How One Grieving Father Got Lawn Darts Banned

Lawn darts, or Jarts, were all the rage in the 1980s. With a few Jarts, a few friends, and a few beers, American backyard-barbecue-goers would lay down small plastic hoops as targets and play a game not entirely unlike horseshoes. Each player would toss the darts into the air, attempting to arc them into the opposite ring. While the darts, which had a metal spike and plastic fins on the sides for flight stability, were not especially sharp, they were weighted. They picked up enough speed to come sailing down with a satisfying thunk and stick in the ground. Landing a bulls-eye in the hoop would net a player three points, and the closest non-bullseye landings would get a point.

David Snow, an aerospace engineer from Riverside, California, wasn’t even looking for lawn darts when he went shopping for party games in April 1987. He wanted a volleyball set, but all the department store had was volleyball in a combo pack with two other games. Whatever, he decided. He’d buy it, set up the volleyball net and leave the rest in the box in the garage.

His plan didn’t bear out. One Sunday afternoon soon after, his nine-year-old son and some of his neighborhood friends found the Jarts and began tossing them around in Snow’s backyard. One kid tossed his Jart too far and too high, sailing it over the backyard fence and into the front yard, where Snow’s daughter, seven-year-old Michelle, was playing with her dolls. The Jart came down right on her and, with what researchers estimate as 23,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, penetrated her skull. She collapsed, was rushed to the hospital, and was pronounced clinically dead three days later.

For weeks after, the Snows were overcome with grief. When David returned to work at Hughes Aircraft, he had a hard time adjusting. He sat in meetings listening to his co-workers talk about work things. Parts shortages. Budgets. Personnel issues. None of it seemed the least bit important anymore. His sadness gave way to anger, and he began a crusade. "I want to get these damned darts," he told The Los Angeles Times at the time. "These things killed my child. If I don't do anything, it's just a matter of time before someone else gets killed. I'm going to get them off the market. Whatever it takes."

He began to research Jarts and discovered that, for years, they had been banned from sale in the U.S. because of several injuries they’d caused to children. Jart manufacturers and distributors had challenged the ban in court, though, and won a compromise: a regulation stating that lawn darts could made and sold provided they were marketed only as a game for adults. A warning label had to be placed on each package alerting consumers to the danger they posed, and the darts couldn’t be merchandised in toy departments or sold in toy stores.

To Snow, Michelle’s death proved that the regulation didn’t protect kids. It didn't matter that they were sold as an adult game; if Jarts were in a home and children were allowed to play with them or could still get access to them, he thought, accidents would happen. He wanted the ban back in place and began lobbying public officials with phone calls and letters telling his story.

When Snow brought his complaints to the the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), they told him that their injury clearinghouse, which makes national estimates of injuries caused by products based on a sampling of hospital emergency room reports from around the country, only knew of some two dozen injuries from lawn darts. A complete ban couldn’t be justified by that. Snow asked them to check their stats again.

By the Numbers

The commission, which had already come under fire from parents and consumer groups for their lax regulation and high-profile injuries from ATVs and other products, went along with his suggestion. During their new investigation, they separated lawn dart injuries from all dart-related injuries for the first time, and found that most Jart injuries had been lost in their figures. Over a period of eight years, lawn darts had sent 6,100 people to the emergency room. 81% of those cases involved children 15 or younger, and half of those were 10 or younger. The majority of injuries were to the head, face, eyes or ears, and many had led to permanent injury or disability.

When the commission collected 21 different lawn dart sets from 14 manufacturers, they also found that most of them weren’t complying with the warning requirements. A survey of 53 retailers likewise found that many weren’t following the regulation, and in a third of the stores, lawn darts were displayed in toy departments or with toys and sporting equipment intended for kids. The commission met with lawn dart makers and distributors and struck a new agreement on improved labeling and retail practices. The commission published a new safety warning for lawn darts and scheduled a vote on an outright ban for later in the year.

The week of the vote, Snow went back to Washington, D.C. to lobby the commission and get press for his cause. He gave interviews to consumer reporters from TV stations and newspapers. He met with President Reagan's assistant for consumer affairs. Finally, he had meetings with each of the three consumer product safety commissioners. By the time they voted, Snow felt confident he had at least two of the three commissioners on his side.

He was right. As an 11-year-old girl in Tennessee lay in a coma from a lawn dart injury earlier that week, the commission voted 2-1 in favor of a ban. Lawn darts were removed from stores the week before Christmas in 1988 and banned from further sale. The ban did not, however, include a recall of darts that had already been purchased, and the commission sent out a press release pleading for the public to destroy their darts or keep them out of the hands of kids.

Canada followed with their own similar ban, and today, fully assembled individual lawn darts, sets, and kits are banned from sale in, or entry into, both countries. If you try to list Jarts on eBay, they’ll pull your auction, but it’s still possible to buy and sell them at flea markets and yard sales, out from under the eye of the CPSC. It’s also okay to buy and sell replacement parts to repair damaged lawn darts purchased before the ban.

Despite the CPSC’s warnings to purge them and the possibility of puncturing someone’s skull, some folks still pull their old Jart sets out summer after summer. I vaguely remember their presence at family parties when I was a kid, and settling for a Jart game at a college barbecue when we couldn’t find sand on short notice to build a horseshoe pit. There’s even an underground Jarts tournament based in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio, chronicled in the book Sports from Hell: My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition.

7 Tips for Winning an Arm Wrestling Match

iStock
iStock

Geoff Hale was playing Division II college baseball in Kansas City, Missouri, when he sat down and started flipping through the channels on his TV. There—probably on TBS—was Over the Top, the 1987 arm wrestling melodrama starring Sylvester Stallone as Lincoln Hawke, a truck driver who aspires to win his estranged son’s affections. And to do that, he has to win a national arm wrestling tournament. Obviously.

Neither the worst nor the best of Stallone’s efforts, Over the Top made Hale recall his high school years and how the fringe sport had satisfied his athletic interests, which weren't being met by baseball. “I had never lost a match,” Hale tells Mental Floss of his arm wrestling prowess. “The movie reminded me that I was good at it.”

That was 13 years ago. Now a professional competitor known as the Haleraiser, the full-time petroleum geologist has won several major titles. While you may not have the constitution for the surprisingly traumatic sport (more on that later), you might still want to handle yourself in the event of a spontaneous match breaking out. We asked Hale for some tips on what to do when you’re confronted with the opportunity to achieve a modest amount of glory while arm-grappling on a beer-stained table. This is what he told us.

1. KNOW THAT SIZE DOESN'T MATTER.

A child uses books to help in arm-wrestling an adult
iStock

Well, it does. But really only if your opponent knows what they’re doing. Otherwise, having a bowling pin for a forearm isn’t anything to be wary about. If anything, your densely-built foe may have a false sense of confidence. “Everyone has arm-wrestled since they were a kid and thinks they know what it is,” Hale says. “It looks easy, but there’s actually a very complex set of movements. It’s good to check your ego at the door.”

2. PRETEND YOU’RE PART OF THE TABLE.

A man offers to arm wrestle from behind a table
iStock

When you square up with your opposition to lock hands—thumb digging into the fleshy part, fingers wrapped around the back—don’t lean over the table with your butt in the air. And don’t make the common mistake of sitting down for a match, either. “It limits you from a technique standpoint,” Hale says, and could even open you up to injury.

Instead, you want to plant the foot that matches your dominant hand under the table with your hip touching the edge. With your free hand, grip the edge or push down on the top for stability. “Pretend like you’re part of the table,” Hale says. That way, you’ll be able to recruit your shoulders, triceps, and biceps into the competition.

3. REMEMBER TO BREATHE.

Two men engage in an arm wrestling match
iStock

If you’re turning the color of a lobster, you’re probably holding in your breath. “Don’t,” Hale says. Remember to continue taking in air through your nose. There’s no benefit to treating the match like a diving expedition. The lack of oxygen will just tire your muscles out faster.

4. BEAT THE HAND, NOT THE ARM.

Two hands appear in close-up during an arm wrestling contest
iStock

There are three basic techniques in arm wrestling, according to Hale: the shoulder press, the hook, and the top roll. The shoulder press recruits the shoulder right behind the arm, pushing the opposing appendage down as if you were performing a triceps pressdown. The hook is more complex, varying pressure from all sides and incorporating pulling motions to bend the wrist backward. For the best chance of winning, opt for the top roll, which involves sliding your hand up your opponent’s so your grip is attacking the top portion nearest the fingers. That way, he or she is recruiting fewer major muscle groups to resist. “When you beat the hand, the arm follows,” Hale says. Because this is more strategy than strength, you might wind up toppling some formidable-looking opponents.

5. IN A STALEMATE, WAIT FOR AN OPENING.

A man and woman engage in an arm wrestling contest
iStock

While lots of arm wrestling matches end quickly, others become a battle of attrition. When you find yourself locked up in the middle of the table, wait for your opponent to relax. They almost always will. “In a neutral position, it’s good to stay static, keeping your body and arm locked up,” Hale says. “You’re just waiting for your opponent to make a mistake.” The moment you feel their arm lose tension, attack.

6. TRY SCREAMING.

A woman screams while winning an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestlers play all kinds of psychological games, and while some might be immune to trash talk, it’s likely your rival will be influenced by some selective insults. “You can make someone lose their focus easily,” Hale says. “In a stalemate, you can give them a hard time, tell them they’re not strong. It’s intimidating to be out of breath and to see someone just talking.”

7. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, GO SECOND.

A man struggles while losing an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestling exacts a heavy toll on winners and losers alike: The prolonged muscle contractions can easily fatigue people not used to the exertion. If you fear a loss from a bigger, stronger opponent, conspire to have them wrestle someone else first, then take advantage of their fatigue.

If all goes well, you might want to consider pursuing the sport on more competitive levels—but you probably shouldn’t. “It takes a toll on the body,” Hale says. “I’ve got tendonitis and don’t compete as much as I used to. On the amateur level, it’s common to see arm breaks, usually the humerus [upper arm] bone. The body was not really made for arm wrestling.”

Does the University of Florida Still Make Money Off Gatorade?

George Frey, Getty Images
George Frey, Getty Images

In September 1965, 10 freshmen players on the University of Florida's Gators football team agreed to let the school's kidney disease specialist, Robert Cade, assess their hydration levels during practices. He took urine samples. He interviewed athletes. He asked to take their rectal temperature during games.

The players agreed to all but the last request. In analyzing his results, Cade discovered that the wilting heat, coupled with a lack of hydration, resulted in subjects who were very low on electrolytes like sodium and potassium, sometimes losing six to nine pounds of water per practice session—with some footballers having anecdotes of 15 to 20 pounds lost during games. Cade felt that players suffered from low blood volume and low blood sugar. Many, in fact, were being hospitalized after overexerting themselves without drinking enough water, traditionally seen as a way of building toughness in players. Those who remained on field were surely not playing up to their potential.

Cade mixed water, sugar, salt, and lemon juice, then ordered them to drink the solution to keep their bodies in balance. By 1967, the Gators were all consuming "Gatorade," and incidences of heat stroke fell sharply. The Gators secured a 9-2 record in 1966; the team became renowned for their renewed energy during the second half, and ignited a transformation in sports science. Decades later and backed by a massive promotional machine, Gatorade has permeated both professional sports and amateur athletics alike, replenishing electrolytes lost during physical activity. Roughly 632 million cases were sold in 2013 alone.

With the sports drink having been born on the Gators's playing field and invented by a University of Florida employee, it's not hard to see why both Cade's estate (he died in 2007) and the school get a percentage of royalties from sales, an agreement that's still in place today. But if they had their way, the university would be getting all of it.

A University of Florida coach is soaked in Gatorade by his players after a win
Donald Miralle, Getty Images

After Cade and his co-researchers finalized Gatorade’s formula, Cade approached the school's head of sponsored research to see if they wanted to come to an arrangement over the rights to the drink (Cade wanted $10,000) and determine if they wanted to try and sell it to a national distributor. According to Cade, University of Florida (UF) officials weren't interested, so he struck a deal with beverage maker Stokely Van-Camp in 1967.

Stokely's offer was for Cade and his cohorts—now known as the Gatorade Trust—to receive a $25,000 cash payment, a $5000 bonus, and a five-cent royalty on each gallon of Gatorade sold. When UF realized that they had been shortsighted in assessing the brand's mass market appeal—and that they were missing out on profits—they allegedly told Cade that the drink belonged to them.

"Go to hell," Cade responded, a statement that kicked off several years of litigation.

While Cade was a university employee, funds for his work actually came from the government—specifically, the Department of Health. He also managed to avoid signing an agreement solidifying his inventions as school property. For these reasons, and because both sides anticipated an endless and costly legal jiu-jitsu match in their futures, the two accepted a federal ruling in 1972. The Gatorade Trust would continue to receive their royalties, and the school would take 20 percent of the disbursement.

Initially, that meant one cent for every gallon of Gatorade sold, a fraction of the five cents owed to the Trust. In September 1973, following the first full year of the agreement, UF made $115,296 in royalties and earmarked the funds for kidney research and marine science.

Gatorade cups are shown stacked in a locker room
J. Meric, Getty Images

That's a considerable sum, but it's nothing compared to what poured out in the decades to come. When Stokely Van-Camp was purchased by Quaker Oats in 1983, they kicked off a heavy promotional campaign that highlighted Gatorade in commercials and sponsored teams. Coaches began getting doused with jugs full of Gatorade following big victories. When PepsiCo bought Quaker for $13.4 billion in 2000, they leveraged their marketing muscle to further engender the brand.

Consequently, both the Gatorade Trust and UF have profited immensely. As of 2015, the Trust had earned well over $1 billion in royalties, with 20 percent, or about $281 million, going to UF. The five-cent per gallon formula has been replaced by a percentage: between 1.9 percent and 3.6 percent depending on how much Gatorade is sold annually, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell, with the University taking a fifth of that. The funds have been invested in the school's Genetics Institute, the Whitney Marine Laboratory in St. Augustine, and to help disperse seed money for grants.

The school naturally has an affinity for the stuff, but that can occasionally come into conflict with other marketing deals. In 2016, the University of Florida’s women's basketball team played in the NCAA Tournament, which was sponsored by Powerade, a competing sports drink made by Coca-Cola. As a compromise, the players dumped their Gatorade into Powerade bottles and cups. The beverage born on campus—one that's netted them nearly $300 million to date—always comes first.

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

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