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7 Overlooked ‘80s Toys Worth More Than You Think

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There was a time when the old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” was especially descriptive of the world of toy collecting. For many people, when the kids outgrew their toys, those little hunks of plastic became nothing but garage sale fodder, or they wound up thrown in the trash with the leftover meatloaf from the fridge. But nowadays, more and more people have come to realize that there’s gold in the toy chest, and instead of dumping them at Goodwill, they put their kid’s Castle Grayskull up on eBay to help make a down payment on a new hot tub.

But not all of us have a factory-sealed, Mint In Box, professionally-graded Optimus Prime sitting in our basement that will sell for $3,750. What if all we have is a toy box full of figures that weren’t the star of the after-school animated cartoon? Don’t worry, there are still plenty of overlooked '80s toys you might actually have that are worth more than you think.   

1. Transformers Dinobot Swoop

$90 - $1,400

First released in North America in 1984, Transformers took kids' imaginations by storm, becoming one of the hottest toys and cartoons of the decade. In 1985, Hasbro released a new sub-group of figures, The Dinobots, five transforming dinosaurs, headed up by Grimlock, a Tyrannosaurus Rex. 

Although all of the Dinobots became popular, the pteranodon, Swoop, soon became a frontrunner due to his cool, chrome-covered wings and his heroic appearance in the second season of the animated series. For serious collectors, Swoop has become something of a Holy Grail because those chrome wings were easily chipped, the transformation process made it fairly common to break off his beak, and he was never released in the U.K., meaning some collectors never even had the chance to own him in the first place. 

Therefore, a Swoop in good condition—even one that doesn’t necessarily have all of his accessories—can sell for about $90 on eBay. In comparison, a complete Grimlock with the box, goes for only a couple bucks more. If you’re lucky enough to have a Swoop in a factory-sealed box, though, you could be looking at upwards of $1,400

2. Savage He-Man

$300

Sometime in the late 1990s, when '80s nostalgia started to become a thing, a strange He-Man figure began showing up on the collector’s market. While the original He-Man figure had blond hair, brown furry loincloth and boots, and a reddish-orange belt, this new He-Man figure had dark brown hair and loincloth, and a black belt and boots. To make matters even more confusing, the figure was sometimes found wearing black and white armor, and sporting a variety of rust-colored weapons and shields.     

This odd variation on the original 1982 toy was thought to have been part of a mail-in offer that coincided with Masters of the Universe trading cards found in specially marked packages of Wonder Bread. Others said the figure originated as a mail-in offer from Mattel if kids sent in three proofs of purchase from He-Man toys. However, some conspiracy-minded collectors believed it was part of a line of Conan the Barbarian movie tie-in toys that had to be halted when Mattel saw a preview and grew concerned over the "Sex and Violence ..., decapitation, slashing from groin to throat." But Conan's owners never mentioned a doll that looked like this in the trademark infringement lawsuit, and the possible connection with Conan gave the character the nickname “Savage He-Man” after the Savage Sword of Conan comic book. Some also called him simply “Wonder Bread He-Man.” Unfortunately, no one from Mattel or Wonder Bread has ever been able to confirm just where this mysterious action figure comes from. 

Regardless of how he came to be, Savage He-Man is considered one of the rarest toys in the entire Masters of the Universe line, simply because no one knows how many were produced. This has led collectors to pay upwards of $300 for the figure on eBay. However, because of his popularity, counterfeits are a common occurrence, so buyers must beware. 

As a winking homage to the mysterious action figure, in 2010, Mattel released "Wun-Dar: The Savage He-Man" as part of their Masters of the Universe Classics line. Along with the Conan-esque color scheme and the self-referential name, there are three circles on the back of his armor that resemble the red, yellow, and blue dots of the classic Wonder Bread logo, plus the figure comes with a plastic loaf of bread in case he works up an appetite fighting evil. 

3. Thunder Wings Lion-O

$500 - $2783

After three years on the market, by 1987, ThunderCats had run its course in the toy aisle. Kids had moved on, mostly to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so the manufacturer, LJN Toys, began winding down production. In a last ditch effort to keep the remaining fans happy, they produced a few more new toys, including Thunder Wings Lion-O, an action figure of the ThunderCats’ leader with a pair of detachable, mechanical wings.

Because the toyline was ending, very few Thunder Wings Lion-O figures were produced, meaning there are only so many to go around for ThunderCats collectors today. A loose Thunder Wings in good condition can easily bring $500 on eBay, but if you’re lucky enough to have one “Mint On Card,” you’re looking at quite a bit more—like nearly $2,800

4. Star Wars Micro Collection Millennium Falcon

$60 - $300

The Star Wars Micro Collection, introduced in 1982, was a bit of a departure for toymaker Kenner. Instead of the plastic 3.75” action figures that set the toy world on fire, the Micro Collection featured diecast figures not much bigger than 1.25” tall with no articulation at all, more in the mold of classic toy soldiers. The scale of the figures allowed Kenner to make some plastic playsets that would have been too cost prohibitive to make in the regular 3.75” size, but still offered plenty of detail, moving parts, and could be interconnected to create impressive dioramas of iconic scenes from the first two films in the trilogy. 

The line wasn’t particularly popular with kids—mainly because the figures didn’t have any articulation, and the diecast paint jobs would chip off too easily—so the series only lasted for one year. In all, nine playsets were released, as well as four vehicles, one of which was a Millennium Falcon that was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Han Solo’s famous ship was only available at Sears when the Micro Collection launched, and the toyline was cancelled before it could be released to more retail outlets, making the Falcon the rarest toy in the series. 

Obviously its rarity makes the Falcon worth quite a bit more than the other playsets and vehicles. A loose ship, without any of the figures, can fetch up to $62 on eBay if it’s in good shape. But if you’re lucky enough to have all six figures and the box, you’re looking at anywhere between $250 and $300.  

5. Jem and the Holograms Merchandise

$135 - $355

When I searched for Jem and the Holograms on eBay, I expected to find quite a few Mint In Box dolls that would sell for a pretty penny. However, I was surprised to see that they’re generally available for less than $100, which isn’t out of reach for most collectors. The last thing I expected to find was that Jem-branded merchandise was selling for prices that can only be described as truly, truly outrageous (sorry, I couldn’t resist). 

For example, to complete your ultimate Jem collection, you have to have the Pop-A-Point pencils from Spindex. To jog your memory of fifth grade, Pop-A-Point pencils were plastic sleeves that contained 11 small pencil lead cartridges inside. When the top lead wore down, you simply popped it out and put it in the other side, pushing a new lead cartridge out so you could finish your geography homework. Kids were obviously so excited to use their new school supplies that they ripped them open without a thought for future resale value, so a rare sealed package of two Jem Pop-A-Point pencils recently sold on eBay for $135. To put that into perspective, two sealed packages of Return of the Jedi Pop-A-Point pencils with 22 extra lead cartridges didn’t even sell for $8

As if that wasn’t crazy enough, a pair of glittery Jem socks in kid’s size 2-3, still in the package from 1987, garnered an astonishing $355. I guess it just goes to show that accessories really can make the outfit. 

6. The Real Ghostbusters Proton Pack

$85 - $500

Everybody loved Ghostbusters in 1984. Seriously—everybody. So when the animated series The Real Ghostbusters debuted in September 1986, it was an instant hit with kids, as were the tie-in action figures and playsets. One of the most popular toys in the Real Ghostbusters line came in 1988, when kids could strap on their own pretend ghost-zapping Proton Pack and bust themselves some phantasmagorical bad guys. 

Although the Proton Pack was a big seller, there were a lot of parts to keep track of, including small pieces like a Ghostbusters armband, a ghost-finding PKE meter, and a yellow foam tube that stood in for the stream that shouldn’t be crossed. By the time a kid’s ghostbusting days were over, chances are some of those pieces were long gone. So if you find a complete set on eBay, it’s not unusual to pay anywhere between $85 and $115 to pick it up. Of course if you’re lucky enough to come across a factory-sealed box, expect to shell out over $500 to add it to your collection.

7. Bubble Power She-Ra

$150 - $505

Princess Adora, the twin sister of Prince Adam/He-Man, could also transform into an evil-battling superhero, She-Ra: Princess of Power. First introduced in 1985 as a spin-off of the Masters of the Universe line, She-Ra was billed as a “fashion action figure.” This was a sort of “Barbie meets He-Man” concept, in that there was an emphasis on the mostly-female cast’s hair, makeup, and outfits, but it had some good old fashioned sword and sorcery adventure in the mix, too.  

Unfortunately, the line didn’t have the longevity of He-Man, sputtering out by 1987, when only a handful of new toys were released in the final wave of products. The last version of the She-Ra action figure was an odd design known as “Bubble Power She-Ra.”  

The figure came with a new pink outfit, a redesigned sword and shield, and a “bubble wand”—a pink gun that had a rotating wheel that dipped into soap solution to blast the bad guys with bubbles. The figure has since become a rarity, not only because production was limited due to the toy line’s drop in popularity, but because a bottle of bubbles came inside the package. Most kids who got the toy would instantly open it and pour some of the bubble mix into the bubble wand, so a sealed package with the bottle intact is a truly unusual find. If you happen to have a Bubble Power She-Ra—complete with the bubbles—expect a bidding war to start, ending somewhere around $500. But even if you don’t have the bubbles anymore, just having the figure and some of the accessories can still bring about $150

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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