CLOSE

FAIL! 5 Toys/Games that need improvement

We don't spoil our 2 ½ year old, but he has collected his fair share of toys and games, especially over the last year or so. Here are four that hold a special place in our hearts (read: make us laugh every time we hear them).

1. The O Sole Mio Dog

By the sound of it, you probably think our batteries need replacing. But guess what? This is what the dog sounds like whether the batteries are fresh or not! And, no, we did not buy this for him... a kookie relative did, who'll remain anonymous. The jury is still out on which version is the most lackluster: the Italian or the Ragtime (wait for it!)

2. Matchman

Our son LOVES my iPhone. In fact, more than 50% of the apps on my six pages are his games. Most of them are really good and he's already learned how to spell, which is better than I could do at 2 ½. But this Matchman game is lacking, big-time, especially in the sound-effects department. Listen to the guy they got to record the colors, for instance. He sounds like he's asleep, or possibly stoned. Plus, dig the severe hiss each time he speaks, as if the sounds were recorded on a cassette tape and then transferred to mp3. It's unreal!

3. Tozzle

So Tozzle is actually an amazing app. Our son mastered the many puzzles that come with it long ago, yet they're still entertaining him"¦ which is hard to do. But the girl they got to record the names of the letters in the alphabet puzzle isn't a native English speaker, and you can't tell many of them apart, especially the R, Y and I. When he's playing this one, my son likes to say, "The phone is making a mistake, Daddy." He couldn't be more correct!

And here's our son Jack, telling us about it:

4. The Phillie Phanatic Musical Doll

When you squeeze the hands on the Phanatic, he plays different tunes. The right hand tune, the trumpet/"charge!" works perfectly fine. But the left-hand tune, ""Take Me Out to the Ball Game," has serious note/rhythm issues. Have a listen.

5. Spirograph (the new one)

When I was growing up, one of the best parts about being sick was my mom getting out the special "home-from-school" toys from the closet. My favorite of the bunch was Kenner's Spirograph, as seen in the below commercial:

Long discontinued, Hasbro now makes a couple versions that pale by comparison. They only give you circles (no cool shaped gears) and they're flimsy ones, at that, almost so cheaply made you can't even use them.

But rather than just complain, I'm trying to do something about it! Join me and more than 100 other people as we try to bring back the original Spirograph! That's right, if you're on Facebook, you can Fan our BringBackSpirograph page and help us make a statement.

How about you all? Own a toy or game that makes you shudder? Tell us about it!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
TBT
One Small Leap: The Enduring Appeal of Mexican Jumping Beans
iStock
iStock

In the fall of 1923, street vendors in Santa Barbara, California received an unexpected bit of attention regarding one of their more popular wares: The San Francisco Chronicle wrote about the sellers' “freakish little brown seeds” that “cavorted about to the edification and delight of children and grownups."

Those “freakish” seeds were (and still are) known as Mexican jumping beans. Part novelty item and part entomology lesson, they’ve been a staple of street vendors, carnival workers, and comic book ads for nearly a century, thanks to their somewhat inexplicable agility. Some early theories posited that the beans moved because of electrostatic charging, or because of tiny gas explosions inside—but in reality, it was a larva living in the bean. In Santa Barbara, the local Humane Society was concerned that the tiny caterpillar was somehow suffering in the heat; a police sergeant confiscated several of the seeds and took them home to investigate.

THE BEAN MYTH

In truth, the bean is not really a bean at all but a seed pod. In the spring, adult moths deposit their eggs into the flower of the yerba de flecha (Sebastiana pavoniana) shrub, which is native to the mountains of northwestern Mexico. The hatched larvae nestle into the plant's seed pods, which fall off the tree, taking the larvae inside with them.

Each larva is quite content to remain in its little biosphere until it enters its pupal stage and eventually bores a hole to continue life as a moth. (But only when it’s good and ready: If the pod develops a hole before then, the caterpillar will repair it using natural webbing it makes.) The pod is porous and the larvae can eat the interior for nourishment. Metabolic water creates moisture for the larva, but it never needs to pee. Essentially, it's the ultimate in downsized efficiency living.

A Mexican jumping bean store display
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When it's in the pod, the larva isn’t exactly dormant: It twists and contorts itself to create encapsulated movement, almost like the snap of a rubber band. When it moves, so does the pod. No one is exactly sure why they do this, though some believe it's to keep the pod from settling on a hot surface (as high temperatures can be deadly to the insect).

The larva will keep up this activity for six to eight weeks. If a pod appears lifeless and rattles when shaken, it’s probably dead. If it lives, it will go dormant in winter before creating an escape hatch in the spring and flying off to begin life as a moth.

CHEAP THRILLS

It’s hard to know who exactly first decided to begin hawking the “beans” for amusement purposes, though some credit an enterprising man named Joaquin Hernandez with popularizing them in novelty shops in the 1940s. Later, in the 1960s, Joy Clement of Chaparral Novelties noticed the beans after her husband, a candy wholesaler, brought them home from a business trip. Though she was initially confounded by their appeal, Clement agreed to distribute the pods and watched them grow into a significant success: Between 1962 and 1994, Chaparral shipped 3 to 5 million of them each year, and saw the bean transition from sidewalk dealers to major chains like KB Toys.

“There's not much you can buy at a retail store that can give you this kind of satisfaction for under a buck," one bean dealer told the Los Angeles Times in 1994. "It's one of the last of the low-end entertainments available in the world.”

Interest in the beans seems to come in waves, though that can sometimes depend on the weather in Mexico. The jumping bean's unusual insect-crop hybrid stature means that farmers in Álamos, Sonora—where the pod is harvested and remains the area's major export—rely heavily on ideal conditions. Lowered rainfall can result in lower yields. Álamos typically handles more than 20,000 liters of the pods annually. In 2005, thanks to unfavorable weather, it was just a few hundred.

BEAN PANIC

There have been other issues with marketing hermetic caterpillars for novelty purposes. A UPS driver once grew nervous that he was transporting a rattlesnake thanks to a shipment of particularly active pods. Bomb squads have been called in on at least two occasions because the noise prompted airport workers to believe a ticking explosive device was in their midst. And then there was the Humane Society, which remained dubious the beans were an ethical plaything. (Since the caterpillars repair breaches to the pod, the reasoning is that it seems like they want to be in there, though no one can say whether the insects enjoy being handled or stuffed into pockets.)

You can still find the beans today, including via online retailers. They’re harmless and buying them as "toys" is probably not harmful to the caterpillar inside, though the standard disclaimer warning owners not to eat the beans remains. The police sergeant in Santa Barbara found that out the hard way: After taking his nightly prescription pill, he felt an odd sensation and went to the hospital. After physicians pumped his stomach, they noted that he had accidentally consumed a jumping bean. In his digestive tract, it was leaping to get out.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Bre Burns, The Brothers Brick
arrow
fun
This Working Pinball Machine Is Made Entirely of LEGO Bricks
Bre Burns, The Brothers Brick
Bre Burns, The Brothers Brick

LEGO sets are fun when you're piecing them together, and significantly less fun when they're fully assembled and gathering dust in your closet. That's not the case with the latest masterwork from builder Bre Burns. Her functioning LEGO pinball machine provides hours of entertainment even after the last brick has been laid.

According to the LEGO fan site The Brothers Brick, Burns built the initial model of the machine for the BrickCon LEGO exhibition in October 2017 and debuted an improved version at the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle in March. The 2.5-foot-tall machine consists of 15,000 blocks put together over the course of 200 to 300 hours. Even the castor steel balls, lights, motors, and sensors are official products from LEGO Mindstorms and Technic—collections originally designed for building and programming robots.

Burns dubbed her creation "Benny's Space Adventure" after the excitable classic blue spaceman minifigure from The Lego Movie (2014). The final design includes sound effects, a coin slot, a gumball dispenser, a mosaic of Benny, and a moving spaceship mounted on top of the machine.

Master builders have been using LEGO bricks for years to make items that work in the real world. In 2015, Italian carpenter Nicola Pavan used LEGO to build a fully functional guitar, and that same year a team of professional builders broke a world record with its 215,158-brick camper.

[h/t The Brothers Brick]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios