Will Santa Bring Lawn Darts?
What's that bare spot under the Christmas tree? It's a silent salute to the toys we've lost to regulations and lawsuits over the years -- toys that delighted many and, alas, maimed a few.
Toys like the bizarre Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kid that, one wag noted, always seemed to be high. That's because the '90s doll was built to munch whatever you could fit into its soft rubber mouth, which served as a portal to some kind of internal turbine that -- significantly -- did not come with an off switch. While you could deliberately feed it everything from a plastic french fry to a stick of chalk, it would also eat anything that got caught in its maw -- including hair still on little girls' heads.
And so, reported The Independent on Dec. 30, 1996, "three-year-old Carly Mize was left partly bald on Thursday ... " That was the end of that particular item from Mattel Inc.
The toy world once pulsed with bad ideas, including the classic Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, released in 1950. The set included an electroscope to measure the radioactivity of the samples provided. Children were protected how? By a warning that stated "users should not take ore samples out of their jars." You might expect a toy bringing literal radioactivity into the home would sell like (extreeeeeemely) hotcakes, but this one fizzled.
A.C. Gilbert Co. continued to sell its nonnuclear chemistry sets until the company's demise in 1967. It's just as well the great inventor A.C. Gilbert did not live to see our current era's chemistry sets, which got safety-fied to the point where "you couldn't really make anything," according to Chris Byrne (aka The Toy Guy). "It's all baking soda."
One toy Byrne fondly remembers was the Creepy Crawlers set of his youth. Basically, kids squirted plastic goop into flat metal molds of insect shapes, then heated them in the macho equivalent of an Easy-Bake Oven. Users were expected to remove the red-hot tray from the heat with tongs and submerge it (with a satisfying hiss) in water to cool. Some had other ideas. "A hot Creepy Crawler plate was a good way to torment your brother," Byrne recalls.
The '90s brought youngsters a toy called the Sky Dancers, plastic fairies with spinning wings. You attached the doll to a base, pulled a ripcord and off she flew -- erratically and fast. It took six years for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, to ground the dancers, which it did in 2000, saying the manufacturer had received 150 reports of injuries, including scratched corneas, facial lacerations and a broken rib. That might seem dangerous, but this was a recall of 9 million dolls. Is your child's bike as safe?
The odds were admittedly worse for kids playing with perhaps the best known of all banned toys: jarts. These sharp metal "lawn darts" were designed to whiz through the air and sink into anything soft, such as your grass or pet or foot. After the CPSC compiled a list of 6,100 injuries and one fatality, it banned them the week before Christmas in 1988.
It's hard to complain about that particular decision. But today's toys are so risk-averse -- and politically correct -- it's almost embarrassing. There was Spanish Barbie in a matador costume, which Mattel stopped selling after an activist campaign noted matadors kill bulls. And there were 9 million plastic "dive sticks" -- cigar-sized weighted sticks that stand upright at the bottom of the pool -- recalled after six "impalement injuries."
Happily, real, wooden sticks remain unregulated. Maybe you can put those under the tree.
Come to think of it, those ARE the tree. Let the sword fights begin!
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy (Lskenazy@yahoo.com) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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