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12 Kooky Facts About Koosh Balls

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Kids of the late ‘80s and ‘90s (and, of course, Rosie O'Donnell) loved their Koosh balls. They were easy to catch, easy to throw, and didn't hurt nearly as much as traditional balls when you got hit by one. Here are a few things you might not have known about the weird, wonderful toy.

1. THE INVENTOR CREATED KOOSH BALLS BECAUSE HIS KIDS COULDN'T MASTER PLAYING CATCH.

In 1986, engineer Scott Stillinger was having trouble teaching his two young kids how to play catch. Balls were too bouncy, and bean bags too heavy. The California resident soon realized he needed a better ball—one that was soft, wouldn’t bounce, and could be grasped easily. “I intuitively knew that a rubber-filament ball would do the trick, so I set out to try to find a way to make that,” Stillinger told The Christian Science Monitor in 1989. He started with a box of rubber bands and then refined the design of his energy-absorbent ball, eventually settling on natural rubber latex in non-toxic colors.

2. STILLINGER WAS SO CONFIDENT ABOUT KOOSH THAT HE QUIT HIS JOB TO MAKE THEM—AND HE WASN’T THE ONLY ONE.  

In late 1986, Stillinger showed a prototype of the ball to his brother-in-law, Mark Button, who’d worked in marketing at Mattel. The men—and their wives—were confident enough in the product to quit their jobs and start a toy company called OddzOn Products. Stillinger later called their early prototypes “crude ... When I look back at how crude they were compared to where we are today, we were crazy.” But when they showed the ball to a store owner, she told them, "You're going to be millionaires.” Stillinger built the machine that would make the balls and operated it out of a barn near his house.

3. STILLINGER FILED FOR A PATENT IN 1987.

Google Patents

The patent, which was granted in 1988, outlined the issues with regular balls:

“One of the problems with many conventional throwing/catching devices is that, on impact, they do not absorb much energy, and accordingly, tend to bounce and get away from one's grasp easily. Also, they sometimes hurt to catch. Another problem is that, typically, they do not offer a surface configuration that promotes quick, sure gripping.”

Their ball—“an amusement device which has a substantially spherical configuration, and which is formed from a large plurality of floppy, elastomeric filaments that radiate in a dense, bushy manner from a central core region”—would “avoid these significant disadvantages in a very practical and satisfactory manner”:

“The filaments are sufficiently floppy to collapse on impact, thus to absorb enough energy to avoid any tendency to bounce. They are also sufficiently dense and floppy that they tend to quickly thread their way between the fingers of a user on contact with the hand. These features promote sure and quick capture of the device during the act of catching.”

4. STILLINGER AND BUTTON HAD MORE THAN 200 OPTIONS FOR THE NAME.

Stillinger told People in 1989 that "Through a process of surveys and logic, we decided on Koosh.” According to The Secret History of Balls, the duo started with more than 200 names before asking kids and adults to pick their favorite from a list of finalists. The ball is also said to be named after the sound it makes when caught.

5. A STANDARD KOOSH IS MADE OF 2000 RUBBER FILAMENTS.

Placed end to end, the filaments on each 3-inch-diameter ball stretch more than 300 feet. The filaments have a nickname, by the way: Stillinger and Button called them “feelers.”

6. THE MEDIA MADE FUN OF THE BALL, AND THE INDUSTRY DIDN’T GET IT—BUT CUSTOMERS LOVED IT.

According to The Secret Life of Balls, “The media reveled in making fun of the soft ball. A Sports Illustrated writer compared the Koosh to a Star Trek tribble, while another reporter likened it to a ‘psychedelic sea urchin.’” Koosh balls were also called “The Pet Rock of the ‘80s.” Worse, some people in the industry just didn’t get it: One retailer even thought the filaments were defects and began cutting them off.

But in the end, those reactions didn’t matter much. The Koosh ball hit shelves in 1987, and by 1988, the ball—which a PR person for OddzOn described as a “cross between a porcupine and a bowl of Jell-O”—was a Christmastime bestseller. The next year, it was in 14,000 toy stores across the country and available in 20 countries around the world. Stillinger and Button were creating more versions of their popular ball, which would eventually be available in three varieties: Regular, fuzzy (which had twice as many filaments as the regular), and Mondo, which was the size of a grapefruit.

In 1990, Stillinger said that he and Button were “surprised by the extent of [Koosh’s] success,” which was accomplished without spending money on consumer advertising. Koosh balls benefited from placement next to registers—where customers couldn’t resist picking them up—and word of mouth. Soon, it was appearing in a Kansas community college’s physics class and in physical therapy sessions. There was even a fan club that would mail Koosh product suggestions to OddzOn.

7. THE TOY HAD ITS OWN BOOK …

Published in 1989, The Official Koosh Book featured 33 “Kooshy Activities,” including a form of tag called “Koosh Attack” and games like “Lakroosh,” “Hopskoosh,” and “Kooshy Kooshy Koo.”

8. … AND A SHORT-LIVED COMIC BOOK SERIES.


Koosh Kins—a comic book about six living Kooshes (Grinby, Boingo, GeeGee, Slats, T.K. and Scopes) produced by Archie Comics—debuted in 1991. The series ran for just a few issues and was, of course, accompanied by a toy line of Koosh balls with faces and hands.

9. THERE WAS A LOT OF SECRECY SURROUNDING KOOSH.

Or at least where it was made: According to a 1990 newspaper article, OddzOn Products was so wary of competitors stealing its secrets that it kept the exact location of its Silicon Valley manufacturing plant a secret.

10. RUTH BADER GINSBURG WEIGHED IN ON KOOSH COPYRIGHT.

When the U.S. Copyright Office declined to copyright the Koosh ball in 1988, OddzOn sued, calling the decision “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.” By 1991, the case had reached future Supreme Court Justice and Notorious RBG Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. In her decision, Ginsburg noted that “OddzOn sought copyright registration for the KOOSH ball to block importation of less expensive ‘knockoffs,” but that the Court couldn’t make a decision about the ball’s copyright:

“We again emphasize that we decide simply and only that the refusal of the Copyright Office to register the KOOSH ball, in the circumstances here presented, does not constitute an abuse of discretion. We do not decide on the copyrightability of the item, and we intimate no opinion on the decision we would reach if the matter came before us in an infringement action.”

Why couldn't the court make a decision about copyright? The issue was whether or not the functionality of the ball was inseparable from the utilitarian aspect of it. In U.S. law, and as Ginsberg noted in her ruling, it’s only possible to copyright things that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.” The Copyright Office felt that the Koosh ball’s looks and functionality were inseparable from the function—and, therefore, uncopyrightable.

11. STILLINGER AND BUTTON SOLD THE COMPANY IN 1994.

When the duo decided to sell OddzOn in 1994 to the New Jersey Company Russ Berrie and Co., they had sold 50 million Koosh balls and were making an estimated $30 million a year; the Koosh line consisted of 50 products, including key chains, finned footballs, and lawn darts. Hasbro purchased the company in 1997.

12. A WOMAN SUED AFTER GETTING HIT IN THE FACE WITH A KOOSH BALL ON ROSIE O’DONNELL’S TALK SHOW.

In 2001, 69-year-old Lucille DeBellis went to a taping of The Rosie O’Donnell Show. She was sitting in the studio audience when, according to the details of her lawsuit (as reported in the The New York Post), she was “suddenly and without warning struck in the face with a hard object”—a Koosh ball, which O’Donnell and her staff often shot out in the audience with the help of a Koosh-throwing device known as the Fling Shot.

Two years later, DeBellis filed a $3 million lawsuit against the producers of the show, claiming that “The Cuzball [sic] struck plaintiff squarely in the mouth, causing her to suffer pain and swelling, as well as bleeding in her gums.” The effects of the hit were long lasting, according to the lawsuit:

“[B]ecause of her physical discomfort and embarrassment with regard to her appearance, [DeBellis] was forced to spend the duration of the 2001 Christmas season in her home and turned down many opportunities to attend holiday parties and various social events … [It] adversely affected [her] relationship with her boyfriend.”

DeBellis settled with Warner Bros. and Time Warner Cable in 2004.

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9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

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Marvel vs. DC: This Map Shows Each State’s Favorite Comic Universe
Disney/Marvel Studios
Disney/Marvel Studios

Which comic book company is the best: Marvel or DC? This is a perennial argument on middle-school playgrounds and Reddit threads, but this map, courtesy of USDish.com, might just give us a definitive answer. The information here is broken down by state, using information provided by Google Trends to give us a clear winner of not only the most popular comic book company but also the most popular individual hero in each state (let’s show a little respect to Indiana for championing the Martian Manhunter).

According to the map, Marvel is the most popular publisher in 37 states, with DC trailing behind at eight, and five additional states coming to a 50/50 stalemate. The totals weren’t a blowout, though. In certain states like Mississippi, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, the favored company only won by a point. And just because a state searches Google for a specific publisher the most doesn’t mean an individual character from the opposing team isn’t its favorite—Hawaii is listed as favoring Marvel overall, yet they love Aquaman on his own. Same with DC-loving Maryland showing Black Panther some love (helps to have a big movie coming out). Take a look at some of the most notable state preferences below:

So how did Marvel amass so many states when there are just as many DC TV shows and movies out there? Well, according to Andrew Selepak, Ph.D., a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and director of the graduate program in social media, the answer lies in the depth at the House of Ideas.

“While Superman and Batman may be dominant characters,” Selepak said in a statement, “the DC Universe offers few other well-known heroes and villains and when these other characters are presented to the audience in film and on TV, they often are less than well-received.” This is opposed to Marvel, which launches new heroes on the big and small screen seemingly every year.

Does this map tell the whole story? That’s up for debate. When it comes to comics sold, DC and Marvel are always in a close battle: In January 2018, DC had six of the 10 best-selling comics of the month, placing four of the top five. Marvel, meanwhile, had three, while Image Comics had one with The Walking Dead. In terms of overall retail market share, though, Marvel eked out DC 34.3 percent to 33.8 percent.

This is a battle that's been raging since the 1960s, and for an industry that thrives on a never-ending fight between good and evil, we shouldn't expect the Marvel vs. DC debate to be settled anytime soon.

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