Sunday, June 8, 2008

Risk It? Risk It!...

From that taunting warning in A Christmas Story that “You’ll poke your eye out!” to the rumor that mixing Pop Rocks and soda would make your stomach explode, some of the most fun that could be had during childhood was testing boundaries and defying the so-called dangers of certain toys and games. While nothing was as hazardous as Mainway Toys' Mr. Skingrafter or “Bag O’Glass,” parents still often expressed worry, and when they did it only made us want the items more. We risked riding around on sleds with metal runners; we played with paddle balls and yo-yos even after getting bonked on the forehead repeatedly; and we proudly displayed Lite Brite in our bedrooms even with the potential fire hazard… so just what was it about these toys that made them so darn irresistible???

For those who grew up yearning to be on Nickelodeon’s You Can’t Do That On Television or Double Dare, there were a few products that allowed you to join in on the fun from the safety of your living room… until your parents caught wind of what you were doing anyway. Nickelodeon’s slime was messy but virtually harmless, but the invention of Gax and Floam that followed were a bit more controversial. Gak gained its popularity due to the farting sounds it would make when compressed into its container, and Floam was its lighter, mushier counterpart. The chemical compound surely created the sound but also emanated a plastic odor that lingered on your hands well after you had packed the Play-Doh rip-off safely away. Soap and water helped, but what kid actually washed their hands after playing like they’re told to? Later still came Gak-In-The-Dark, which not only maintained the same odor but also glowed in the dark, made of more complex chemicals that were certainly harmful upon contact, absorbing into the skin the way we used to be warned ink would do if we drew on our hands and arms, and yet kids happily pressed Gak to walls, countertops, and each other with reckless abandon, eager to own a piece of their favorite game show.

Slap Bracelets are considered collector’s items now because in the mid-nineties the news media released reports that flexible piece of stainless steel that allowed for the bend and snap motion of the bracelet could pierce the thin layer of decorative cloth and cut children’s arms. The ruler-sized rectangles came in bright colors, loud patterns (like animal print), and both shiny and fuzzy fabrics, allowing for maximum expression of personality for minimum cost, so regardless of any risk, girls lined them up on their forearms like tribal bands. Everyone had at least one, and if you wanted to be cool, you had many and probably couldn’t resist slapping them against your arm repeatedly in class, just to cause a minor disruption.

The Easy Bake Oven, a classic for raising little 1950s housewives, offered the opportunity to bake small muffins or tarts one at a time, powered by a light bulb. Little girls, and the occasional evolved boy, could pop something in before leaving for school and hopefully come home to a lukewarm treat. Aside from the obvious danger from frustration at the time it took to cook something, the Easy Bake Oven was notorious for sparking and for the oven door slamming shut on little fingers. Later models introduced decades after the original showcased stovetop burners (just like our mothers’ real ones!), which could also cause burns if a child leaned on it. Despite the potential trip to the doctor’s office, the lure of being able to eat cookies or cupcakes anytime because you made it yourself was too great, and Santa has worked over-time year after year to lug those big square boxes down the chimneys.

Like jump rope for the one-legged, Chemtoy’s Lemon Twist in the late sixties, and the late eighties copycat of Skip-It attached at the ankle via a thin plastic hoop, which often scratched and/or got stuck. Created as a way to make exercising more fun (and colorful!), the child had to swing their leg with the attached toy a little bit harder to get it to swing around, causing a spastic skipping motion. Lemon Twist was light, and only the uncoordinated kids had trouble avoiding it as it came at their other leg, tripping over the small plastic yellow lemon end. The featured on such popular shows like Saved By The Bell (to explain its popularity, mayhaps?), Skip-It, however, had an electronic mechanism attached that supposedly counted the number of times it swung around and was successfully hopped over, which weighed down the ankle and practically pulverized the other one when it inevitably crashed into it as the child grew tired. On the playground, Skip-It also took out many an unsuspecting tag player as he or she ran by, oblivious to what was circling on the ground below them… which actually became a more fun game than the Skip-It by itself and as intended.

Though the Parker Brothers and Hasbro’s Bop It wasn’t inherently a dangerous item when it first debuted in toy stores across the country as a stick-like plastic device with three electronic elements, the act of putting it to use could be very violent depending on who your opponent was. In its original form, Bop It was used individually but could easily be turned on a friend or schoolyard acquaintance if he or she got a higher score when passed the toy. Bop It Extreme, however, had two handles for two players, creating a face-to-face rivalry as the toy spit out instructions, and struggling ensued not to miss your cues while your opponent attempted to wrestle the thing out of your hands. Many a kid heard the robotic “Bop It” instruction and had to restrain themselves from actually using the device to “bop” their opponent on the head.

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