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Why Is Toy Packaging So Difficult to Open?

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Whether you’re buying them for your kids or yourself, you’ve surely noticed that Barbie dolls, action figures, and other toys often come packed in their own tiny Fort Knoxes, with layers upon layers of plastic, twist ties and tape all housed in an unbreakable plastic “clamshell.” The problem is bad enough that a term has been coined to describe the frustration and anger that result from trying, and failing, to open the packages: wrap rage.

In 2006, Consumer Reports started the Oyster Awards for difficult packaging; first place went to the hard plastic clamshell that held the Uniden Digital Cordless Phone set, which took CR staffers 9 minutes and 22 seconds to open and required a box cutter and a razor blade. Second prize went to American Idol Barbie’s packaging, which didn’t require all that hardware, but took 15 minutes and 10 seconds for "untwisting wires, snapping rubber bands, stripping tape, slicing thick plastic manacles off her arms and torso, cutting off a tab embedded in her head, and carefully ripping a series of stitches securing her tresses to a plastic strip on the back of the box."

These packages are frustrating for consumers, and all this excess plastic can’t be good for the environment. So why pack toys like this?

Try Before You Buy

There’s a couple different reasons. One is marketing. Everyone knows a Coke bottle when they see one. You can usually spot them from way across the store. Not many toys have that sort of iconic packaging and branding, though, so manufacturers want to give kids, and adults, as much of the experience of the toy as they can right there on the store shelf. The consumer should see the whole toy, and if it lights up or makes noise, they should be able to test it right there in its box. To make this happen, toy makers pack their product in those elaborate molded plastic containers that showcase each and every component, and allow shoppers to interact with the thing before buying it.

The packaging is also a matter of security. Theft is a problem for any retailer, but especially when the products themselves are small and can easily be concealed and whisked away. Then there’s the problem of unattended kids who, while mom and dad are shopping, might open up a toy, play with it right in the aisle and leave it there when their parents beckon. Once they’ve been opened, and possibly damaged, products can’t just go back on the shelf. Packaging that requires a few minutes (and maybe a box cutter or a pair of scissors) to open helps deter would-be thieves of all kinds.

For the Road

Then there’s the need to protect the toy during shipping. Take a look at whatever you bought your kids for Christmas—chances are it was made in the Far East, then shipped here by boat and truck. There’s a whole lot of transit and manhandling that goes on between the toy factory and store shelves, and each little piece of the product needs to be secured in place to keep it from being lost or damaged. This partly ties back into marketing: When you see Barbie or Darth Vader on the shelf, you want them be in good condition—hair neat, cape in check, and cell phones and lightsabers where they should be—not looking like they just came off a bender together in the Malibu Dreamhouse.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always found the can opener useful in opening those clamshell packages. Any tips you want to share? Put them in the comments below.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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