Original image
Getty Images

Why Is Toy Packaging So Difficult to Open?

Original image
Getty Images

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.

Original image
Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
Original image

Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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

Original image
Big Questions
Why Do We Dive With Sharks But Not Crocodiles?
Original image

Why do we dive with sharks but not crocodiles?

Eli Rosenberg:

The issue is the assumption that sharks' instincts are stronger and more basic.

There are a couple of reasons swimming with sharks is safer:

1. Most sharks do not like the way people taste. They expect their prey to taste a certain way, like fish/seal, and we do not taste like that. Sharks also do not like the sensation of eating people. Bigger sharks like great whites enjoy prey with a high fat-bone ratio like seals. Smaller sharks enjoy eating fish, which they can gobble in one bite. So, while they might bite us, they pretty quickly decide “That’s not for me” and swim away. There is only one shark that doesn’t really care about humans tasting icky: that shark is our good friend the tiger shark. He is one of the most dangerous species because of his nondiscriminatory taste (he’s called the garbage can of the sea)!

2. Sharks are not animals that enjoy a fight. Our big friend the great white enjoys ambushing seals. This sneak attack is why it sometimes mistakes people for seals or sea turtles. Sharks do not need to fight for food. The vast majority of sharks species are not territorial (some are, like the blacktip and bull). The ones that are territorial tend to be the more aggressive species that are more dangerous to dive with.

3. Sharks attacked about 81 people in 2016, according to the University of Florida. Only four were fatal. Most were surfers.

4. Meanwhile, this is the saltwater crocodile. The saltwater crocodile is not a big, fishy friend, like the shark. He is an opportunistic, aggressive, giant beast.

5. Crocodiles attack hundreds to thousands of people every single year. Depending on the species, one-third to one-half are fatal. You have a better chance of survival if you played Russian roulette.

6. The Death Roll. When a crocodile wants to kill something big, the crocodile grabs it and rolls. This drowns and disorients the victim (you). Here is a PG video of the death roll. (There is also a video on YouTube in which a man stuck his arm into an alligator’s mouth and he death rolled. You don’t want to see what happened.)

7. Remember how the shark doesn’t want to eat you or fight you? This primordial beast will eat you and enjoy it. There is a crocodile dubbed Gustave, who has allegedly killed around 300 people. (I personally believe 300 is a hyped number and the true number might be around 100, but yikes, that’s a lot). Gustave has reportedly killed people for funsies. He’s killed them and gone back to his business. So maybe they won’t even eat you.

8. Sharks are mostly predictable. Crocodiles are completely unpredictable.

9. Are you in the water or by the edge of the water? You are fair game to a crocodile.

10. Crocodiles have been known to hang out together. The friend group that murders together eats together. Basks of crocodiles have even murdered hippopotamuses, the murder river horse. Do you think you don't look like an appetizer?

11. Wow, look at this. This blacktip swims among the beautiful coral, surrounded by crystal clear waters and staggering biodiversity. I want to swim there!

Oh wow, such mud. I can’t say I feel the urge to take a dip. (Thanks to all who pointed this out!)

12. This is not swimming with the crocodiles. More like a 3D aquarium.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.


More from mental floss studios