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.

Get the complete Arduino starter kit & course bundle for 85% off

Tackle 13 different projects w/ this fully-stocked beginner's toolkit. The ARDX Arduino Starter Kit pairs a detailed, illustrated guide with all the parts you need to build your own circuits. Perfect for beginners, this kit requires no experience and teaches you to use Arduino to control lights, buzzers, and more. Once you master the basics of Arduino, you can control motors on any device you dream up—from robots, to mood lights, to self-playing instruments, and beyond.

In addition to the kit, this deal offers three video courses. Learn about everything here. ($75.99)

7 electronics kits for kids

The Guardian reviews a selection of fun kids' electronic kits, including littleBits Space Kit, and the Raspberry Pi based Kano computer.

Read the rest

Nano Quadcopter open source tiny drone kit

Crazyffff Designed by Bitcraze, the Crazyflie Nano Quadcopter is an open source development kit to make your own tiny drones. It's $173 from Seeed Studio Depot and looks like great fun to make and fly! "Crazyflie Nano Quadcopter Kit 10-DOF with Crazyradio"

How do we enable young makers, without hiding the details of how things really work?

Michael Rosenblatt is founder and CEO of Seamless Toy Company, maker of ATOMS, an electronics construction kit for kids (and adults). He wrote a piece for MAKE about the challenges of making an easy-to-use electronics kit that doesn't hide how electronics works.

Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great team to design a new electronics construction set called ATOMS. The design goal for ATOMS was to create a plug-and-play construction set that required no experience in electronics or programming. We designed ATOMS to be simple enough for a 5-year-old, and powerful enough for a professional — which means that making table-top creations isn’t enough. You have to be able to build “real” things with it — like a cake with motorized elements, or a nightlight that you can switch remotely with a the shake of a “magic” wand. We designed ATOMS to enable more people to make great things, and particularly with kids, we hope ATOMS will seed a curiosity for how things work.

However, there is an inherent contradiction in these goals — tools that help users extend their capabilities almost always abstract away the true nature of how things work. ATOMS is no exception, and that leads to a number of design decisions we struggle with on a regular basis. We want ATOMS to both empower users, but also be transparent, and oftentimes those objectives are at odds.

How do we enable young makers, without hiding the details of how things really work?

Laser-cut, laser-etched flat-pack metal model kits


On our recent summer family holiday, I stopped in at The California Academy of Sciences, a beautiful science museum and research facility in San Francisco. In the gift shop, I grabbed a MetalWorks laser-cut trolley-car kit. MetalWorks are 11cm square sheets of tin, laser-cut and laser-etched to come apart into pieces ready to assemble into models of famous buildings, iconic vehicles, and other landmarks. I cleverly threw away the packaging (including the instructions) when we packed for home, but as I just discovered when I sat down to assemble the model, the company is smart enough to post PDFs of their instruction sheets. The model was just the right amount of challenging for me -- the kind of thing I could do in 20 minutes with a pair of tweezers while carrying on a pleasant conversation, and the finished product is a pretty cool-looking model indeed.

There are more than 30 different models on the company's website, of which a mere three can be had on Amazon. Correction: Here are 25 more -- thanks to Jeff in the comments!

Metal Works by Fascinations Unique Toys & Gifts