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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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travel
LaGuardia Airport Is Serving Up Personalized Short Stories to Passengers
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In between purchasing a neck pillow and a bag full of snacks, guests flying out of the Marine Air Terminal at New York City's LaGuardia Airport can now order up an impromptu short story. As Hyperallergic reports, Landing Pages is an art project that connects writers to travelers looking for short fiction written in the time it takes to reach their destination.

The kiosk was set up as part of the ArtPort Residency, a new collaboration between the Queens Council on the Arts and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which sponsors different art projects at the Marine Air Terminal for a few months at a time.

Artists Lexie Smith and Gideon Jacobs set up the inaugural project at the terminal earlier this month. To request a story from Landing Pages, travelers can visit the kiosk and leave their flight number and contact information. While the passenger is in the air, Smith and Jacobs churn out a custom story, in the form of poetry, illustration, or prose, from their airport terminal workspace and send it out in time for it to reach the reader's phone before he or she lands.

The word count depends on the duration of the flight, and the subject matter often touches upon themes of travel and adventure. As Smith and Jacobs continue their residency through June 30, the pieces they complete will be made available at Landingpages.nyc and in hard copy form at the airport kiosk.

Landing Pages isn't the first airport service to offer à la carte short stories. In 2011, a French startup debuted its short story-dispensing vending machine at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. Those stories come in three categories—one-minute, three-minute, and five-minute reads—and are printed out immediately so travelers can read them during their flight.

[h/t Hyperallergic]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats 'Blep'?
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As pet owners are well aware, cats are inscrutable creatures. They hiss at bare walls. They invite petting and then answer with scratching ingratitude. Their eyes are wandering globes of murky motivations.

Sometimes, you may catch your cat staring off into the abyss with his or her tongue lolling out of their mouth. This cartoonish expression, which is atypical of a cat’s normally regal air, has been identified as a “blep” by internet cat photo connoisseurs. An example:

Cunning as they are, cats probably don’t have the self-awareness to realize how charming this is. So why do cats really blep?

In a piece for Inverse, cat consultant Amy Shojai expressed the belief that a blep could be associated with the Flehmen response, which describes the act of a cat “smelling” their environment with their tongue. As a cat pants with his or her mouth open, pheromones are collected and passed along to the vomeronasal organ on the roof of their mouth. This typically happens when cats want to learn more about other cats or intriguing scents, like your dirty socks.

While the Flehmen response might precede a blep, it is not precisely a blep. That involves the cat’s mouth being closed while the tongue hangs out listlessly.

Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the owner of Fundamentally Feline, tells Mental Floss that cat bleps may have several other plausible explanations. “It’s likely they don’t feel it or even realize they’re doing it,” she says. “One reason for that might be that they’re on medication that causes relaxation. Something for anxiety or stress or a muscle relaxer would do it.”

A photo of a cat sticking its tongue out
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If the cat isn’t sedated and unfurling their tongue because they’re high, then it’s possible that an anatomic cause is behind a blep: Johnson says she’s seen several cats display their tongues after having teeth extracted for health reasons. “Canine teeth help keep the tongue in place, so this would be a more common behavior for cats missing teeth, particularly on the bottom.”

A blep might even be breed-specific. Persians, which have been bred to have flat faces, might dangle their tongues because they lack the real estate to store it. “I see it a lot with Persians because there’s just no room to tuck it back in,” Johnson says. A cat may also simply have a Gene Simmons-sized tongue that gets caught on their incisors during a grooming session, leading to repeated bleps.

Whatever the origin, bleps are generally no cause for concern unless they’re doing it on a regular basis. That could be sign of an oral problem with their gums or teeth, prompting an evaluation by a veterinarian. Otherwise, a blep can either be admired—or retracted with a gentle prod of the tongue (provided your cat puts up with that kind of nonsense). “They might put up with touching their tongue, or they may bite or swipe at you,” Johnson says. “It depends on the temperament of the cat.” Considering the possible wrath involved, it may be best to let them blep in peace.

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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