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8 Seemingly Harmless Toys That Were Yanked Off the Shelf

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Some toys were doomed from the start, as any one of the thousands of people impaled by lawn darts will attest. But others seem completely incapable of causing injury or duress…until they do.

1. Aqua Dots

Oh, Aqua Dots. They looked so harmless and fun! Build something, spray a little water on it, and voila! You’ve made a multidimensional… thing. But the manufacturer’s decision to do a covert ingredient swap (presumably to keep costs low) ended in one of the most bizarre toy recalls in history. The beads (called Bindeez in Australia), perfectly safe for typical use, did something a little crazy when ingested.

In 2007, the CPSC began investigating reports of kids getting dizzy, vomiting, and falling unconscious after eating Aqua Dots. It was determined that a component of the coating metabolized into GHB—also known as gamma-hydroxy butyrate, or the date-rape drug. The worldwide recall involved over 4 million units of Aqua Dots kits in Australia, the US, Canada and Europe. While regulatory bodies quickly tried to pull the product off the shelf, people looking for a cheap high and big profits were buying them up to sell on the street. A reformulated and rebranded version, called Pixos (or Beados down under), is coated with a bitter-tasting ingredient to keep kids (and dates) from eating them.

2. Plush Toy Uterus

Aside from being a little strange, this squishy pink uterus plush looks pretty innocuous. But when manufacturer I Heart Guts performed a pull test and found the toy didn’t pass, they released a voluntary recall announcement that stated, “the ovaries may detach when pulled, becoming a potential small part choking hazard for young children.” If you’d like your kiddo to experience the joy of owning an anthropomorphic womb toy, don’t despair: there’s a new version available now, and the Huge Uterus Plush promises to be “bigger, fluffier, pinker and now child-safe!”

3. Toy Penguin Figures

This unassuming little guy looks like a perfectly safe and delightful plaything; it’s too big to pose a choking hazard, there are no sharp edges, and, c’mon, it’s a penguin. A round one. It jingles!

But in the hands of at least one curious kid, who pulled the head off and exposed the nails holding the adorable little seabird together, Plan Toys’ penguin figure became a serious laceration hazard. The company recalled all 3000 units in 2008, instructing parents to “take the toy away from children immediately,” which almost sounds scarier than “laceration hazard.”

4. Dive Sticks

Dive sticks, manufactured by a number of companies under various names, are designed to stand up on the bottom of a pool (or in one case, hot tub) after being tossed in. The idea is to dive in and pick up as many as you can before resurfacing.

One might think the problem with a toy designed to sit on the bottom of a swimming pool solely for the purpose of retrieval by children would be the risk of drowning. Nope. Dive sticks were recalled in 1999 after 6 reports of impalement and at least one facial injury, most requiring surgery and hospitalization, all in kids aged 6 to 9. At least 12 million dive sticks were destroyed, replaced or repaired before the product was redesigned. (You can buy them anywhere now, presumably with a lesser risk of losing an eye.)

5. Holiday Toy Mouse

Not all toys that get recalled are safety hazards. The cute little toy mouse in the video above was pulled from shelves by Chinese toymaker Humatt after reports came flooding in that the mouse, sold primarily in the UK, sang “pedophile” instead of “jingle bells.” A spokesperson for the company said the problem was that the man who provided the toy’s voice couldn’t accurately pronounce certain words, and when the speed and pitch were increased it just sounded wrong. Humatt recalled the mice “just in case anybody might take offence.”

6. Flubber

Hasbro and Disney once teamed up to create a tie-in toy for the 1963 release of Son of Flubber. All the kids wanted their own dark green bouncy ball of goop, a totally harmless, lab-tested concoction made of synthetic rubber, mineral oil, and green dye. The “parent-approved” formula hit shelves just before Christmas in 1962, and a few weeks later, complaints of kids with head-to-toe rashes, fever and sore throat were flooding the customer service departments.

After lawsuits and an extensive FDA inquiry, the companies determined that Flubber caused folliculitis—a painful infection of the hair follicles. After the recall, Hasbro attempted to incinerate the Flubber but found it just released noxious black smoke but didn’t really burn. So they enlisted the help of the Coast Guard to sink the excess product, but it floated back to the surface. In a last ditch effort, Hasbro buried tons of Flubber and paved over it to make a parking lot for their new Providence, RI warehouse.

7. Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids

There’s some disagreement over the cuteness of Cabbage Patch dolls, but after reports of the Snacktime Kids’ tendency to eat kids’ hair and fingers instead of the carrots and pretzels supplied by Mattel, there was little debate over whether or not to halt production. The biggest problem seemed to be that there was no power switch on the doll, and the motor could only be turned off by removing the doll’s backpack—information that was buried deep in the doll’s instructions and not readily available to parents of imperiled children. As soon as Mattel announced its voluntary recall in 1997, doll collectors scrambled to buy them. (You can still pick one up on eBay, if you’re not a fan of having fingers or hair.)

8. Burger King Pokéballs

Not many chain restaurant toys were more popular than the Burger King Pokéball in 1999. But two months after handing out a toy that seemed impossible to injure someone with, reports that the halves of the red and white ball were suffocating children halted the frenzy, and Burger King recalled millions of the toys. One infant died and a toddler was caught with half a Pokéball stuck over her mouth and nose, but BK stepped up and offered a free small fry for anyone who wished to return their toys. After the CSPC deemed the toys perfectly safe for children over 3, the toys were distributed only with BK Big Kids Meals.

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11 Well-Drawn Facts About The Etch A Sketch
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Even if you didn’t grow up to become an artist, chances are you honed your childhood drawing skills on an Etch A Sketch. Here are 11 nostalgia-inducing facts about the classic toy, in honor of National Etch A Sketch Day.

1. IT’S A PRODUCT OF FRANCE.

While the Etch A Sketch seems as American as apple pie, it’s actually a French invention. According to lore, an electrician named Andre Cassagnes was installing a light fixture in a factory during the 1950s. The factory produced an ornate embossed wall covering called Lincrusta. Aluminum powder used in the manufacturing process made its way onto a light-switch plate that Cassagnes was installing, and he noticed that when he made pencil marks on the plate’s translucent protective decal, they showed up on its other side. Turns out, Cassagnes’s pencil had raked a line through the metallic powder, displacing the particles that had clung to the decal thanks to an electrostatic charge. Observing this phenomenon inspired Cassagnes to create his own drawing toy using a plotter and aluminum powder.

2. CREDIT IS OFTEN GIVEN TO THE WRONG INVENTOR.

Cassagnes perfected his design and he soon won a prize in a French invention competition. However, he didn’t have enough money to patent it so he teamed up with an investor named Paul Chaze. Chaze’s accountant, Arthur Granjean, helped the duo receive patents for the Etch A Sketch in both France and America. Since Granjean filed and paid for the patents, he was mistakenly referred to as the toy’s inventor for years.

3. THE ETCH A SKETCH ORIGINALLY HAD A JOYSTICK.

This was present in Cassagnes’s original designs. He later re-designed the toy to have two knobs.

4. TOY MANUFACTURERS ORIGINALLY REJECTED THE ETCH A SKETCH.

The Etch A Sketch was showcased at the 1959 Nuremberg Toy Fair, but toy companies didn’t want to pay a steep fee for the rights. Eventually, Ohio Art—who is said to have also passed on the Etch A Sketch—reconsidered and acquired the invention.

5. IT ALSO HAD A DIFFERENT NAME.

The toy was originally marketed as the “Télécran" in France, but was later called the “L’Ecran Magique,” or Magic Screen. It was eventually re-named the Etch A Sketch by the Ohio Art Company.

6. IT WORKS AS A PLOTTER.

Although the Etch A Sketch’s inner workings might seem like a mystery, they’re actually pretty straightforward. The inside of the toy’s glass screen is covered with aluminum powder, which has tiny beads mixed in to keep it from clumping. A stylus is connected to a pulley system, which, in turn, is attached to the horizontal and vertical metal rods. These rods are affixed to two knobs. When you move the knobs, the stylus is dragged through the powder, creating a line. Not happy with your drawing? All you have to do is shake the toy, and the aluminum powder will re-coat the screen and erase the markings.

7. IT FOUND A MARKET VIA TELEVISION.

Production of the Etch A Sketch began on July 12, 1960. America soon caught wind of the toy thanks to a televised marketed campaign featuring a little girl named Pernella who hides underneath a basket with her Etch A Sketch because everyone wants to play with it. She eventually emerges and announces that her favorite toy “is magic!" The ads were such a hit that, come holiday season, Ohio Art was hard-pressed to fill orders.

8. IT’S A BEST-SELLER.

In 1998, the Etch A Sketch was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, cementing its place in history alongside inventions like the Slinky, the skateboard, and Silly Putty. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association ranked it as one of the 20th century’s hundred best toys. According to CNBC, more than 100 million Etch A Sketches have been sold since its introduction in 1960.

9. IT’S SOMETIMES TRANSFORMED INTO PERMANENT ART.

While Etch A Sketch drawings aren’t meant to be permanent, some people use the toy to create professional works of art. One particular artist, Nicole Falzone, has been referred to as the “Monet of the Magic Screen” for her detailed Etch A Sketch portraits of celebrities like Jim Carrey, Stevie Wonder, and Bill Gates. The secret to creating long-lasting drawings, she says, is to drill holes in the back of the casing and drain the Etch A Sketch of its aluminum powder. That way, the lines won’t be erased. Other notable Etch A Sketchers include George Vlosich, who drew an Etch A Sketch portrait of President Barack Obama prior to his inauguration, and Christoph Brown, who refers to himself as the “World’s Fastest Etch A Sketch Artist."

10. IT’S A POP CULTURE—AND POLITICAL—PHENOMENON.

Over the decades, the Etch A Sketch leapt from children’s toy boxes onto TV and movie screens across the world. Pixar’s Toy Story franchise features an Etch A Sketch named “Etch” who’s described by Woody as having the “fastest knobs in the West.” In the first season finale of the AMC series Breaking Bad, protaganist Walter White uses the aluminum powder inside several Etch A Sketches to create thermite. He then uses the corrosive substance to melt the lock off a door.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom compared Romney's politics to playing with an Etch A Sketch. “You hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again,” he said. Thanks to Fehrnstrom’s comment, Etch A Sketch sales rose by 30 percent. Etch A Sketch responded by releasing limited-edition election versions of the toy in red and blue. Each came with a sticker depicting a donkey and an elephant playing tug-of-war on the White House lawn

11. IT’S BEEN MANUFACTURED IN RED, PINK, SILVER, AND BLUE.

The Etch A Sketch is known for its iconic red frame. However, if you purchased one in 1971, it might have came in “Cool Blue” or “Hot Pink.” For the toy’s 25th anniversary in 1985, Ohio Art released a silver model with bejeweled knobs and a hand-carved signature (the flashy toy reportedly cost a cool $3,750).

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Learn to Code With a Futuristic Lite-Brite
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Kano

Kano, the learn-to-code company that treats computing like virtual LEGOs, is releasing what it heralds as a Lite-Brite for the 21st century. The Pixel Kit, funded by a 2016 Kickstarter, is now available to buy.

A multi-colored Kano Pixel Kit illuminated in a dark room

The Lite-Brite-esque display is loaded with 128 LED lights that can display 16 million colors. Using Kano’s online coding app, users can program the lights to change colors and respond to real-time events, creating digital art, games, and visualizations.

They can also create still images or sequences, using the system’s drag-and-drop coding commands to direct the light show, or program it to change with the weather, visualize sports scores, or scroll through tweets. The kit includes a tilt-sensor which allows for playing motion-based games with the device.

Lines of code in the Kano app

Kano’s community message boards provide a place for users to share projects, so you don’t necessarily need to come up with a way to play a game of Snake on a pixel board by yourself. Kano-made tutorials are also available to guide you through different functions, though they won’t tell you the full code—you have to work your way through the problems yourself.

It’s available for $80, or a virtual version of the light box is available to play with online.

All images courtesy Kano.

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