New twists on old favorites seems to be the theme of the various “hot toy” lists this holiday season.

There’s still time for a surprise hot toy to emerge, as shoppers have just begun to swarm stores, but so far the items that merchants are predicting as big sellers have familiar rings to them.

Take, for example, Target, which came out with a 20-item “top toy” list that includes Scrabble and Yahtzee. But it’s not just any version of Scrabble that the Target folks are hoping will sell hotter than Tickle Me Elmo and Zhu Zhu Pets — it’s a new Scrabble Flash electronic version.

This updated version sells for about $20 and not only lights up the words, but keeps score for you. So you can’t enhance (read: cheat) on your score.

Maybe it’s the slow economy, but retailers say most of the trends that they are predicting will fuel toy sales this season include toys that allow families to play together, that educate, and that play on familiar themes, such as Disney’s princess line or the world of LEGO bricks.

“We’re seeing a variety of trends, including the ability to interact with toys, the ability to create a personalized experience, educational toys, toys that promote family game nights,” said Leah Guimond, a spokesperson for the Target chain based in Minneapolis. “And the popularity of merchandise from movie releases.”

Besides Scrabble Flash, some of the toys on Target’s “top toy” list that represent those trends include Fijit Friends ($40), a tiny interactive creature with 150 built-in phrases and jokes along with voice recognition; a Captain America electronic action figure ($20); LeapFrog and LeapPad learning toys (various prices); and the Barbie Hairtastic Color and Wash Salon ($25), which allows children to color Barbie’s hair a variety of shades, then wash the color out and start all over.

Toys R Us has its own hot toy lists, including its “Fabulous 15” representing the so-called “best” new toys of the holiday season. It includes a lot of crossover with the Target list, including Fijit Friends, LeapPad, LEGO building sets, new play sets for the popular Lalaloopsy dolls ($17.99 and up) and — hold onto your tickle spot — the latest in a long line of hot Elmo dolls, Let’s Rock! Elmo ($55).

In this latest incarnation of the fuzzy red “Sesame Street” character, Elmo comes with bongo drums, a mic and a tambourine. Elmo plays one instrument while the child plays along to the same tune on another.

While Target and Toys R Us may saturate the airwaves with ads for mass-market “hot toys,” there are tons of independent toy stores focusing more on durable toys, learning toys, and toys that spur imaginative play.

Candace Gooch runs such a store in Limerick called At Once All Agog. She doesn’t carry any licensed products — no Disney stuff, for instance — but has a large selection of building toys, toy food and science toys.

For her hot toy predictions, Gooch looks to her customers and to a holiday toy list put out by the American Speciality Toy Retailers Association.

So while some kids may want a Captain America action figure after seeing the movie “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Gooch is predicting that the Design Your Own Superhero Cape kit ($40) she sells will do well. Each kit comes with a plain cape plus craft glue, a brush, felt shapes, glitter and other items to use for customizing.

Gooch also thinks various building-block toys will do well, including Tegu blocks ($60 for 22 pieces), which are blocks in different geometric shapes, and Nanoblock ($9 to $18), a set of micro-sized blocks that allow kids to make replicas of the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, among others.

Then there’s something called Big Bag of Science ($40), which has instructions and supplies for more than 70 science activities, such as making water disappear or creating a soda geyser.

“I carry toys that require active imagination,” said Gooch.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]