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They Made A Toy of That? Misguided Action Figures

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Back in the action figure heyday of the 1970s and 80s, Star Wars helped make the little 3 3/4" toys incredibly popular with kids. Just about every TV show and movie had its own line of action figures that could be sold at drug stores and toy stores all over the country. Some of these tie-in toys made perfect sense, like The A-Team, Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica, which had an element of adventure to their storylines. Why some other shows had toys was a bit of a head-scratcher.

Your Bartender, Isaac

There's no question The Love Boat was a popular show during its nine-season run. What is questionable, though, is the demand for an action figure based on "Your Bartender," Isaac.


In 1981, toymaker Mego produced a line of 3 3/4" figures that included the main characters: Captain Stubing, Vicki, Julie, Gopher, Isaac, and Doc Bricker. Mego had seen success with some of their other TV tie-in lines, like the 12" dolls based on Cher and Sonny Bono, but for some reason decided to go with smaller figures for the Love Boat line. Unfortunately, because this size was more popular for boys' action figures, The Love Boat toys were often placed in the same aisle with the likes of Superman, Batman, and Captain America, which meant the crew of the Pacific Princess had some serious competition.

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In an attempt to boost sales, a plastic cruiseship playset was produced, but even this didn't help. The Love Boat action figures were sunk after only one series.

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Klinger in Drag

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Mego wasn't the only one making odd TV tie-in toys. Tri-Star International released figures based on the hit series M*A*S*H. The show was aimed at adults, with some fairly risqué humor and mature themes for the time, so why anyone thought a line of 3 3/4" action figures and military vehicles would be popular with young kids is a bit of a mystery. However, the series is still quite memorable for one big reason—the Klinger figure came in both green Army fatigues and in an outfit with pink bloomers, ruffles, and a flower in his hair. The character on the show had stopped wearing women's clothing a few years before the figure was released. Apparently someone was just dying to see if they could get away with a cross-dressing action figure. It should come as no surprise that the "Klinger in drag" figure is by far the most popular from the series and goes for a pretty penny on eBay.

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The Cast of Dallas

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Luckily Mego learned from its Love Boat mishap and didn't move past the prototype phase for a 1981 series of 3" figures based on another staple show from the 80s, Dallas. The planned figures included Bobby, Jock, Sue Ellen, Pamela, Lucy, Miss Ellie, and, of course, J.R. The toys were featured in a catalog for retail buyers, but because so few were ordered, the toys were shelved before they even hit stores.

Faithfully Frightening Movie Tie-Ins

When it comes to movie tie-in action figures, it wasn't so much a matter of "Why would kids want to play with that?" as it was, "They let kids play with that!?" One of the first controversial movie tie-ins was an 18-inch action figure from toy company Kenner, based on the creature from the R-rated 1979 film Alien. The toy was exquisitely detailed and very faithful to the look of the alien from the film, including a clear head that exposed a glow-in-the-dark skull, spring-loaded arms to grab its victims, a bendable tail, and a trigger-action mouth that snapped open, allowing the alien's signature set of inner jaws to shoot out.

Aside from marketing a toy for kids based on a very violent film that had all kinds of sexual imagery, parents were upset about the toy itself. It was so faithful to the creature, that parents started calling Kenner's customer service line to report their kids were scared to death of the toy. Kenner cut its losses, stopped production, and told retailers to slash the prices on remaining stock to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

Today, the 18" Alien action figure is one of the most sought after toys on the collector's market. Most examples are missing some parts, most often the dome, sometimes the inner jaws, or a removable spike from its back. Even these incomplete figures sell for anywhere between $50 - $75. A figure without all these missing parts will run you a few hundred dollars. But find one in the box and you're looking at anywhere between $500 - $1,000.

Thanks to the disaster of the 18" alien, Kenner wisely scrapped plans for a line of 3 3/4" Alien action figures before they were released. However, a handful of prototype models of the creature and some of the crew of the Nostromo spaceship were made and have become legendary among the toy collecting community.

Cozy Up With Krueger

talking-freddy-kruegerWhile not technically an action figure, another R-rated film became the inspiration for another toy—the talking Freddy Krueger doll. Freddy, star of the infamous 1984 horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street, was responsible for killing dozens of children in a small Ohio town. When he was released from prison on a technicality, the parents of the town trapped him in his boiler room hideout and set fire to the building. Now his burned visage haunts the dreams of the children of these vengeful parents, slicing up teens with his razor-finger glove. Who wouldn't you want to tuck their kid into bed at night with a plush version of Freddy?


"¨The doll, produced in 1989 by Matchbox, had a pull string on his back that made him screech such phrases as "Pleasant dreams!" and "Let's be friends!" Set to be released in time for Halloween, retailers received boycott threats from concerned parents following the lead of Reverend Donald Wildmon and his American Family Association, a watchdog group well-known for boycotting TV shows it found offensive. Bowing to the pressure, Matchbox stopped production of the doll, though plenty were still sold before the ban went into effect.

And More!

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Freddy was just part of the kid-ification of many violent films from the 1980s. In the 80s and 90s, action figures aimed squarely at children were released based on such R-rated fare as Robocop, Rambo, The Toxic Avenger, The Terminator, Predator, Aliens, and later, Aliens vs. Predator.

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Most of these figures were tie-ins for cartoon shows that toned down the violence from the original source material, or had simply become such a mainstay in our pop culture as to be deemed "safe" by parents.

comic-book-guySince the mid-90s, the action figure world has changed considerably. While there are still plenty of action figures aimed at kids, a large portion of the market has shifted focus to cater to adult collectors. The toys themselves have become more detailed, more expensive, and a lot less fun to play with, but look great sitting on a bookshelf or decorating your cubicle at work. Because the market is now targeting adult fans with more money to spend, just about any TV show, film, or video game could have its own line of action figures, no matter how violent or mature the original storyline might be. Now that it's become more common for anyone—big or small—to buy toys, very few action figures produced today could be considered controversial or misguided. Maybe someone should try selling Love Boat figures again...
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Did you own any of these strange action figures as a kid? What were some of your favorite TV or movie tie-in toys? Tell us about them in the comments!

A special thanks to Justin from WeirdoToys.com for additional research material.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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