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Kate Erbland
Kate Erbland

4 Awesome New Toys Debuted at Toy Fair 2015

Kate Erbland
Kate Erbland

Every February, New York City hosts Toy Fair, which gives us a sneak peek at all the toys that just might cause minor riots by the time the holidays roll around. When we visited Hasbro's showroom, we saw plenty of new playthings (for every age!) to get pumped about, from build-your-own lightsabers to truly transformative Transformers—and a little guy named Furbacca.

1. Star Wars Bladebuilders

Kate Erbland

Although this year’s Toy Fair didn’t include the debut of any new toys from the upcoming sure-to-be-blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there were plenty of other offerings to keep the Star Wars fan in your life very happy. In a firm nod to the new J.J. Abrams-directed feature—which appears to be populated by all sorts of strange new lightsabers, creations that place a premium on individual elements and a sense of DIY to the max—the new Bladebuilders toy promises to allow fans of the series the ability to make their own lightsaber, even if it’s not exactly canon.

The new Bladebuilder sets include a ton of interchangeable elements, including various blades (from foam to extendable), hilts that offer up more extensions than is probably wise, and a mess of lights and sounds. Every piece fits together with surprising ease, making it a little too easy to go to the Dark Side by way of a multi-blade lightsaber that looks dangerous to even carry.

2. Transformers Combiner Wars Devastator

Kate Erbland

Oh, hello, giant Transformer. Devastator has long been one of the most powerful Constructicons in the Transformers universe, and while he’s appeared in toy form before, he’s never quite looked like this. A massive, multi-piece Voyager Class toy, the new Devastator breaks down into smaller Transformers—including Hook, Long Haul, Scavenger, Bonecrusher, and Scrapper—which combine to form a hulking beast of a Transformer. Each piece will only be available in this new set —no individual Hooks or Scrappers—and all the various pieces fit together into one of the most impressive Transformers yet.

Kate Erbland

Notice how each individual Transformer still retains its own look—a shovel made into a foot, a cement mixer into a leg—while forming the utterly devastating Devastator. Sure, most people would probably balk at a green and purple construction vehicle cruising towards them, but who could possibly guess what that colorful lil guy is a part of?

3. Jurassic World Figures

Kate Erbland

This summer, humans will be heading back to Isla Nubar in Jurassic World. The new film picks up after the failure of Jurassic Park has been eclipsed by a newly relaunched and revitalized park—one that promises up a fun (and safe) experience with a bunch of genetically engineered dinosaurs. But where can I get a ticket to such a park?

Kate Erbland

The new film may be all about happy visitors enjoying the park, but this new set of toys indicates that not everything is going to be all cotton candy and smiles, considering most of these playsets and figures include torn up (and frankly, pretty angry looking) dinosaurs snarling at each other. From the Tyrannosaurus Rex Lockdown set to a Pteranodon attacking a helicopter, something is going to go very wrong at Jurassic World, and soon everyone will be able to recreate it in toy format!

Most of the dinos yell and scream—including a new Velociraptor that offers up a “growling attack!” that might rival the first set of films. Although these new figures include plenty of familiar dinosaurs, like bloody T. rexes and Velociraptors named “Charlie,” there appear to be some new dinos zipping around the park—including an awkward aquatic creature that looks like a horrifying combo of a shark and a particularly mad raptor.

Kate Erbland

Many of these playsets look familiar, too, including that T. rex pen and the iconic (and now updated) “Jurassic World” gate, but the dinosaur action has been improved on and refined. Think they can still open up kitchen doors?

4. Furbacca

Kate Erbland

Few people may have ever dreamed of combining the charms of Star Wars’ own Chewbacca with ever-advancing Furby technology, but the mad geniuses at Hasbro have cooked up just such a thing for mass consumption. His name is Furbacca and you will love him.

The first Star Wars-centric (there may be more in our future!) Furby manages to look like both a standard Furby (loud, adorable, hairy) and the galaxy’s best sidekick (also loud, adorable, and hairy) in one teensy package. The normal Furby features are all here, and Furbacca responds to touch (head pats), feeding (approximated with a finger on his tongue, though an app will also be available for other feedings), and affection (tug meanly on his tail, and he’ll start playing the “Imperial March” in a high tone, otherwise he’ll happily roll his eyes in pleasure), but this is still a singularly Star Wars toy, as various intergalactic images flash across Furbacca’s eyes at various intervals (from lightsabers to the Death Star). Furbacca responds in kind to each image, from hopping with fear to gurgling in happiness. He’s a mostly upbeat little dude—even if he’s loud enough to hear across a bustling showroom—but he’s so charming that even his lack of manners is something to be loved.

Kate Erbland

And, yes, he does include a tiny bandolier (holding eggs, because Furby) and a messenger bag. Even his fur is the perfect color. He’s perfect. We love you, Furbacca.

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Build Your Own Harry Potter Characters With LEGO's New BrickHeadz Set

Harry Potter is looking pretty square these days. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the boy—and the franchise—who lived, LEGO has launched a line of Harry Potter BrickHeadz.

The gang’s all here in this latest collection, which was recently revealed during the toymaker’s Fall 2018 preview in New York City. Other highlights of that show included LEGO renderings of characters from Star Wars, Incredibles 2, and several Disney films, according to Inside The Magic.

The Harry Potter BrickHeadz collection will be released in July and includes figurines of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, and even Hedwig. Some will be sold individually, while others come as a set.

A Ron Weasley figurine
LEGO

A Hermione figurine
LEGO

A Dumbledore figurine
LEGO

Harry Potter fans can also look forward to a four-story, 878-piece LEGO model of the Hogwarts Great Hall, which will be available for purchase August 1. Sets depicting the Whomping Willow, Hogwarts Express, and a quidditch match will hit shelves that same day.

[h/t Inside The Magic]

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One Small Leap: The Enduring Appeal of Mexican Jumping Beans
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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.

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