Boing Boing 

Aurora Monster Scenes: The Most Controversial Toys of a Generation

They had me at Aurora. Nothing so perfectly captures the secret origin of my imagination than the Aurora line of snap-tite models from the 1970s, especially the Prehistoric Scenes and monster models, with optional glow in dark parts. It was the lurid Monster Scene sets, however, that pried open my weird third eye (along with Creature Double Feature on my local UHF station and Famous Monsters of Filmland). These delightfully ghastly models included: Dr. Deadly, the igor-esque mad scientist; The Victim, a busty young woman whose only purpose is to be abducted and experimented on; Frankenstein, the misnamed monster to do Dr. Deadly’s bidding; Vampirella, the might-as-well-be-naked vampire whose role in all this is ambiguous; Gruesome Goodies, a laboratory of Tesla-like machinery, workbench, lab equipment and the requisite skull; The Pain Parlor, which includes an operating table, a skeleton, and inscrutable “pain” machine; The Pendulum, for slicing the Victim in half; and The Hanging Cage, a room of torture that even has hot coals and a tiny pincer. Later sets would include Dracula and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

I was too young to recognize anything here that might have been exploitive or inappropriate for a kid’s model set. Looking back, it’s hard to believe they were ever allowed on the shelves of a toy store. It’s no surprise then that the development of the toys was one part “Let’s do the craziest things we can think of...” and one part “but let’s not get parents upset.” To this end, Aurora worked out a smart business arrangement with James Warren of Warren Publishing who was an expert on how to market monsters to young people while staying away from controversy. Nevertheless, negative press, parent groups, and an unhappy parent company (Nabisco) led the quick shuttering of the line.

The book Aurora Monster Scenes is a loving and candid history of Aurora, the impetus and creative burst that went into designing these models, and the sad controversy that ensued. The book is lavishly illustrated with a remarkable collection of original design sketches, advertisements, photographs, and of course, images of the models themselves. The creatives at Aurora had nothing but the spirit of fun and a wink-and-nod to the burgeoning monster-craze that surrounded them at the time, but try as they might, there was very little they could do that would assuage parents’ fears of their kids putting the helpless female victim in the hanging cage and pretending to burn her with hot coals in preparation for the dissection in the Pain Parlor. But boy oh boy, did I love those tiny plastic test tubes.

Aurora Monster Scenes: The Most Controversial Toys of a Generation
by Dennis L. Prince and Andrew P. Yanchus
StarComm Publications
2014, 256 pages, 8.4 x 10.9 x 0.5 inches (paperback)
$29 Buy a copy on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

The Girl With the Parrot on Her Head


Daisy Hirst's picture book about friendship, loneliness and self-reliance is shot through with delightful absurdity and illustrated with enormous wit.

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Ultimate t-shirt for trolling science fiction fans


$20-26 from Offworld Designs. (via Diane Duane)

Flux Capacitor USB Car Charger


The $25 Back to the Future Flux Capacitor car-charger has two USB ports and does a fantastically bright light-show (which, thankfully, you can switch off).

Doctoral dissertation in graphic novel form

Columbia University awarded a doctorate in education to Nick Sousanis for Unflattening, a graphic novel about the relationship between words and pictures in literature.

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LED cloud lights


The battery-powered LED cloud is handmade in Australia and projects a moon and stars on the ceiling above.

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Kickass flashlight


The $70 Nitecore MH2C outputs 800 lumens and gets outstanding reviews, and even though it uses those pain-in-the-ass CR123A batteries; you can also use 18650s which you can recharge over USB. (via Canopy)

A "hand gyroscope" that is sleek, futuristic, and begs to be passed around

NSD Power Ball
NSD Power US
Ages 14 and up, no batteries required
$25 Buy one on Amazon

I received the NSD Power ball as a gift. I had no idea what a "hand gyroscope" was, but the packaging suggested it could be used for exercise and fun. My natural reaction was suspicion ("exercise" and "fun" being words I believe have no place in the same sentence) and I was all set to stash it in the back of my wardrobe and never look at it again. That is, until I opened the box.

The ball is sleek and futuristic. Rubber grips juxtaposed with smooth acrylic make it eminently pickupable. The device has a pleasant weightiness which surprises you the first time you lift it, while the transparent shell shows off the curves and chrome of the mysterious inner mechanism. Inside the box I also found some red strings, which baffled me at first. After some fruitless tinkering and fruitful online research I was able to "get to grips" with the ball and try it out. Insert and then yank out the red strings in order to jumpstart the gyro. Once you’ve done that, the aim is to keep it spinning through subtle twists of your wrist. Spin fast enough and the device starts to glow. Lose your rhythm and the lights go out. The ball isn’t designed to be used in the dark but it’s difficult to resist the urge.

To watch someone else spinning is to want a go yourself. The ball begs to be passed around. Can your spin beat your friend’s speed-score? Can you hand it over without the gyro slowing to a stop? The ball is tough to handle at first, but you’ll gradually find your stamina increasing. You’ll spin it longer and faster than you could the day before and there’s real satisfaction in that. It even begins to feel, dare I say it, fun.

The company’s website describes the ball as having almost mythic qualities: able to cure tendonitis and repetitive strain injury, reversing the effects of keyboard-induced carpal tunnel syndrome, testimonials from tennis players, violinists and secretaries alike. While I can’t personally vouch for its restorative features, I can certainly say I haven’t been dropping my mobile phone anywhere near as often, and I’ve been giving a hell of a handshake recently. – Damien McLaughlin

NSD Power Ball
NSD Power US
Ages 14 and up, no batteries required
$25 Buy one on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Memoir of a Mormon missionary expelled from Canada as a terrorist


Science fiction writer William Shunn is at long last releasing his memoir, The Accidental Terrorist, in book form. Revised and expanded from his popular podcast, it tells the story of how he was expelled from Canada for terrorism as a young Mormon missionary.

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Legoid bookends


You'll need to click on some heavy stuff for these to keep your books for sliding around, but the good news is that these $20 bookends will also click tight with Pixelblocks, Megablocks, Kre-o and K'nex Bricks.

Memento Mori: the beautiful ways we have kept the dead among the living

Art historian Paul Koudounaris travelled the world, visiting 30 countries to document the practices—ancient to modern, solemn to joyous—by which human remains are displayed. From good luck charms to genocide memorials, his gorgeous art book Memento Mori collects the finds.Read the rest

USB Microscope — a zoom function for the real world

scope

I had the earlier version of the Plugable USB Handheld Digital Microscope and liked it a lot. The second version just came out and I love it. Smaller than a prescription pill bottle, the microscope has a USB cord that can be plugged into any computer. Download the software here and start looking up close at money, leaves, circuit boards, bugs, skin, hair, and anything else.

The scope has a built-in, adjustable-brightness LED for illumination. The brightest setting is not always the best - try different levels of illumination and let the software auto-adjust the contrast. I also learned that in order to see things at the maximum 250X magnification you need to follow the instructions in the FAQ.

The scope comes with a suction-cup gooseneck mount that is very stable, and a plastic board with a grid pattern, which helps you align and locate the thing you are looking at. You can also simply hold the scope against things. The software takes still photos and movies, and hasn't crashed on me yet (the earlier version was buggy).

At this price, the microscope is an amazingly entertaining device and I find myself grabbing it to check out all sorts of things, including splinters, skin cuts, bugs, and playing card designs.

Plugable USB 2.0 Handheld Digital Microscope with Stand
By Plugable
$35 Buy one on Amazon

Top row (left to right): One black whisker and many white whiskers on my chin, strawberry seed, George Washington’s eye on a $1 bill at 250X
Middle row: Snap blade knife at 250X, pixels on an iPhone 6 Plus display, seal from $1
Bottom row: Nickel, George Washington’s eye on a $1 bill at 50X, Snap blade knife at 50X,

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

D20 Mug


The 12oz mug is dishwasher/microwave-safe: $13 at Thinkgeek.

Library at Mount Char: urban fantasy that has the magic

Scott Hawkins's debut horror novel, The Library at Mount Char, is a sprawling, epic contemporary fantasy about cruelty and the end of the world, compulsively readable, with the deep, resonant magic of a world where reality is up for grabs.Read the rest

Pizza-slicing scissors

Slicing your pizza with scissors just makes sense -- better slices, cleaner topping-severance, and easier sharpening and handling than a wheel. (via Canopy)

Super Mario mugs


Mario Pipe Mugs: half-price at Thinkgeek: ($6.49). (via Geekymerch)

Super Balloon – As with all Wham-O toys, so simple yet so delightful

Chances are you’ve heard of many classic Wham-O toys such as the Frisbee, Silly String, and the Slip ’N Slide. The Super Balloon is another Wham-O invention, originally introduced in the 80s, that never quite reached the same legendary toy fame. The good news is that a new version of the Super Balloon is being produced today, so you still have a chance to enjoy an underrated classic toy with your family and friends.

To inflate the Super Balloon, you run into the wind with it, finish it off by blowing it up with your mouth, and then just twist, fold, and seal the open end with a rubber band. A large open space is the best place to use it. My kids love when I throw it as high as I can into the sky, so they can run across the field trying to catch it as it slowly sails back to the ground. They also enjoy spinning it in the air and bouncing it off of walls. With two or more balloons, you can have some very humorous jousting tournaments or slow-motion sword battles.

We did find that the material is susceptible to rips and punctures due to hard play, although some scotch tape repairs gave us a few more hours of play. It’s also hard to control on windy days, therefore it's great as a backup when there isn’t enough wind for kite-flying. This is quite a large and unique toy that you don’t see every day, and when we took it to a local park, we had several families come to check it out and play with us. – Mike Evans

Wham-O Super Balloon
Wham-O
Ages 6 and up, inflates to 10 feet
$12 Buy one on Amazon

See more photos at Wink Fun.