The Toys of Yesteryear

(I’m DNBD after busting my ass on a story that was submitted on the day of the deadline, so here’s something lighthearted – I wrote this many years ago, but you may enjoy it.)

I’ve been thinking about toys lately, the old toys my friends and I used to play with before puberty hit and started screwing with our heads, toys from a more innocent time. A lot of those toys are now considered vintage and sell on collector web pages and sites like eBay for astounding prices.

In defiance of today’s politically-correct, safety-first, health-conscious, education-oriented entertainment systems, I’d like to list just a few of the risky and dangerous toys I played with as a kid, some of them mine, some of them hand-me-downs from my older brothers.

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THE AUTO-DESTROYER – This very heavy machine gun was powered by D cells and fired 20 soft plastic pellets a second. If you put the pellets in the freezer beforehand, they became so hard they could be embedded in targets like plastic, soft woods, and faces. Magnificent. The damn things were pulled off the shelves in 1971 after they were used in a Leavenworth prison break.

BARBY’S KITCHEN OF THE FUTURE – The only item on the list just for girls, this Barbie rip-off from Hong Kong was a hit in the summer of ’61, until parents got hip to the fact that the little Atomic Oven had a timer, but no thermostat, and the timers only shut off the heating element in the oven 50% of the time. A lot of little girls’ bedrooms went up in smoke before they stopped this toy at the border. The mortal flaw of this toy led Hasbro to experiment with light bulbs in place of heating elements, and a few years later the Easy-Bake Oven was born.

CAPTAIN YARRG – A lumpy alien action figure (boys do not play with dolls), Captain Yarrg had a hollow interior and some plastic reeds in his throat. If you squeezed him, the air rushed past the reeds and he yelled, “YARRG!” Once the pressure was released his plastic body would resume its normal shape, ‘inhaling’ more air. Even better, if you squeezed Captain Yarrg empty and then let him inflate over, say, a bowl of Campbell’s Mushroom Soup, he would suck up the soup, and you then had a much better toy because it could projectile vomit at least three feet.

THE DOO-SLING – Let’s not beat around the bush here. The Doo-Sling was a small slingshot that fired a piece of dog or cat crap about fifty feet. The special stick-free surface of the payload pocket ensured that moist projectiles were launched with ease. Historic note; this was the first mass-market toy to use Teflon.

THE FLY TRAP – The Fly Trap was a giant plastic bag that zippered shut. It was pretty much air tight, but it had ventilation holes in the top. It didn’t do much besides seal you inside like a giant sandwich bag, but if you took it to the beach you could walk on the water briefly before it filled up. After a couple of dumb kids drowned they took it off the market.

GUMBALL OF THE GODS – Most chewing gums have a bit of rubber in them, but in 1968 China’s Crazy Monkey Gum Company took the concept too far. They created gumballs with a base of chicle modified in the laboratory. When the gum base was broken free of its shell and exposed to the air, as happened when a kid chewed on it and blew a bubble, the modified chicle expanded at an incredible rate, creating massive bubbles. It was unfortunate that a few wimpy kids suffocated when they had the air sucked out of their lungs by this self-inflating bubble gum, because this stuff kicked ass.

HEAVEN IS FUN! – This board game from Parker Brothers was on the verge of becoming a big seller until kids who played it found it too addictive. It made Heaven seem so nice, compared to the real world of being picked on at school and yelled at by your parents, that almost a dozen kids killed themselves to get a taste of the real thing. In the same month (April of 1962) Parker Brothers denied any liability and stopped producing the game.

THE STINK CANNON – So big it could only be fired using the shoulder-mount (included free), this toy fired a ball of air, but when you loaded little ampules of a volatile organic cocktail into the cannon it shot an atrocious, violently foul odor thirty feet away from the shooter. Kids across America enjoyed playing with the Stink Cannon in the early sixties, until complaints from parents (reporting instances of widespread vomiting fits) forced the FDA to step in and ban the toy. Descriptions of the smell gave the impression of huge vats containing turbid pools of rotting meat and feces, shimmering under a hot sun.

THE IMPOSSIBLE BOX – This toy box was imported from China, where it was actually used as an inexpensive safe for valuables. It looked like a plain varnished wood box, three feet on each side, with an open hand symbol on one side. A hinged lid opened into (and not out from) the box, and toys could be safely hidden inside. To open the other end and retrieve toys one had to memorize a complex combination of pressure points to be pushed. Most kids forgot the combination and ended up breaking the box open to get their stuff back. In 1966 some kid down in Florida crawled into one of these things and died. His parents only found him after he started to smell.

THE MUD BAZOOKA – This baby could have been used on the front lines in Vietnam. A variation on the Stink Cannon, this air-powered bazooka fired balls of mud. This fantastic toy was recalled after a kid in Indiana or Illinois got a mud ball in the kisser at close range and had all the flesh flayed from the front of his skull. I think they rebuilt his face with skin from his butt or something like that.

QUART ‘O WARTS – A short-lived Halloween item, this plastic jug (shaped like a milk bottle) contained little rubber warts. All you had to do was peel off the paper backing to expose the adhesive, and stick them on your face or body. They were hilarious. Unfortunately they were also a source of permanent disfigurement. It was discovered that compounds in the adhesive reacted with natural oils on children’s skin, the end result being that holes were burned into the epidermis so quickly and painlessly that it looked like the rubber warts were burrowing into them.

THE VENUSIAN SPACE BLANKET – In 1959 this foil blanket was included in the Junior Space Protection League Survival Kit, along with a bunch of plastic crap like sparking ray guns and a cheap compass and a tiny telescope. A forerunner of the metal foil survival blankets we have today, this little item reflected back 100% of any heat directed at it. On one bitterly cold winter day a kid up in Minnesota wrapped one around his torso and put a shirt over it before going off to school. By the time the lunch bell sounded the kid had slumped over his desk dead, most of his internal organs cooked by his own body heat.

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God, I miss those good old days.

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