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 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 "eat" 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 had the doll equivalent of an eating disorder, obsessively consuming anything that got caught in its maw--including some little girls' hair.
And so, reported the Associated Press on December 30, 1996, "three-year-old Carly Mize was left partly bald on Thursday..." That was the end of that particular item from Mattel.
The toy world is littered with bad ideas, including the classic Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, released in 19S0. The set included an electroscope to measure the radioactivity of the samples provided, but a warning stated that "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 in the marketplace.
Gilbert continued to sell its non-nuclear 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 chem sets, dumbed down by forces like the Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act of 1960, the Toy Safety Act of 1969, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, and the ministrations of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), founded in 1972. Those efforts don't just keep genuinely hazardous substances out of the hands of budding chemists. After a while, "You couldn't really make anything," says consultant Chris Byrne (a.k.a. The Toy Guy). "You couldn't get black powder anymore. You didn't get any of the cool stuff. It's all baking soda."
Byrne fondly remembers the Creepy Crawlers of his youth. With this toy, kids squirted plastic goop into flat metal molds of insect shapes, then heated them in the macho equivalent of an E-Z Bake Oven. Users were expected to remove the red-hot tray from the heat with tongs and submerge it in water to cool. "A hot Creepy Crawler plate was a good way to torment your brother," Byrne recalls. Today, with some...