Gather ’round, boys and girls! Here’s a true story about Christmases when I was a little girl. Back then, Santa brought toys without warning labels and the phrase “Buyer Beware” meant someone would get hurt before sundown on Christmas Day, and that someone was probably you.
In those days, no one had a right to a non-hostile work environment – not even Santa, who employed some angry elves. These elves quickly formed a union, spent the GNP on lead paint and created toys that fit into a handful of what your generation would now call “class-actionable” categories of product liability: Violent Toys, Sharp and/or Stabbing Toys, Fun with Molten Heat Toys, Toxic Substance Toys and the biggest fun of all … Games that Maim.
Toys that allowed children to act out violence and mayhem were must-haves for many a Christmas list, probably the natural result of the pressure that comes with having to be good the rest of the year. The Bozo Punching Doll and Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em Robots were fine stand-ins for the school bully. If seeing the movie “Jaws” didn’t scare you into avoiding open water forever, maybe reenacting the horror could inch you closer with your “Jaws” replica shark game, complete with plastic guns and skulls.
Many toys, if they didn’t impale you within the first 15 minutes of play, could be quickly altered into shank-like objects you could use to settle scores with your menacing siblings. Pick-up Sticks were nothing more than sharpened skewers that allowed you to shish kabob anyone within striking distance – all in a rainbow of colors! While sharp-tipped, metal Lawn Darts were a legitimate threat to the concept of “fun and games,” they were even more legitimate as an example of natural selection at work.
The point (no pun intended) of toys back then was to alleviate parental involvement, not to invoke it. Long before “Breaking Bad,” Christmas Day meant we would soon be mixing toxic chemicals with abandon and cooking things that produced fumes which, today, are illegal to inhale in 41 states. By combining electricity, heat and metal, the Easy-Bake Oven gave us miniature brownies, plus brand new fingerprints after we burned off our original set.
Sadly, some toys didn’t live up to the frenzied advertising hype that drove us to add them to our Christmas wish lists. From the Toxic Substance category, Wham-O’s SuperElasticBubblePlastic poison from a tube was one such toy. Promoted to create huge, psychedelic balloons that would float through space and back down again and again, the SuperElasticBubblePlastic did little more than emit noxious fumes from a metal tube filled with sticky goo. If only the balloons could get as high as the eight year olds who tried to make them, just before collapsing to the ground to study the billowing motion of the clouds in the sky.
There may have been fuel shortages back then, but there was no shortage of Games that Maim. Santa’s elves worked double-time to ensure that every child had ample opportunity to maim him- or herself and everyone else within a square city mile. A game called Swack was configured as a giant, spring-loaded mousetrap and worked on the premise that, as you took away cheese-shaped game pieces, the mousetrap’s metal bar would SNAP! and teach an important (if painful) lesson to children about stealing cheese. (Fascinating side note: today on eBay, most Swack game sets are still in like-new condition.)
The iconic pogo stick and the Hippity Hop bouncing toy were two fun-tastic, at-home teeth-removal toys that created a surge in pediatric dental implants, while the Wrist Rocket Slingshot targeted new customers in all other reconstructive surgery categories.
But no toy screams “Games that Maim” more shrilly than Klackers, the eye-gouging (but glittered!) nunchuck-y orbs of death that, within seconds, guaranteed injury to both the user and any hapless spectators who were slow to escape. Whether you were an expert or a novice at flailing these weapons of mass destruction, you could bet your Christmas dinner you’d have golf ball-sized knots on the once bony tops of your hands and at least one person in your holiday entourage would lose an eye.
That was many years ago, boys and girls. A lot has changed since then. Santa’s elves are much mellower now. They do Pilates at lunch, mentor younger elves and submit all creative briefs to the North Pole’s on-staff legal counsel before they let the Fat Man (whom they now call The Fuller-Figured-Man-But-That’s-OK) deliver the presents under your tree, provided you’ve been good all year and have signed the current year’s hold harmless agreement at least 90 days prior to delivery of said toys.