During this year of joy, giving and other crap like that, many parents will be entering local retailers, clicking online and making shady cash purchases from vans in alleyways to get the perfect gift for their little dependents--I mean, children.

As a service to these parents, here’s my fourth-annual Parental Misery Index (PMI) guide, whether you want it or not.

PMI is my research and analysis of the hottest toys of the holiday season. Those toys are then assigned a rating on my proprietary PMI scale from 1 to 10 based on how miserable the toy will make an unsuspecting parent.

A score of 1 is for a toy that parents will love so much, they would forbid their kids from playing with it so the parents can have time with it. So far, no toy has ever achieved a 1 score unless there’s a toy that also serves whiskey to dad.

A score of 10 on the scale means the toy is annoying enough to be a character on “Grey’s Anatomy”.

For this year’s PMI research, I went totally cyber and viewed comment sections on various online toy retailers and learned that mean people suck, various middle-finger emojis can be used in an argument, people are praying for each other (and one comment had all three of those!) and what the most popular toys are this year.

They include:

Baby Shark Dancing DJ, price $33.88, for ages 2 and up.

If you’ve been living under a coral reef for the past year, the “Baby Shark” song has taken the world by storm with a catchy tune that gets in your head...and never leaves no matter how far you shove the ice pick into your ear drum. So, of course, there’s a toy shark that dances with you kid and plays seven different versions of the “Baby Shark” song.

PMI Rating: 9.1

Trying to explain to someone that this toy will continue to annoy them even after they smashed it to pieces with a baseball bat as the songs will linger as the soundtrack of their nightmares, is like telling someone in the path of a tidal wave they’ll get a little damp. So I’ll leave it at that.

Play-Doh Compounds, price $14.99, for ages 3 and up.

Play-Doh is upgrading with a series of new compounds to satisfy the short attention span of children by not stopping at, well, the traditional Play-Doh, but incorporating slime and substances with names like Super Stretch, Hydroglitz, Krackle, Elastix, Super Cloud and Foam.

PMI Rating: 8.4

Ah, Play-D’oh, my inner child misses you and then my inner adult slaps my inner child in the head for thinking such a thought. It’s important for parents to research what exactly each compound listed is because you’ll have to figure out how to scrub it out of your carpet, the curtains, human and pet hair, appliances and even your small intestine, if you’re the target of an awful practical joke.

Secret Agent Mystery Mission Case, price $59.99, for ages 3 and up.

Now your kids can play detective starting with figuring out the code to unlock a “top secret” briefcase, then revealing the mystery messages to discover exclusive figurines, spy gear and walkie talkies, but hopefully not a license to kill.

PMI Rating: 6.2

This gift, while likely to be harmless make-believe for most kids, has the potential to end marriages in the wrong hands. If you don’t know what I mean, think about all the little things you do throughout the day that your spouse frowns upon, and now imagine if your kid is secretly documenting all of it. The cost of this toy might as well be $159.99 because you bought a hefty supply of blackmail that goes with it.

Monopoly House Divided, price $19.99, for ages 8 and up.

If anyone has ever said this year’s presidential election seems to be as long and as frustrating as a game of Monopoly, then the game designers must be eavesdropping because this version of the game has players trying to gain states and voters rather than buying and renting properties.

PMI Rating: 7.4

I don’t know about everyone else, but I was always taught to not speak of certain things at bars and dinner tables and school buses to avoid fights, and that’s to avoid talking about religion, Paris Fashion Week faux pas and politics. What better gift to give this holiday season to a heavily-divided and politically-hostile society than a board game illustrating those tensions and turmoil.

With that, I hope this year’s list finds you well and helps guide you through the endless options of toys out there for your kids without perishing in all the pitfalls that come with it.

Yes, I know this year’s list looks bleak for parents with no toys achieving a rating lower than 6, but this is 2020, and we can’t expect anything less than that.

According to Hofmann is written by staff reporter Mark Hofmann of Rostraver Township. His books, “Good Mourning! A Guide to Biting the Big One...and Dying, Too” and “Stupid Brain,” are available on Amazon.com. He co-hosts the “Locally Yours” radio show on WMBS 590 AM every Friday.

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