When Jessica and Dan Friedman entered the toy box judging room for the final round of a toy invention competition, they didn't know what would happen next. The LDS couple from Lino Lakes, Minnesota, had already submitted their toy invention, Maze-O, to the scrutiny of adult mentors on ABC's The Toy Box, now it was time for the real test—what would be the child judges' final decision?
Jessica and Dan waited, watching the Magic-8-Ball screens and hoping their journey on the show would not end here and the prize—for Maze-O to be sold on the shelves of Toys "R" Us—would be theirs.
But even if their journey ended on the show, they already had a plan to continue Maze-O.
Before appearing on the show, Jessica and Dan Friedman had one very important goal: help their son JZ create 3D mazes without the blocks falling down.
To keep her son preoccupied and still able to listen to the speakers in Church meetings, Jessica would draw mazes for JZ to solve. But when JZ's love of mazes grew, he began creating mazes out of blocks at home, though it became apparent that all his hard work could be easily demolished.
"When we looked to buy a toy for him, we could only find maze toys geared for older children," Jessica says. "Most of the maze toys out there rely on a base with slots in it and the child inserts walls. The problem with this method is young children think in terms of the path they want to create, not the walls or boundaries."
That's when Maze-O was born. By cutting out cardboard pieces instead of using wooden blocks, the Friedman's created their first version of the maze toy that wouldn't be so easily demolished. However, after hours of cutting out cardboard pieces, the Friedmans purchased a 3D printer and began making the interlocking plastic parts themselves.
Photo courtesy Dan and Jessica Friedman
Photo courtesy Dan and Jessica Friedman
The Friedman's then took their idea for the Maze-O toy to a product design contest and received thousands of printed prototype pieces for free, which Jessica says saved thousands on prototype costs and helped them iterate Maze-O quickly.
And as the Friedmans worked on their Maze-O product, they received a call about participating in a new ABC toy-competition show where inventors present their toys to a cast of adult mentors and child judges.
"It was so foreign of an idea to me, that I thought at first it must somehow be a scammer," Jessica says. "I mean, you are called by someone out of the blue who wants to put you on national TV? That sounds pretty shifty!"
But once verifying the show's authenticity and participating in the formal audition, the Friedmans were selected to a part of the show, which was filmed in New York.
After a severely delayed flight, the Friedmans arrived at their hotel at 4 a.m., just three hours before their first appearance on the show.
Despite gettying very little sleep and the adrenaline rush of competing on the show, the Friedmans found ways to have some fun.
"We spent some of the free time practicing and talking about how we were doing, but a lot of the time we were just trying to have fun and keep our minds off the waiting," Jessica says. "Dan put music on his phone and we danced together in our dressing room."
While on the show, the Friedmans became acquainted with The Toy Box host and Modern Family actor, Eric Stonestreet.
"Eric Stonestreet was so down-to-earth when we met him. He’s just the kind of guy I’d love to have over for dinner," Jessica remembers. "I could genuinely tell that he wished the best for us and loved our product when we were there."
Jessica says Stonestreet commented about how much he like Maze-O, saying he would have loved to have had the toy as a kid.
Photo from Maze-O Facebook page
And Stonestreet wasn't the only one to show his interest in Maze-O.
"We were really excited for kid judges," Jessica says. "We knew that once they could get their hands on Maze-O, they would love it. They protested when they had to stop playing."
The day the show aired, the Friedmans invited friends, neighbors, family, and Church members to a special viewing party at their home.
"All the kids were sitting in the front and cheering for Maze-O. When we went in for the results, the whole crowd was cheering 'Maze-O! Maze-O! Maze-O!' Their support and excitement were incredible," Jessica says.
Despite the support and love the Friedmans received, the Magic-8-Ball screen revealed that they would not advance in the competition.
"I think I took a second to process the 'don’t count on it' to a 'no,'" Jessica says, remembering the results. "We were disappointed. We would have loved to make it to the finale, but we are so happy with how far we got."
"It's a bummer. But it’s also an opportunity," Dan shares. "Either way, we came out ahead. The future will just require more work and more persistence and more prayers."
Stonestreet also sent out a supportive tweet to the Friedmans after the episode.
The Friedmans say since the show, they've made some modifications to their product based on the feedback they received and Maze-O is currently for sale on Amazon and through their website, maze-o.com. The couple also adds they are working on plans to get Maze-O into retail stores.
"We’ve had a great response from people who have seen the show and purchased Maze-O," Jessica says. "The comments and support have been incredible! Our next step is to continue the momentum and excitement."