents, priced at £6.95 on the newsstand or £6 with a six-issue rolling subscription model.

Said Needham: “The old model of magazine buyers going into a newsagent and picking up a magazine with their crisps and their 20 Embassy [cigarettes] and some biscuits is gone. That’s broken.

“Whereas people are quite happy to subscribe to something, whether that’s a digital service or a physical product, and they expect to have it brought to their house. People don’t think twice about subscribing to things, it’s very normal.”

Needham also made the decision not to give his content away for free online, saying: “If people want to meander around on the internet there is already plenty of content of variable standards, shall we say, [which is] not particularly focused.

“A lot of it doesn’t have a point of view, or tone of voice, or the things that make reviews interesting. I think if people want that they can already get it, whereas what Strong Words aims to provide is something of much more use.

“Magazines have to be useful, and they have to be helpful, and they have to be entertaining and interesting, whereas that process can be a bit too hit-and-miss online.”

Needham’s view is at odds with another former lad’s mag editor, James Brown, who has just taken the helm at football magazine Four Four Two.

Loaded founder Brown told Press Gazette last month: “I think there was a tendency, quite an old fashioned tendency, that [Four Four Two staff] were focusing their efforts on print, but actually the growth for this title will be online.”

Needham edited men’s magazine FHM in the mid-1990s as it grew to its peak, later moving to New York to launch its US edition before joining Rolling Stone.

Reflecting on his “extraordinary” time at FHM, Needham said: “It just felt as though everything we did turned to gold.

“At that time the magazine industry generally was very robust, there was a lot of investment, and with men’s magazines specifically they were just growing at an extraordinary pace with every issue that went on sale… it was a very delirious experience, but at the same time it brought its own pressures.

“With that kind of success there were more pages, it was more frantic, the demands to keep growing were greater, so it was quite an intense period as well.”

Asked what lessons from his career had helped him on his mission to launch his own magazine, Needham said his respect for the sales and marketing side of magazines has changed from his previous “dismissive” view.

“My opinion has swung through 180 degrees and I realise that the arts of sales and marketing are much more subtle and deserving of applause than I realised.”


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Strong Words, Great Books: Editor Ed Needham Recommends Gripping Reads To Whisk You Away

‘My goal with Strong Words,’ says editor/publisher Ed Neeham, ‘is to make my readers think, That sounds like the sort of book I would really like.’ A former editor of Maxim and Rolling Stone, Ed launched the magazine in 2024 to introduce readers to books they might have otherwise missed on their own.

Each issue is packed with more than 100 enthusiastic book reviews of both new releases and backlist titles in every genre – fiction, biography, crime and thrillers, nonfiction, cookbooks, children’s lit, graphic novels, coffee table books – as well as author interviews, gorgeous visual design, and evocative photos.

We’ve been subscribers for a year, and many of the books you’ve heard about on our podcast made it onto our reading lists via the pages of Strong Words. A new issue in our mailbox is cause for celebration around Strong Sense of Place HQ. Treat yourself and take a look inside the magazine, then subscribe, so you get the best book mail delivered to your house, too. (Gift subscriptions are also available so you can share the love.)

Since Ed writes about thousands of books each year, we knew he’d crush our challenge to apply his broad and deep knowledge to books with a strong sense of place. I suspect you’re going to add to your TBR after reading his suggestions. – Melissa

You spend a lot of time with books and writing. Do you have any favorites set in the world of writing or publishing?

I really liked John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky, about an ambitious young writer who steals an older German writer’s secret experience for his own plot and in doing so utterly destroys the old man’s reputation. I’m not sure it has a particularly strong sense of place, although it starts off in West Berlin the year before the Wall came down. What it does have is a particularly strong sense of the young man’s diabolic lack of concern for anyone who gets in the way of him stealing his next great idea.

You can magically transport to the destination of your choice for a holiday and still magically hit all your deadlines. Where do you go, and what are you reading to get in the mood for your trip?

Strong Words is actually quite a portable business – I can do it anywhere there’s a reasonable internet connection – but the idea of undertaking some sort of specialist literary preparation doesn’t fit into the schedule, I’m afraid. In fact, there’s not much time to fit much holiday into the holiday as I work every day. But it’s a pleasure to do it in a warm place from time to time. I did have a lengthy travel book episode when I was younger, people like Eric Newby, Gavin Young, and Norman Lewis, but I think what I really took away from all of them was that they went to these places and spoke to complete strangers. To my introverted mind that felt like some sort of magic trick.

Strong Words is based in London. Hit us up with your London recommendations – something that could only be set in London, any genre.

Sorry to be so predictable, but it has to be Dickens. The first chapter of Our Mutual Friend, the old man and a girl in a rowing boat on the filthy Thames between Southwark Bridge and London Bridge on an autumn evening, trying to make a living by fishing out dead bodies and hoping to find something in the pockets – there’s a niche profession. I’ve walked over those bridges hundreds of times at all hours of the day and night, and there’s hardly any river traffic now compared to when it was the greatest port in the world. But when the tide is on the move, you really get a sense of what a powerful and surging river it is.

I recently read a book by a pathologist who often has to autopsy bodies pulled from the river, who said the currents are so treacherous a body could follow a most illogical itinerary between going in and coming out again. I also love Pip arriving in ‘the immensity of London’ in Great Expectations and going out on his first morning while waiting for Mr. Jaggers to see the Smithfield meat market, which is still there, and St Paul’s, although its ‘great black dome’ has since been cleaned, and Newgate prison, which has gone but several of its walls are still there, and I think the Old Bailey stands where it used to or at least next door.

I also like George Orwell’s descriptions of the shabbiness of London in and Keep the Aspidistra Flying. That was a big part of my first memories of London: dirty and a little bit broken.

One of the things we love about Strong Words is your reviews of graphic novels. Can you recommend a title or two in which the setting is very vivid and integral to the story?

I love graphic novels, and they don’t get anything like the attention they deserve. With art, they can take a sense of place to whole other level, thanks to the artist’s hand. One is Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, which is set in Chicago, but for him, it is an empty, melancholy sort of place. And it’s autobiographical – Chris Ware’s father left his family when he was very young. Then they met up again when he was an adult, but before they could have a second meeting, the father died. So all his work is imbued with this agonising stillness and awkwardness that reflects that missing relationship. It could be anywhere really, but his books are full of empty streets with nothing moving, or deserted car parks or rooftops. The effect is quite overwhelming.

The other book that deserves to be in every home is a book in Spanish called by an artist called Martí. Half of it has been translated into English, and it’s called , but it’s worth learning Spanish just for the experience of reading it. It’s very noir, set in some low-rent Spanish barrio, and Taxista Cuatroplazas is an upstanding member of the community who tries to bring justice to the drug dealers and kidnappers with his own arsenal. It’s great on sewers, flophouses, shanty towns, and the city at night. In fact, even in the middle of the day, it feels like three in the morning.

Your nonfiction recommendations are also always excellent and explode our TBR lists. What book – recent or backlist – transported you to a place with an incredible true story?

There are so many, and that is the kind of journalism that I really love, but the most recent one is a book called _ Inge’s War_ by Svenja O’Donnell which came out earlier this year. The author has a grandmother who she doesn’t much care for, but she knows she was born in Konigsberg in East Prussia before the war, which is now Kaliningrad and an exclave of Russia. She’s a correspondent in Moscow, so she goes to visit her ancestral city, and calls the grandmother to tell her where she is. She gradually prompts the grandmother to open up and tell the most incredible story of her personal life before the war – and how she escaped from it as a teenager with her family as the Russians approached. So the author discovers that this rather sour and grumpy old lady a) has good reason for being so, and b) has been carrying the most burdensome secrets around with her for decades. She’s really good on this lost city in a lost country, and what it’s like to flee Russians bent on revenge.

You can have tea and chat with any author, living or dead, for your ‘How To Write’ feature. Which author and book do you choose?

‘How to Write’ has always been about how certain novels came to be written, but I’d choose Rebecca West and ask her about Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, a book of her travels in Yugoslavia in the late thirties. It’s an absolute monster, the best part of 1200 pages of fairly dense print, but I found it a delight to read, and it made a huge impression. It’s divided into the different regions, now nations, and gives such a rich and vivid sense of each location’s sense of self, often stretching back to medieval conflicts whose embers still smolder, not to mention their own foundation myths. It also gives a sense of why the Balkans are a symbol of regional fragility, perched atop no end of fault lines: religious, historical, imperial, and just good old can’t-stand-the-neighbours. It also hints at the catastrophe and violence to come, first in the second world war, then in the collapse of Yugoslavia and war in the nineties. Quite how she extracted all that just by going there and being driven around is deserving of scientific inquiry.

You get to read all the new books before the rest of us, but what’s your favorite backlist or classic with a strong sense of place?

I’m a great enthusiast of true crime, and my all-time favorite is Norman Lewis’ The Honoured Society, one of the first books about the Sicilian Mafia. It gives a real sense of just how poor, desiccated, and suspicious some of these villages were, and how even though Sicily is agriculturally very productive, all the peasants lived in these crumbling little towns perched on top of hills, where they could protect themselves from the bandits and their friends the shepherds, and then would go out to their miserable strips of land during the day.

One of these towns is Corleone, of which he says, ‘In this world one occasionally stumbles upon a place which, in its physical presence and the atmosphere it distills, manages somehow to match its reputation for sinister happenings.’ He then goes on to describe the ‘lugubrious back-drop of mountains the colour of lead, and its seedy houses are wound round a strange black rocky outcrop jutting up from the middle of town… for centuries the setting of a bloody routine of feuds and ambuscades… A few miles away is the famous wood of Ficuzza, a place of ghosts and legends…’ If I’m not careful, I could easily copy out the entire book.

Top image courtesy of Ugur Akdemir.

Hate Is A Strong Word; Meaning Of “Strong Word”?


What is the meaning of “strong word” in the following sentences? My understanding of the expression is the following: if a word is strong, it will have a great effect on people’s feelings or thoughts, it is a powerful word, it will have a great effect on someone. Is my understanding of the expression correct? Also, can you give me a better definition of the expression.

1. Mike: I hate my father. Greg: hate is a strong word.

2. You shouldn’t tell people they are ugly, ugly is a strong word.

3, A teacher should never tell his students that they are stupid, stupid is a strong word and telling students they are stupid will hurt their feelings.

4. Even is she is fat, it’s not nice to tell her she is fat. Fat is a strong word.

Yes, you’re completely right.. A strong word is that one leaving a great impact on others. In English we have strong words and mild ones. A mild word is a word that you can use in many different occasions without worrying that it may upset or bother someone. All the four examples that you’ve just given seem fine to me; I would use the ”strong word” expression in the same sentences that you wrote up there. Sometimes a strong word can be considered offensive but there’s still that fine line between strong words and offensiveness so definitely it’s not like ”swearing”.

yes, you understand the meaning of strong in that use. Strong as in severe, harsh, perhaps excessive. Extreme in meaning.

“I hate my mom”. “That is a bit extreme, you don’t really mean that”

Sort of means when something is said in terms of black and white when the reality is some shade of gray. Strong words do not leave much room for variation, for nuance, for shading the meaning.

I don’t particularly like the discouragement of the use of strong terms simply because they may cause hurt (as in number 3). Sometimes hurt is precisely what is required. Causing hurt is not the reason a teacher shouldn’t call someone stupid, it is because no student is really stupid and if they were, it would do no good to call them that anyway

I don’t consider fat a strong word. Disgustingly obese would be strong, harsh, excessive. Fat is simply the opposite of thin, and covers a wide range of conditions. Calling someone a PIG, or a COW, now maybe that would be a bit too strong.

And strong doesn’t always apply to negatives; calling someone brilliant or a genius could be too strong.

You sort of got it… Strong word can also mean it is an extreme ie using the term “morbidly obese” would make us think she’s bigger than saying she’s “fat” Hate is a strong word because it’s on the far end of the spectrum, it’s committed, and it leaves no room for doubt as to what you think. For instance if you say “I don’t like spinach.” it could mean “I love spinach.” “I dislike spinach” “I loathe spinach” or “I hate spinach”

Source(s): Just my take…

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A “strong word” (or phrase) is one that represents or evokes powerful emotions.

Such terms include love/hate, ugly/beautiful, brilliant/stupid, skinny/fat, live/die, rich/poor, as well as sex, fear, and political verbiage.

You have the correct understanding and definition of the phrase.

“Hate” has devolved into more of a dislike than anything. We should come up with a stronger word, perhaps di-hate?

Hate – have strong dislike of; bear malice to.

Ugly – unpleasing or repulsive to sight, morraly repulsive, vile, discreditable, unpleasant, unpleasantly suggestive, threatening, unpromising.

Stupid – in a state of stupor or lethargy; dull by nature, slow-witted, lacking in sensibility, obtuss, crass, characteristic of a person of this nature.

Fat – fed up for slaughter, fatted; well-fed,plump, corpulent, thick, substantial, greasy, oily, unctuous; slow witted, indolent.

Source(s): Oxford Concise Dictionary

Those words are all considered to some as having a negative connotation.

For the best answers, search on this site https://shorturl.im/1Mvxg

it means powerful. the entire sentence means that hate may be too intense (when used in this manner.) dislike would probably be better.

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Which Word Begins With “Y” And Looks Like An Axe In This Picture?

I think the manufacturer of your son’s ball mixed in a Swedish word:

Yxa Swedish, n.: an axe

The photograph above is page 22 of the Swedish children’s book Vill du läsa I (“Would you like to read [vol I]”) by painter Elsa Beskow. The J above it is for julgran, the Swedish word for Christmas tree.

I say this on the basis that:

I checked several thesauruses, like you, as well as Wikipedia’s category for axes, and while I found adze, chopper, cleaver, hatchet, mattock, tomahawk, twibill and so on, I found nothing approaching a word with an initial y.

I used OneLook.com’s reverse-dictionary functionality to search for “words starting with a y and having a meaning relating to axe“¹ and the only thing suggested was : “a long Turkish knife with a curved blade having a single edge”. An image search tells us that no ball-maker would confuse this sword-like blade for an axe.

Going one step further, I checked Wikipedia’s comprehensive list of bladed weapons, and from all countries, throughout all history, only 3 start with an initial y: yanmaodao (Chinese), yari (Japanese), and yatagan (Turkish). These are all sword-like weapons, not axe-like, and as mentioned in the previous bullet, of the three, only yatagan has made it into English dictionaries.

I used an online tool named Translatr to translate both axe and hatchet into 90+ languages, and cross-checked these with the manual translations on Wiktionary, and literally the only word of those ~200 options which started with a y was Swedish yxa.

Cross-checking the translation from Swedish back into English confirmed that Swedish yxa is English axe. And indeed it is used in Swedish children’s primers to illustrate the letter y, as you can see from the children’s book excerpt above.

As for the other symbols on the ball, we can analyze which letter-symbol pairings make sense in each language. Here I’ve tagged each pairing with ✅ to indicate “the name a toddler would shout out for the depicted object starts with the corresponding letter”, ❌ for “no, it doesn’t”, and ❓ for “this pairing merits further discussion”.

As you can see, because most of these words

are loanwords to both languages (like kangaroo or giraffe), or

are loanwords from English to Swedish (like jet[plane]), or

have [proto-]Germanic roots shared by both English and Swedish (like house and mouse), or

are completely artificial coinages (like xylophone)

most pairings are sensible in both languages.

All told, in Swedish there are 8 words which simply do not fit, not to mention that, as @jkej points out, a Swedish ball would also have to present the letters Å, Ä and Ö, and would possibly choose to omit W. This rules out the possibility that this is a ball made for the Swedish market.

For English, on the other hand, outside the mysterious Y, all the pairings use straightforward, non-suspicious common nouns an English-speaking toddler would be familiar with 4.

Except for one. That U-boat is Swedish-fishy.

Almost no one refers to submarines as U-boats in contemporary English. Quoting @tchrist’s response to that information:

… especially how a submarine or “U-boat” picture that got used for the U, given how uncommon a word for a sub that U-boat is in English these days – and to a toddler rather than to a great-grandfather who might actually remember them.

Which is evidence against the maker of the ball being completely familiar with English as she is spoke.

The submarine could be seen as circumstantial evidence (although not very strong) for some kind of Swedish mix-up explanation. Although U-boat is an English word, it seems a little strange to use it in this context. But in Swedish ubåt is the only word for submarine.

I used Google Image to examine some English alphabet posters and it seemed like almost all of them used umbrella or unicorn for U, but none of them used a U-Boat. Similarly, I found several Swedish alphabet posters with ubåt for U, although uggla (owl) was more common. I can also confirm that yxa was very common for Y.

And indeed it’s easy to turn up Swedish pedagogical material having both Y = yxa and U = ubåt, like this one from the Swedish site imgrum.com:

But it doesn’t stop there.

Following @jkej’s lead on chúng tôi I found the manufacturer is Ball, Bounce and Sport Inc.5

This is page 32 of their online catalog (you need to install Adobe Flash; their PDF catalog is broken 6):

Item G: 54-4155; #10 A-Z Phonics; 0-33149 04155-9

However, though chúng tôi listed “Ball, Bounce and Sport Inc.” as the ball’s manufacturer, upon visiting BB&S’ site, one immediately notices the headers and copy all immediately point to another name:

Structurally, Ball, Bounce and Sport Inc. was once a subsidiary of Hedstrom, and through a series of fits and starts in the last century, eventually took ownership of the Hedstrom brand, and now is doing business as Hedstrom.

That is, Hedstrom is the ball manufacturer’s preferred name for branding purposes. Which is interesting, because the name “Hedstrom” is Scandinavian; per Wikipedia’s article on the surname:

Hedstrom, Hedström and Hedstrøm are surnames of Swedish and Norwegian origin

So is the name Hedstrom indicative of Swedish influences on the ball’s manufactoring process?

The Smart Business article linked above on BBS taking ownership of the the Hedstrom brand notes:

BBS owns 98 percent of U.S. and Canadian rubber ball markets and a growing percentage of the rotational molding market.

BB&S’s Hedstrom Entertainment Division makes play balls and other toys in Asia

But what about Sweden? I’ve read several different histories of Hedstrom. The accounts are confusing and at points seemingly contradictory, involving many name changes.

But the salient event was in 1981:

Eagle Rubber started making balloons out of a garage in 1916. The company grew and spawned an industry that led to Ashland becoming the balloon capital of the world. The company eventually added lines of plastic play balls. It was bought out by Hedstrom Inc. in 1981, which went bankrupt in 2004.

But if Eagle was the company who built up the play ball business, whence the the acquiring company, Hedstrom? According to this column of Harry Rinker, who is an antiques appraiser and thereby somewhat of an historian:

Carl H. Hedstrom, E. Gustaf Hedstrom, Knute W. Hedstrom, Wilfred P. Shuffleton, and Walter Beaman founded the Hedstrom Company, Gardner, Massachusets in 1915. … The Hedstrom Corporation still exists. Its Bedford plant produces outdoor gym sets, play balls, toys, etc. The Dotham operation is toy focused.

Thus the name Hedstrom originates from three Swedes in 1915. The catalog above is dated ~2012, and page 32 lists several of the playballs as new, but not the phonics one, so it’s not clear when the ball was first produced. But certainly a century passed between the reason for naming the company Hedstrom and producing the ball.

So, with a century and countless mergers, bankruptcies, and restructurings intervening, the Swedish name Hedstrom, while intriguing, cannot be adduced as evidence that the Y stands for yxa.

I reached out to Hedstrom via their online contact form, Twitter, and Facebook. They replied to me this morning via Facebook:

They confirm your ball is not an official Hedstrom A-Z Phonics ball. The official ball has a yo-yo for the letter Y. The Hedstrom ball also has a UPC and producer’s mark.

Further, Hedstrom confirms they do no business internationally (outside Canada, one assumes), and they’re not aware of any specific producers who have a known history of copying their designs.

A second customer service representative actually responded separately to my contact via their website, instead of Facebook. She did her own forensics, and corroborated that Hedstrom’s opinion is that this is a knock-off ball:

Thank you for visiting our website and for your online inquiry about an ABC Playball. Unfortunately, I do not believe this ball was manufactured by Hedstrom. I’ve attached an image from our QA files of our ball for your reference. Some of the things that tip me off that this is not our ball are the elephant and kangaroo colors. Also, there is considerably more white space on you ball whereas ours has more designs. So, just for fun, I visited our samples department hoping to find this ball and I was able to find and inflate a sample of our ball. Our playball has a Yo-Yo for the letter “Y”. Another way you can tell is whether or not there is an official Hedstrom legal patch. This patch would contain our name, Hedstrom Corporation, our address, our website, made in China in three different languages, a UPC barcode with the number 0-33149-04155-9 and a four-digit date code. Our inflation valve should be concealed in the Robot “R” picture, too. I’m not sure if your ball has our legal patch or not or where your inflation valve is located, but these are just a few of the way we identify our products. It’s probably not impossible for another manufacturer to find and use our designs as these are rather old for us and are not licensed or trademarked.

Hope that helps solve the mystery for you. But we are of the opinion that this is a knock off and not an official Hedstrom produced playball.

One last follow-up, and she shared the history of the ball, to the extent she was able to dig up:

The records that I can still access tell me w e created this ball in 2004 and first sold it in 2005. The last one was sold in 2008. Our records don’t indicate ‘who’ might have been the designer at the time.

So that trail runs cold. The ball is a knock-off. Let’s examine it in more detail for clues.

Indeed, additional analysis reveals that your ball and the Hedstrom ball are very similar, but not identical. There are some differences which have to be taken into account.

In particular, @H Walters points out that the layout – that is, the positions of the symbols relative to one another – are different in your photograph than in the catalog thumbnail for the Hedstrom ball:

K and E are shared designs between the two images. The neighborhood around K and E are very different, however; in the OP image K and E are adjacent and at each others’ “9 o’clock” ( E being oriented differently); Q is at K‘s 6, and Y at K’s 7. In the catalog K and E aren’t even adjacent; we can see E‘s entire neighborhood (from 1 to 12: BMDGHL), and K‘s neighborhood that can be seen is JIDA. So at the very least, if they’re the same ball, K and E are repeated, which makes little sense.

And, as @m69 further points out:

It’s not just that the lay-out is different; look at which part of the letter E is covered by the elephant’s ear; that’s different too.

Note also that in the photo of the ball that Hedstrom sent me, V is used for vase, not volcano, R is for robot, not rainbow, and the drawing of the nail for N is a slightly different style than on your ball.

Finally, at @jkej’s prompting:

It would add to the “circumstantial” evidence if we could find out the full set of pictures/words used on the original Hedstrom ball. Particularly, it would be very interesting if we could confirm that:

All words that are not sensible in English (i.e. Yxa and U-boat) were absent from the original.

All words not sensible in Swedish were present on the original.

If (2) holds it is possible that all words added to the knock-off were taken from a Swedish source. Given the pictures of the original that we already have, we only need to confirm that Owl, Queen and W orm were on the original to prove (2).

I asked my contact at Hedstrom, and she replied:

The ‘U’ has a red and white UMBRELLA. The ‘O’ has a brown and yellow OWL. The ‘Q’ has a QUEEN with white hair and a yellow crown with red & blue jewels. And ‘W’ is an orange and red WORM.

Based on this, @jkej’s analysis is:

I’d like to underscore that I think the answer from Hedstrom was a BIG step forward. It may seem like a dead end, but i t conclusively tells us that A) the pictures on the ball came from two distinctly separate sources, B) the general impression of an English ball can be fully explained by one of the sources, C) the pictures from the second source are better explained in Swedish. These were things we could only speculate about before.

So a third-party made a knock-off version of the ball, not unusual in Asian manufacture, and introduced these differences, and perhaps picked up some Swedish contagion in the process.

To confirm that, we’ll have to pick up the scent of this mysterious DNE you found near the valve of your ball.

But to do that, we have to start at the other end of the trail. I’ve reached out to Lojas França via email and Facebook. The email bounced, but there’s still hope they’ll reply on Facebook.

Meanwhile, an informant, @Brad Koch, has it from some good sources in shady corners of the internet that the ball has been found. From @thedrake on HackerNews:

I found the BALL manufacturer!!!!https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Alphabets-print-ball_573748097.html

And what do we spy in the SW and SE corners of the right image (zoom in):



Our suspects! Hiding in China, right where our intelligence said they’d be. And all the other images match as well.

Now to track down the manufacturer of these knock-off balls.

Nature of Business: Exporter‚ Manufacturer Industry: Toys & Games Product/Service Range: Toys and Games Major Market(s): * Eastern Europe * Western Europe

So while Hedstrom is not responsible for the axe on your ball, there is one last piece of evidence that Y= yxa.

We find the ball again on a Swedish user’s Pinterest page.

In fact, this one of only 3 sites I could find anywhere on the Internet with an image of your ball 7.

After all this, one thing is certain. Since the original designer of the ball, an American company whose employees are native speakers of English, used yo-yo to illustrate y, we know the intended word is not English.

Overall, adulteration of the ball with Swedish words seems indicated, though far from definitive.

But it’s the best theory I’ve got. Except of course for @Vincent Fourmond’s conclusion that we’re dealing here with a .

¹ I also tried “and related to”: hatchet, chop, and cut, even though the latter two words are verbs and all the other symbols on the child’s ball represent concrete nouns. Nothing material emerged.

² We could make a case for N also fitting for Swedish, as @konaya points out, by observing the depicted object could as easily be a tack, which is ubb in Swedish.

³ Note that the E and K which are on the northermost latitude in the photograph have different orientations, and the symbol always has the same orientation as its letter (i.e., the top of the symbol shows you where the top of the letter is) so there is no concern that the W for worm might be M for maggot or anything.

I say this because I wondered for a moment whether the illustrator mistook Y for an upside-down h in hatchet.

4 Which, taken as a holistic pattern, makes the theory very dubious.

5 Since this question was asked, the chúng tôi product page has been removed, with no redirect. Likely that’s due to the the popularity of this question causing many people to hit that page (which listed an out-of-stock item), causing needless load from their perspective. But through shrewd parameter hacking, @biolauri got Google to serve up a cached version. A screenshot is available here, for when the cache inevitably gets flushed and also disappears.

Note that the UPC / barcode is the same as in the catalog, 0-33149-04155-9, but the item number differs. The ~2012 catalog has 54-4155, but the 2013 price list has 54-41554. This may be a typo, or it may be additional substantiation that one UPC may be used for different versions of the product.

7 One potential risk here is that the chúng tôi page was dynamically generated just for me, based on cookies set during the course of my research into “Swedish” and a young child’s toy. Note the Swedish header translates to just a generic a “check out these fine products”, and all the products offered are to toys for young children, related to reading, and all the descriptions are in English. But I think the risk here is low: I found the site through a reverse image search on Google, which suggests it pre-existed my research.

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