Safe toys, not-so-safe toy hunters
Whatever the hot toy is this year, you can rest assured it is not a Sixfinger. The Sixfinger was the must-have item when I was a little boy. It was a devilishly clever plastic index finger that was actually a gun. It fired hard plastic objects and exploding projectiles.
You were supposed to shoot these off in the safety of a vacant lot. But it was even more satisfying to point your Sixfinger at the small of your little brother’s back and squeeze off a round, just as he ran off to tell mom and dad you’d pinged Mrs. Molaitis’ basement window.
I can still remember the commercial.
“Sixfinger, Sixfinger, man alive! How did I ever get along with five?”
Every kid wanted a Sixfinger. Yes, they were dangerous. But no one was ever trampled to death trying to get one.
Last year’s hot toy was Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters. The lovable plastic robotic rodents had names like Pipsqueak, Chunk, Mr. Squiggles and Num Nums.
These idiotic toys generated more than $300 million last December. Since each toy cost mere pennies to make, they were celebrated as a marketing success. But the Zhu Zhu craze is no more. Countless of the electronic vermin have been reported gathering dust in the remainder bins at big-box stores. The rest are in toy purgatory, lost under the couch or having been broken into bits in the corner of the basement. And no doubt the occasional Zhu Zhu was picked up by the family dog. After some vigorous chewing, Num Nums or Chunk was deposited, in somewhat altered form, near the lilac bushes in the backyard. But don’t be sad for Zhu Zhu. There’s always a new must-have toy taking the place of last year’s model.
This year, it’s a Zooble.
Zoobles are also cheap plastic creatures made by docile factory workers happy to have jobs. But Zoobles live in a wondrous land called “Petagonia.”
“Full of laughter, surprises, bouncing and trouncing, Petagonia is home to everyone’s favorite Zoobles pets,” says the website.
Each tiny Zooble has its own personal “Happitat.” Kids can earn credits, called “zoints,” if they go online and register their Zooble with the parent company.
“You can earn zoints by completing fun Zooble tasks like watering trees until pretty flowers bloom, making birdies sing a melody or building a Happitat,” chirps the website.
The Zoobles frolic in their virtual Happitats, in that magic land of Petagonia. Zoobles are beloved by children whose demographic particulars and purchasing habits will be entered into gigantic databases and systematically tracked for the rest of their natural lives.
Is it just me, or don’t you feel like wading into a Happitat with your Sixfinger and blowing all the Zoobles to kingdom come?
OK, it’s probably just me. But still.
What really would have wreaked havoc in Petagonia was a Johnny 7 One Man Army.
When I was a boy, a Johnny 7 O.M.A. was the weapon of choice. It wasn’t some tiny plastic finger. It was a massive toy gun, so large it required its own tripod for stability, since there were seven shootable weapons in one. The bunker buster, the grenade launcher, the antitank missile each were capable of busting a few teeth. It shot plastic bullets too. What more would a kid want?
But my parents in their cruelty refused me.
Yes, in the days before virtual toys, Americans had playthings called “real” toys. We had toy guns, even cap guns, and we played with swords, chemistry sets, wood burning kits, just about anything you could blind yourself with.
Like Jarts. Remember Jarts?
These were metal-tipped javelins, designed to be thrown high into the air, so they’d land in a small plastic target circle on the ground.
Naturally, children adapted the game to make it more kid-friendly. Instead of the circle, a kid would be compelled by peer pressure to stand across the yard, feet planted, and dodge the Jarts as they hurtled earthward.
There was only one rule: Don’t move your feet, or you lose. It built character.
In the nonweaponized toy category, there were Creepy Crawlers. These were quite educational.
You filled metal plates with goop from a tube, plugged it all into the electric socket until the plates became red-hot. A couple second-degree burns later, and presto, you had rubber insects to play with.
They didn’t do anything. But you could shoot them with your Sixfinger.
Did kids learn anything about insects? Of course not. Instead, we learned a life lesson: Don’t touch red-hot metal or you’ll burn your fingers off.
But now, as a parent, I’m relieved that we Americans stand against dangerous toys. Yet what about parental safety? Black Friday is dangerous for Mom and Dad.
We’re the ones risking our lives, braving the ravenous hordes of crazed shoppers who are ready to stomp anyone who gets in their way.
And for what? A stupid Zooble?
We all know where the Zoobles end up. It’s not in some Happitat.
It’s more like out by the lilac bush.
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.