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Assembling Those Hard-to-Put-Together Toys

It's Christmas morning, and the easy part is over - unwrapping the presents.

Now comes the challenging part - putting together all the toys!

It can be daunting but, on "The Early Show" Thursday, contributor Shannon Eis proved it doesn't have to be, sharing step-by-step pointers for some of the tougher-to-assemble popular toys.

What should parents have on-hand?

• Scissors
• Batteries - in numerous sizes (I like this new holiday pack from Duracell that includes a package opener)
• Wire cutters
• Screwdriver (I like the iGo mini-automatic screwdriver -- it's a life-saver!)
• Ziploc bags - for small parts
• File folder for instructions, warranties and product registration info

Thomas the Tank Engine

From Fisher-Price: Thomas the Tank Log Adventure Set $60 For ages 3 and up

Reviews say the track takes about 30-45 minutes to assemble.

Before getting started, you want to remember these three things: Make sure pieces are locked before use, do not assemble a toy like this based on the picture -- follow the instructions in order, and do not substitute parts.

There are lots of pieces in the box, but track parts are numbered. Be sure to fully snap pieces into place as you're building and again when fully-assembled. Each piece has a specific length and curvature that isn't standard, and so only fits in a specific place on the layout. The track pieces are also twisted, bent and sloped, so you need to use the raisers in a very specific configuration for it to lay straight on the ground. It's extremely important that you follow instructions and don't substitute parts.

Some pros: This is a nicely-priced set: a motorized Thomas, and nice interactive elements including log chopper and zip line for the train.

Playmobil Magic Castle

$135 Ages 3 and up

Some reviews have noted assembly for two people can take up to three hours. The other day, it took three stagehands about three hours to assemble this - it's a huge task. The top three things to remember here:

(1) Do not, under any circumstances take shortcuts and follow the process of building

(2) Consider using super glue for small parts that could easily come off

(3) Keep Ziploc bags handy to organize various parts

The instructions are illustrations, not written words, which is helpful to understand which parts (visually) go where. Don't try to assemble by the picture on the box. Don't take shortcuts: Follow the suggested process, or you'll miss small parts that are necessary. The ballister and floral decorations can pop off easily, so consider gluing them on, especially if you have a small child (under 2) in the house, as they could become choking hazards. There are lots of very small parts, so keep bags or containers handy. It has the following: separate components for different phases of assembly process, core structure, attachments (doors, windows, etc.), decorations.

Some pros: Lots of play and pretend space, and you can add on rooms and attachments to expand the play space. It's sturdy and durable. Playmobil is a trusted brand with a good safety record.

Toys for Big Kids (Adults!): Universal Remote Controls

Radio Shack Universal Remote
$8.99

Logitech 300i Universal Remote
$29.99

Prices vary, but based on reviews -- definitely invest more in this item and go with a reputable brand like Phillips or one from Logitech, the Harmony 300i remote. Logitech supports over 5,000-plus brands. With one click, you can jump to your favorite channels or switch screen sizes, or even access video on-demand. Set-up is a snap: All you do is connect the remote to your computer and follow the prompts. It's very user-friendly. There's a one-year warranty on this remote.

Some reviews:

Pros: Programmable buttons for unique features of devices.
Cons: Have to hold it at the devices when using the "all on" feature. After programming this remote, there were a few things it didn't do, but programmable buttons took care of those few items that were unique to the devices I programmed it for. In short, this remote handles everything I need. I have a receiver, DVD changer, TV, and Dish DVR box, and it handles every one of those devices with ease!

I wish I would've bought this sooner! I've replaced my TV,DVR and surround sound remotes with this! It's awesome to not even have to press a different device button to control that device. I've set volume buttons to always adjust the surround sound volume, most buttons control my cable / DVR box, and still have a TV input button to switch to PS3 /Wii. All buttons are 100 percent configurable, too.

For the Radio Shack remote, which just relies on a pamphlet and not a computer program, you are going to have a tougher time and less support. One user who reviewed this product complained that it didn't work with their digital converter box -- that the manual gave a proper code to sync it but, when that didn't work, he went online and found that it wasn't compatible. However, some users were pleased with it, saying they liked the fact that it's simple.

A universal remote will enable you to create functions that will automate the process of setting up your home theater, such as setting up a command for watching a DVD that will turn on the TV, set it to the proper input, turn on the DVD player, turn on the receiver and set it to the proper DVD input, and even dim the lights to the proper viewing levels, all at the touch of a button. Universal remote controls enable custom codes to be entered into the remote in order to control each of your components. Universal remote codes can also sometimes be programmed entirely through the computer and input into your remote through a USB connection. Web-based set-up is a big improvement over previous methods and is BY FAR preferred. Depending on the device, the simplest set up instructions are:

• Install required software for initial Web-based programming. There are no control codes to type in.
• Follow the program prompts and find your components -- let the computer do the work.
• Higher-end devices support a wider range and brand of components, up to 100,000, so there are (potentially) fewer risks of your devices not being compatible.
• Select default selections when possible for each device, as well as customize additional buttons.

The help process during set-up has improved -- you can push the "help" button to get a series of question prompts that guide you through the next steps. That's a big improvement over the automated on-screen options previously offered. And more brands are providing online live tech support to help get you over hurdles (Harmony is one example). The sheer amount of setup options can be a bit daunting for first time universal remote owners, as can the process of using the remote to anyone in the house who wasn't involved with its programming -- lots of buttons with no clear indication what works with what.

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