I PLAY, THEREFORE I AM Roll it, toss it, whirl it on your hips. Sometimes pointlessness is the point.

Richard Knerr died last week at the age of 82. He co-founded Wham-O, the corporation that brought us the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee and the SuperBall.

Mr. Knerr and his partner, Arthur Melin, who died in 2002, were able to pull off one of the most difficult tricks in marketing: starting a fad. Repeatedly. Like quantum mechanics and comedy, not everybody can do it.

“Fads are really hard to figure out,” said Dennis Hall, a professor of English at the University of Louisville who specializes in popular culture.

Ray B. Browne, founder of The Journal of Popular Culture and the Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University, said that fads were an ephemeral artifact of a culture that’s always on the lookout for the next thing. Fads are a facet of the national character, he said, and “I personally think it’s good for society.” He explained, “It’s a dynamic in society that really does keep us pretty much alert.”

A culture that thrives on newness and flexibility, he said, will go through fads quite naturally. He added, “I’m not sure that fads aren’t fertilizer to American culture.”

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