The Quick 10: 10 Toy Crazes

I don't have a kid (yet"¦ give me another five months or so), and I don't have any nieces or nephews or friends with kids over the age of three. So I'm not really understanding this whole Zhu Zhu thing. Apparently it's the must-have toy this year. That I understand. I was working retail when the Tickle Me Elmo craze was at its height. Time magazine has assembled a list of the Top Ten Toy crazes ever, and you'd better believe that giggly red Muppet makes the top five. Here's the whole list:

zhu1. Zhu Zhu Pets.
The Year: 2009
The Toy: Zhu Zhu pets are little robotic hamsters that basically do three things: coo/purr, "explore" and sleep. They sound like a stuffed version of Tamagotchis to me (don't remember those? Skip to #4). The little furry machines retail for a scant $10 each, but demand is so high that Zhu Zhu pets are reselling for nearly $100 on eBay.
The enemy: So far? Pet stores. Why buy a real hamster when you could spend $10 on one that doesn't crap, stink, bite, or require real food?

2. Bratz Dolls.
The Year:
The Toy: You thought Barbie was a bad influence? When Bratz entered the scene in 2001, they made Barbie look like she belonged on Little House.
The Enemy: Parents weren't crazy about them, finding their tight and revealing clothing and copious amounts of makeup, um, a little adult.

3. Furby.
The Year:
The Toy: This fuzzy robot (hmm"¦ sounds suspiciously like Zhu Zhu Pets) was appealing to kids because the toy could "learn" English. Part of the reason it was such a craze is that magazines were impressed with the toy's learning ability as well - Time itself was hyping up the gadget before it was even on the market after seeing it at a toy convention.
The Enemy: Katie Couric. Yeah, they talk, but they talk incessantly, irritating parents everywhere. While interviewing a representative from manufacturer Tiger on The Today Show, Couric snipped, "Can you get them to shut up now?"

tamagotchi4. Tamagotchi.
The Year:
The Toy: About the size of a large-ish keychain, Tamagotchis were kind of like a super low-tech Nintendogs. The hand-held electronic egg put kids in charge of a pixel-y little creature, with responsibilities from feeding it to entertaining it to putting it to bed.
The Enemy: Teachers. If you didn't feed and entertain your Tamagotchi, it would "die," sometimes in just four to six hours, causing a lot of faux-pet owners to bring the infernal thing to school. As a result, Tamagotchis were banned in many schools.

5. Tickle Me Elmo
The Year:
The Toy: A stuffed Elmo that LOLed infectiously.
The Enemy: Parents. Every kid wanted one of these and supply just did not meet demand. What went for $29 in stores was going for up to $2,000 online. Needless to say, a lot of parents had to disappoint their kids at Christmas that year.

beanie6. Beanie Babies.
The Year:
The Toy: Small, fairly unremarkable bean bag creatures.
The Enemy: The FBI. Beanie Babies were so sought-after and collectible that counterfeits were being produced at an alarming rate. In the late "˜90s, the FBI spent time busting the perpetrators. I'm sure people who enter the FBI as a profession do so because they want to spend time investigating the production of fake plushies.

7. POGs.
The Year:
The Toy: Some cardboard disks with pictures printed on them. Really. But the variation in pictures meant that they were collectible, so of course people went nuts for them. The way you played POGs was kind of like marbles in that you could win the other player's POGs if you were playing for keeps.
The Enemy: Again, schools. Because you could potentially "win" POGs, some schools considered it gambling and banned the game from their grounds.

8. Cabbage Patch Kids.
The Year:
The Toy: Pudgy-faced dolls.
The Enemy: Garbage Pail Kids. After Cabbage Patch Kids came out and were such a hit, the Topps company parodied the wholesome dolls by creating a trading card featuring a very similar looking version that did terrible things and had names like "Adam Bomb." The Cabbage Patch people were not happy. They sued and settled out of court; Topps agreed to make their characters a little less Cabbage Patch-like.

9. Rubik's Cube.
The Year:
The Toy: C'mon, you know the Rubik's Cube.
The Enemy: People who are easily frustrated solving puzzles. I'm not going to name names, but I know this girl who peeled the colored stickers off and stuck them back on to act like she had solved the cube. The stickers' wrinkled edges, crooked placement and decreased stickiness were dead giveaways to my mom. I mean, her mom.

ROCK10. Pet Rocks.
The Year:
The Toy: A rock. Seriously. A rock.
The Enemy: Kids who really, really wanted a puppy for Christmas.

What was your must-have toy of yesteryear? Mine was definitely a stuffed Fievel. I adored An American Tail and knew I would die, just absolutely die, if the young Mr. Mousekewitz didn't appear under our Christmas tree. Luckily, he did, and I still have him. Sure, he's missing his tail, his pants, his hat and 99% of the fuzz on his nose, but I still plan on passing him down to Baby Conradt in May. Maybe I'll sew him some new pants by then.

10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.



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