The Consumer CHRISTMAS TURKEYS

Some toys that are no fun.

In one of history’s most forgettable moments, presidential candidate Al Smith said, “Nobody shoots at Santa Claus.” At the rate Santa’s going, however, this may not be true much longer. He has flooded this year’s market with toys that are expensive, tasteless, dangerous and just plain crummy. We would have been better off if many of the playIn one of history’s most forgettable moments, presidential candidate Al Smith said, “Nobody shoots at Santa Claus.” At the rate Santa’s going, however, this may not be true much longer. He has flooded this year’s market with toys that are expensive, tasteless, dangerous and just plain crummy. We would have been better off if many of the playthings in our local stores had fallen out of the big red bag somewhere over the Yukon. Here’s one man’s guide through the morass – and some practical advice on which toys to buy and which to avoid.

What better place to begin our browsing than in the weaponry department? Ideally, children wouldn’t play with toy guns. And ideally, adults wouldn’t play with real ones. But they do. And who’s to say whether you should deprive your child of play guns for “psychological” reasons, thereby exposing him to the ridicule of things in our local stores had fallen out of the big red bag somewhere over the Yukon. Here’s one man’s guide through the morass – and some practical advice on which toys to buy and which to avoid.

What better place to begin our browsing than in the weaponry department? Ideally, children wouldn’t play with toy guns. And ideally, adults wouldn’t play with real ones. But they do. And who’s to say whether you should deprive your child of play guns for “psychological” reasons, thereby exposing him to the ridicule of his peers? You must decide, but if you opt for arming him, you can at least select one of the least deadly choices.

Santa’s little helpers in the local discount stores and five-and-tens offer some real losers. Woolco carries a dart pistol sponsored by those bastions of TV violence, Starsky and Hutch. On the pack-, age the manufacturer entices urchin shoppers by telling them they can make their own rules and create their own games. Just consider the possibilities.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, of course, issues warnings on potentially dangerous toys. But some of the warnings suggest that the toys might better have been kept off the market. For instance, on the package of Mattel’s Crack-fire Snubnose .38 caliber, 24-shot cap pistol ($1.99 at Sterling’s), the Safety Commission reminds little shooters that caps should not be exploded within 12 inches of his peers? You must decide, but if you opt for arming him, you can at least select one of the least deadly choices.

Santa’s little helpers in the local discount stores and five-and-tens offer some real losers. Woolco carries a dart pistol sponsored by those bastions of TV violence, Starsky and Hutch. On the pack-, age the manufacturer entices urchin shoppers by telling them they can make their own rules and create their own games. Just consider the possibilities.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, of course, issues warnings on potentially dangerous toys. But some of the warnings suggest that the toys might better have been kept off the market. For instance, on the package of Mattel’s Crack-fire Snubnose .38 caliber, 24-shot cap pistol ($1.99 at Sterling’s), the Safety Commission reminds little shooters that caps should not be exploded within 12 inches of another child’s ear. (So if you select this remarkable replica of the Saturday Night Special, be sure to pick up a ruler as well.)

The Ping Pong Automatic Rifle ($2.43 at Woolco) is another example: “Never aim this gun at another person.” No argument there.

M.E, Moses has the Zebra Automatic Pistol with 50 shots for 95¢. This rapid-fire killer boasts of its bigger size, improved accuracy and longer range. For another 49¢ you can pick up 250 extra “bullets” – round rubber vinyl beads, about twice the size of BB’s. And for heavy action, there’s a Junior Sportsman pump-action rifle for $2.99. It holds 250 hard rubber pellets. Sure, both are better than BB guns, but do we really need them? And couldn’t we get along without the $1.29 Law and Order miniature pistol that “actually shoots plastic dumdums?”

Some toymakers are trying to do better. The Daisy Air Rifle people have produced a gun that doesn’t emit a projectile.



another child’s ear. (So if you select this remarkable replica of the Saturday Night Special, be sure to pick up a ruler as well.)

The Ping Pong Automatic Rifle ($2.43 at Woolco) is another example: “Never aim this gun at another person.” No argument there.

M.E, Moses has the Zebra Automatic Pistol with 50 shots for 95¢. This rapid-fire killer boasts of its bigger size, improved accuracy and longer range. For another 49¢ you can pick up 250 extra “bullets” – round rubber vinyl beads, about twice the size of BB’s. And for heavy action, there’s a Junior Sportsman pump-action rifle for $2.99. It holds 250 hard rubber pellets. Sure, both are better than BB guns, but do we really need them? And couldn’t we get along without the $1.29 Law and Order miniature pistol that “actually shoots plastic dumdums?”

Some toymakers are trying to do better. The Daisy Air Rifle people have produced a gun that doesn’t emit a projectile.



Instead, the Trail Rider ($8.99 at Toy City) gives off a loud bang with a realistic ricochet whine. Unfortunately, it has a tight-fitting cocking mechanism, which has to be pressed rather forcefully to “reload” and which can provide a frightful pinch to that tender, vulnerable skin between thumb and forefinger. Maybe next year, Daisy.

On the plus side, the Magic Shot Shooting Gallery by Marx ($11.99 at J. C. Penney) Instead, the Trail Rider ($8.99 at Toy City) gives off a loud bang with a realistic ricochet whine. Unfortunately, it has a tight-fitting cocking mechanism, which has to be pressed rather forcefully to “reload” and which can provide a frightful pinch to that tender, vulnerable skin between thumb and forefinger. Maybe next year, Daisy.

On the plus side, the Magic Shot Shooting Gallery by Marx ($11.99 at J. C. Penney) is an excellent buy for parents who elect to compromise with violence. Though the. pistol is hand-held, the bullets are enclosed within the gallery and picked up through a clear plastic shield by a magnet on the end of the gun. Another interesting innovation is the Shoot ’N’ Score shooting gallery ($39.99 in the J. C. Penney catalog), which fires only light. If the light hits a is an excellent buy for parents who elect to compromise with violence. Though the. pistol is hand-held, the bullets are enclosed within the gallery and picked up through a clear plastic shield by a magnet on the end of the gun. Another interesting innovation is the Shoot ’N’ Score shooting gallery ($39.99 in the J. C. Penney catalog), which fires only light. If the light hits a photocell in the target, a noise goes off and a score is recorded. It comes with a 32-inch pump-action plastic rifle, a two-speed control to run the target slow or fast and a timer. World War I Aerial Aces ($44.99, Penney’s catalog) operates on the same principle, but planes are downed instead of ducks. And you can find garden variety play guns at the five-and-ten that don’t expel projectiles, pinch or pop caps – if you dig deep enough.

On to more civilized matters: dolls. The trend among doll-makers is to produce a model that can perform one function better than any other doll on the marphotocell in the target, a noise goes off and a score is recorded. It comes with a 32-inch pump-action plastic rifle, a two-speed control to run the target slow or fast and a timer. World War I Aerial Aces ($44.99, Penney’s catalog) operates on the same principle, but planes are downed instead of ducks. And you can find garden variety play guns at the five-and-ten that don’t expel projectiles, pinch or pop caps – if you dig deep enough.

On to more civilized matters: dolls. The trend among doll-makers is to produce a model that can perform one function better than any other doll on the market, but can do nothing else. Baby Heartbeat, for instance, pounds away in the chest area. Baby Come Back toddies off like real tots do, then comes right back and lifts up her little arms to you. And then there’s Baby Alive. This little cutie drinks water, eats food and wets. Any physician will tell you that a creature who drinks and eats, but only wets is going to be unhealthy. That’s the way it is with the little Baby Alive that lives across the alley from me. Either my tiny neighbor has been sharing her spinach with dolly or Baby Alive’s “special food” doesn’t agree with her. At any rate, the poor thing has a distinctly unpleasant odor. Instead, buy a doll with flexible extremities and a pleasant appearance, for in the long run (that is, by December 28th), your child will likely have tired of the single function and will want to do other things with dolly. Or try a stuffed animal – a good buy is the Sesame Street Snuffle-Upagus at J.C. Penney ($13.99).

Mattel has attacked us this year with a devilishly clever invention – Green Slime. This is a clammy, gooey, drippy, pea-green gel in a miniature garbage can. It became a national hit earlier this year, when someone dumped a can on Hamilton Jordan’s desk at the White House. (He thought that some Republican had ket, but can do nothing else. Baby Heartbeat, for instance, pounds away in the chest area. Baby Come Back toddies off like real tots do, then comes right back and lifts up her little arms to you. And then there’s Baby Alive. This little cutie drinks water, eats food and wets. Any physician will tell you that a creature who drinks and eats, but only wets is going to be unhealthy. That’s the way it is with the little Baby Alive that lives across the alley from me. Either my tiny neighbor has been sharing her spinach with dolly or Baby Alive’s “special food” doesn’t agree with her. At any rate, the poor thing has a distinctly unpleasant odor. Instead, buy a doll with flexible extremities and a pleasant appearance, for in the long run (that is, by December 28th), your child will likely have tired of the single function and will want to do other things with dolly. Or try a stuffed animal – a good buy is the Sesame Street Snuffle-Upagus at J.C. Penney ($13.99).

Mattel has attacked us this year with a devilishly clever invention – Green Slime. This is a clammy, gooey, drippy, pea-green gel in a miniature garbage can. It became a national hit earlier this year, when someone dumped a can on Hamilton Jordan’s desk at the White House. (He thought that some Republican had vomited on the Presidential Papers.) Mattel knew we would think that anything that looks this bad and still sells has to be good. Judging by Green Slime sales, (eight million cans so far), they had the public figured correctly. But in reality. Green Slime is a psychological double-reverse. It appears to be so bad that at first we think it must be good, but come to find out it’s worse than we thought it vomited on the Presidential Papers.) Mattel knew we would think that anything that looks this bad and still sells has to be good. Judging by Green Slime sales, (eight million cans so far), they had the public figured correctly. But in reality. Green Slime is a psychological double-reverse. It appears to be so bad that at first we think it must be good, but come to find out it’s worse than we thought it was to begin with. It sticks to hair, rugs and fabric, and cannot be removed from clothing by dry cleaning. Need I say more?

Another sneaky entry this year is the Shrinky Dink. A toy that you heat in the oven? It couldn’t be, but it is. Shrinky Dinks are miniature wierdos that you cut out, place on a cookie sheet and stick in the oven to shrink. At a precise instant in the process, you have to jerk the cookie sheet out and slap the wierdo with a spatula or it will “get crooked.” If you wait until the cookie sheet is cool enough to handle safely, your Shrinky Dink will have curled up into a grotesque form reminiscent of Quasimodo. This is a foolhardy endeavor for an adult, let alone a child.

The dullest toys this year are the games, like “Farrah Fawcett,” “Uncle Wiggily,” and “Superman.” All are based upon the same principle: a meandering numbered path from start to uninteresting finish, was to begin with. It sticks to hair, rugs and fabric, and cannot be removed from clothing by dry cleaning. Need I say more?

Another sneaky entry this year is the Shrinky Dink. A toy that you heat in the oven? It couldn’t be, but it is. Shrinky Dinks are miniature wierdos that you cut out, place on a cookie sheet and stick in the oven to shrink. At a precise instant in the process, you have to jerk the cookie sheet out and slap the wierdo with a spatula or it will “get crooked.” If you wait until the cookie sheet is cool enough to handle safely, your Shrinky Dink will have curled up into a grotesque form reminiscent of Quasimodo. This is a foolhardy endeavor for an adult, let alone a child.

The dullest toys this year are the games, like “Farrah Fawcett,” “Uncle Wiggily,” and “Superman.” All are based upon the same principle: a meandering numbered path from start to uninteresting finish, with pointless sidetracks and delays along the way. Farrah drops her tooth brush; go back four spaces. Uncle Wiggily must take his rheumatism medicine; see Nurse Jane behind the chicken coop. Superman has a kryptonite pebble in his leotards; lose one turn. Better stick with the tried-and-true, like Monopoly, Clue and Par-chesi.

There used to be a time when you could get a decent day’s work out of an elf. But now their contract with Santa apparently says that all they have to do is make the pieces. You have to put them together. If you’ve done some early shopping, take a good look at the boxes. Do they say “unassembled” or “assembly required” in fine print? If so, you’d better get started now. Worse yet, there’s Jimmy Murphy’s law to deal with. Little Jimmy says that anything that must be put together today will come apart again tomorrow. This is particularly true of snap-on plastic toys, with pointless sidetracks and delays along the way. Farrah drops her tooth brush; go back four spaces. Uncle Wiggily must take his rheumatism medicine; see Nurse Jane behind the chicken coop. Superman has a kryptonite pebble in his leotards; lose one turn. Better stick with the tried-and-true, like Monopoly, Clue and Par-chesi.

There used to be a time when you could get a decent day’s work out of an elf. But now their contract with Santa apparently says that all they have to do is make the pieces. You have to put them together. If you’ve done some early shopping, take a good look at the boxes. Do they say “unassembled” or “assembly required” in fine print? If so, you’d better get started now. Worse yet, there’s Jimmy Murphy’s law to deal with. Little Jimmy says that anything that must be put together today will come apart again tomorrow. This is particularly true of snap-on plastic toys, such as the riding accessories for Big Jim’s P.A.C.K.

There are two notable exceptions, however. I have never seen a broken Fisher-Price toy, even at a garage sale. And they don’t cater to sissies, either. They build predominantly for the age 2-8 market, one of the most powerful physical forces in the nation. The only peculiar thing about Fisher-Price is the design of their people figures in the Play Family series. They have no arms or legs, just heads and bottom plugs to keep them from falling out of their little cars. My son doesn’t call them people, he calls them “bobo’s.” (I don’t know what the psychological implications of that are.) The other toy line that’s virtually indestructible is Tonka. Our Tonka dump truck is built better than my Oldsmobile.

Now, the worst for last – the prices. such as the riding accessories for Big Jim’s P.A.C.K.

There are two notable exceptions, however. I have never seen a broken Fisher-Price toy, even at a garage sale. And they don’t cater to sissies, either. They build predominantly for the age 2-8 market, one of the most powerful physical forces in the nation. The only peculiar thing about Fisher-Price is the design of their people figures in the Play Family series. They have no arms or legs, just heads and bottom plugs to keep them from falling out of their little cars. My son doesn’t call them people, he calls them “bobo’s.” (I don’t know what the psychological implications of that are.) The other toy line that’s virtually indestructible is Tonka. Our Tonka dump truck is built better than my Oldsmobile.

Now, the worst for last – the prices. Last year I gave my five-year-old a Sears catalog and a felt-tipped marker and told him to mark the six toys he wanted most. It came to around $50-60, not great, but not bad. But now things cost more and he’s a year older. Probably likes bigger stuff. Cleverly, I instructed him to mark only three items this year. He selected a remote-control airplane, an electric pin-ball machine and an electronic shooting gallery. The tab: $158.97. Ridiculous, of course, but even more so when you consider that he won’t have anything to do by Christmas night. If you spend big for Christmas, spend it on items that will never grow old, like the $40 king-sized set of Legos building bricks. And don’t buy bulky items that won’t fold away conveniently after your child tires of them, as you know he will.



Last year I gave my five-year-old a Sears catalog and a felt-tipped marker and told him to mark the six toys he wanted most. It came to around $50-60, not great, but not bad. But now things cost more and he’s a year older. Probably likes bigger stuff. Cleverly, I instructed him to mark only three items this year. He selected a remote-control airplane, an electric pin-ball machine and an electronic shooting gallery. The tab: $158.97. Ridiculous, of course, but even more so when you consider that he won’t have anything to do by Christmas night. If you spend big for Christmas, spend it on items that will never grow old, like the $40 king-sized set of Legos building bricks. And don’t buy bulky items that won’t fold away conveniently after your child tires of them, as you know he will.



The toy companies have no more concern for your financial plight than Santa and his henchmen do. All those G. I. Joe accessories that you’ve been accumulating for years can be discarded now. Because this year it’s Super Joe, and Super Joe only comes to regular Joe’s armpit. And Mattel, which gave the world Green Slime, is hard at work on a purple companion called Worms. It will cost a little more, of course.

The toy companies have no more concern for your financial plight than Santa and his henchmen do. All those G. I. Joe accessories that you’ve been accumulating for years can be discarded now. Because this year it’s Super Joe, and Super Joe only comes to regular Joe’s armpit. And Mattel, which gave the world Green Slime, is hard at work on a purple companion called Worms. It will cost a little more, of course.

Newsletter

Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.

Comments