Trendy toys don’t stand up to Sixfin­ger

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - THE WEST - JOHN KASS

WHAT­EVER the hot toy is this year, you can rest as­sured it is not a Sixfin­ger. The Sixfin­ger was the must-have item when I was a lit­tle boy. It was a dev­il­ishly clever plas­tic in­dex fin­ger that was ac­tu­ally a gun. It fired hard plas­tic ob­jects and ex­plod­ing pro­jec­tiles.

You were sup­posed to shoot these off in the safety of a va­cant lot. But it was even more sat­is­fy­ing to point your Sixfin­ger at the small of your lit­tle brother’s back and squeeze off a round, just as he ran off to tell mom and dad you’d pinged Mrs. Mo­laitis’ base­ment win­dow. I can still re­mem­ber the com­mer­cial. “Sixfin­ger, Sixfin­ger, man alive! How did I ever get along with five?”

Ev­ery kid wanted a Sixfin­ger. Yes, they were dan­ger­ous. But no one was ever tram­pled to death try­ing to get one.

Last year’s hot toy was Zhu Zhu Pets ham­sters. The lov­able plas­tic robotic ro­dents had names like Pip­squeak, Chunk, Mr. Squig­gles and Num Nums.

These id­i­otic toys gen­er­ated more than $300 mil­lion last De­cem­ber. Since each toy cost mere pen­nies to make, they were cel­e­brated as a mar­ket­ing suc­cess.

But the Zhu Zhu craze is no more. Count­less of the elec­tronic ver­min have been re­ported gath­er­ing dust in the re­main­der bins at big-box stores.

The rest are in toy pur­ga­tory, lost un­der the couch or hav­ing been bro­ken into bits in the corner of the base­ment.

And no doubt the oc­ca­sional Zhu Zhu was picked up by the fam­ily dog. Af­ter some vig­or­ous chew­ing, Num Nums or Chunk was de­posited, in some­what al­tered form, near the lilac bushes in the back­yard.

But don’t be sad for Zhu Zhu. There’s al­ways a new must-have toy tak­ing the place of last year’s model. This year, it’s a Zooble. Zoobles are also cheap plas­tic crea­tures made by docile fac­tory work­ers happy to have jobs. But Zoobles live in a won­drous land called “Pe­tag­o­nia.”

“Full of laugh­ter, sur­prises, bounc­ing and trounc­ing, Pe­tag­o­nia is home to ev­ery­one’s favourite Zoobles pets,” says the Web site.

Each tiny Zooble has its own per­sonal “Hap­pi­tat.” Kids can earn cred­its, called “zoints,” if they go on­line and reg­is­ter their Zooble with the par­ent com­pany.

“You can earn zoints by com­plet­ing fun Zooble tasks like wa­ter­ing trees un­til pretty flow­ers bloom, mak­ing birdies sing a melody or build­ing a Hap­pi­tat,” chirps the Web site.

The Zoobles frolic in their vir­tual Hap­pi­tats, in that magic land of Pe­tag­o­nia. Zoobles are beloved by chil­dren whose de­mo­graphic par­tic­u­lars and pur­chas­ing habits will be en­tered into gi­gan­tic data­bases and sys­tem­at­i­cally tracked for the rest of their nat­u­ral lives.

Is it just me, or don’t you feel like wad­ing into a Hap­pi­tat with your Sixfin­ger and blow­ing all the Zoobles to king­dom come? OK, it’s prob­a­bly just me. But still. What re­ally would have wreaked havoc in Pe­tag­o­nia was a Johnny 7 One Man Army.

When I was a boy, a Johnny 7 O.M.A. was the weapon of choice. It wasn’t some tiny plas­tic fin­ger. It was a mas­sive toy gun, so large it re­quired its own tri­pod for sta­bil­ity, since there were seven shootable weapons in one.

The bunker buster, the grenade launcher, the anti-tank mis­sile each were ca­pa­ble of bust­ing a few teeth. It shot plas­tic bul­lets too. What more would a kid want? But my par­ents in their cru­elty re­fused me. Yes, in the days be­fore vir­tual toys, Amer­i­cans had play­things called “real” toys. We had toy guns, even cap guns, and we played with swords, chem­istry sets, wood burn­ing kits, just about any­thing you could blind your­self with. Like Jarts. Re­mem­ber Jarts? These were metal-tipped javelins, de­signed to be thrown high into the air, so they’d land in a small plas­tic tar­get cir­cle on the ground.

Nat­u­rally, chil­dren adapted the game to make it more kid-friendly. In­stead of the cir­cle, a kid would be com­pelled by peer pres­sure to stand across the yard, feet planted, and dodge the Jarts as they hur­tled earth­ward.

There was only one rule: Don’t move your feet, or you lose. It built char­ac­ter.

In the non-weaponized toy cat­e­gory, there were Creepy Crawlers. These were quite ed­u­ca­tional.

You filled metal plates with goop from a tube, plugged it all into the elec­tric socket un­til the plates be­came red hot. A cou­ple of sec­ond-de­gree burns later, and presto, you had rub­ber in­sects to play with.

They didn’t do any­thing. But you could shoot them with your Sixfin­ger.

Did kids learn any­thing about in­sects? Of course not. In­stead, we learned a life les­son: Don’t touch red-hot metal or you’ll burn your fin­gers off.

But now, as a par­ent, I’m re­lieved that we stand against dan­ger­ous toys. Yet what about parental safety? Black Fri­day is dan­ger­ous for mom and dad.

We’re the ones risk­ing our lives, brav­ing the rav­en­ous hordes of crazed shop­pers who are ready to stomp any­one who gets in their way. And for what? A stupid Zooble? We all know where the Zoobles end up. It’s not in some Hap­pi­tat.

It’s more like out by the lilac bush.

—McClatchy-Tribune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices.

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