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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 Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

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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