The inventor of the ball pit was inspired by a jar of pickled onions

More than 40 years ago, Eric McMillan, a renowned designer of children's play areas, and his team created the ball pit, those troughs of brightly-colored plastic balls that children swim around in. (Ball pits also may be a giant petri dish of pathogens but, hell, the kids love 'em.) Apparently, McMillan--who went on to be known as the "father of soft play" for his numerous playful innovations like the "punch bag forest"--found his inspiration for the ball pit in his kitchen. From the BBC:

McMillan and his team came up with the idea for the ball pit in San Diego more than 40 years ago, when inspiration struck after looking at a container of pickled onions in the kitchen. “There was a jar of onions, and we were sort of saying: ‘wow, how about if you could crawl through those? And then – ding – we decided we’d try it,” he says.

The first ball pit, filled with 40,000 balls, opened soon after their epiphany. “People just went crazy about it. Thank God for those onions.”

More in this BBC podcast: "Pickled onions inspired me to design the ball pit"

image: "Children in ball pit in Nachshonit" by יעקב (CC BY-SA 3.0) Read the rest

Patent for a toy turtle operated by houseflies

In 1926, Oscar Williams of San Diego, California was granted a patent on a toy turtle operated by houseflies buzzing around inside. From patent number US1591905A, "Artificial Animal":

My invention relates to artificial animals with movable limbs and members operated by natural animals or insects and the objects of my invention are: First, to provide an animal of this class which in appearance resembles a natural animal and in which the limbs or members are movable substantially as those of the natural animal; second, to provide an animal of this class in which the limbs and members are pivotally, reliably and reciprocally mounted in the body thereof to obtain a variety of motion of said limbs and members; third, to provide an animal of this class in which the interior of the body portion or the parts containing movable members are made hollow so as to provide ample space for the movement and operation of the natural animals or insects placed within said hollow portion; fourth, to provide an animal of this class in which means are provided to keep the natural animal or insect in the interior thereof in motion and thus provide continuous movement of the said limbs or members; fifth, to provide an animal of this class with a convenient and novel means of entrance and exit of said natural animals or insects; sixth, to provide an animal of this class which is .novelly constructed and seventh, to provide an animal of this class which is very simple and economical of construction, durable, and which will not readily deteriorate or get out of order.

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The game Operation was born as a test of desert survival skills

We all know the game Operation in which the player must conduct surgery on a curious character named Cavity Sam. As the commercial goes, "It takes a very steady hand." But as sci-tech historian Allison Marsh writes in IEEE Spectrum, Operation evolved from a very different electrified game called Death Valley that was invented in the early 1960s by a University of Illinois industrial design student named John Spinello. From IEEE Spectrum:

Spinello’s game, called Death Valley, didn’t feature a patient, but rather a character lost in the desert. His canteen drained by a bullet hole, he wanders through ridiculous hazards in search of water. Players moved around the board, inserting their game piece—a metal probe—into holes of various sizes. The probe had to go in cleanly without touching the sides; otherwise it would complete a circuit and sound a buzzer. Spinello’s professor gave him an A....

Spinello sold the idea to Marvin Glass and Associates, a Chicago-based toy design company, for US $500, his name on the U.S. patent (3,333,846), and the promise of a job, which never materialized.

Mel Taft, a game designer at Milton Bradley, saw a prototype of Death Valley and thought it had potential. His team tinkered with the idea but decided it would be more interesting if the players had to remove an object rather than insert a probe. They created a surgery-themed game, and Operation was born.

BUTTAFINGAS!

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Nemesis Prime Transformer has a G-Shock wristwatch in its chest

Casio G-Shock and Transformers are releasing a Nemesis Prime action figure that contains a G-Shock wristwatch in its chest. More than meets the eye, the Optimus Prime also transforms into a fancy pedestal for the watch when it's not on your wrist. The ¥30,000 JPY (US$275) set will only be available in Japan.

G-SHOCK DW-5600TF19-SET (Hypebeast)

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How wallpaper cleaner became one of the most popular toys ever

During the early 20th century, Kutol Products was the world's biggest manufacturer of wallpaper cleaning products. But once coal heating in homes was replaced with oil, gas, and electricity, dirty wallpaper became less of a problem and Kutol was in trouble. So in 1956, they pivoted. From Smithsonian:

Joseph McVicker was trying to turn around the struggling company when his sister-in-law read an article about how wallpaper cleaner could be used for modeling projects. Sister-in-law Kay Zufall, a nursery school teacher, tested the nontoxic material with children, who loved molding it into all kinds of shapes. She told McVicker of her discovery and even suggested a new name: Play-Doh...

Originally available in white only in 1956, Play-Doh soon expanded to include basic colors red, blue and yellow. It is now sold in a panoply of hues, including Rose Red, Purple Paradise, Garden Green and Blue Lagoon. The Putty line includes metallic and glittery tints. The recipe has gone through minor modifications over time. At one point, the amount of salt was reduced so the product would not dry out so quickly. But, for the most part, the mixture has remained the same.

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Custom action figure art show featuring Bloodsport, Death Becomes Her, and more

Gallery 1988's latest show features multiple artists, including Dano Brown's custom action figures.  Even Funko and Super 7 haven't gotten around to movie icons of yesteryear like Nurse Ratched, Billy Sole, and D-Fens:

Brown's contributions to the show include other style toys:

You can buy these and more at Gallery 1988. Read the rest

Minnesota county museum's impressive collection of creepy antique dolls

Olmsted County, Minnesota's History Center are sharing portraits of the creepiest dolls in their antiques collection. Folks can vote online for their favorite and the winner will be on display next week for Halloween. From MPR News:

"The doll I disdain handling is the one with human hair,” said curator Dan Nowakowski as he holds up a doll from the 1800s with an impressive braid and a dead-eye stare...

One creepshow contender was made with cloth for the head and limbs. "And then it was painted with a facial tone color, but the paint has chipped away,” Nowakowski said. “And now, unfortunately with the paint chipping, it looks like a mummy."

Nowakowski said that for a lot of the collection's dolls, the unsettling freakiness is all in the eyes.

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Lego's new green-minded effort to collect and redistribute old bricks

Today, Lego announced Replay, an initiative to collect, clean, and redistribute old bricks through organizations like Teach For America and the Boys and Girls Club of Boston. Basically, you toss your old Legos in a box and ship them off with a prepaid label provided by logistics company Give Back Box. From Wired:

The biggest challenge in the process, says Give Back Box founder Monika Wiela, will be sorting and cleaning all the pieces. Her company will collect the bricks at its facility in Alabama, where workers will then separate out the broken bricks and machine wash the rest. The goal is to make the donated toys seem like new, as opposed to grimy hand-me-downs.

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Halloween mask of Sloth from The Goonies deemed inaccurate

Trumpetcake spotted a remarkable item on Amazon being sold as "The Goonies Sloth Mask", perfect for Halloween. The sole customer review awards it 5 stars, but people on Twitter seem unimpressed with its versimilitude.

P.S. You can buy Babe Ruth bars on Amazon by the crate. Read the rest

LEGO Star Wars Ski Speeder with Poe Dameron minifig

Relive the glorious moment when the First Order almost ended the Resistance! This lovely model of the rinky-dink Crait Ski Speeder will take you there.

The kit comes with a Poe Dameron minfig as well as some Admiral named Ematt, a 'resistance trooper' and 2 First Order snowtroopers. Pretty sure the resistance guy dies easy.

You may engage in futile attacks on the Mobile Big Laser used by the FI to smash the resistance's big barn door!

LEGO Star Wars: The Last Jedi Defense of Crait 75202 Building Kit (746 Piece) via Amazon Read the rest

Electronic "sand toy" features LEDs that shift as if affected by gravity

There's a detailed guide to building the LED Matrix Sand Toy at Adafruit:

These LEDs interact with motion and looks like they’re affect by gravity. An Adafruit LED matrix displays the LEDs as little grains of sand which are driven by sampling an accelerometer with Raspberry Pi Zero!

The 3D Printed handles make it easy to hold the 64x64 LED Matrix and the two buttons make it easy to switch modes or reset simulations!

The code, written by Phillip Burgess, simulates physics by calculating collisions and terminal velocity.

It looks particularly beautiful in the dark:

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Mattel launches line of "gender inclusive" dolls

Mattel, makers of Barbie and many other toys, has launched "Creatable World," a line of $30 customizable dolls with "extensive wardrobe options, accessories and wigs allow kids to style the doll with short or long hair, or in a skirt, pants, or both."

“Toys are a reflection of culture and as the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity, we felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels,” Kim Culmone, Senior Vice President of Mattel Fashion Doll Design, said in a statement. “Through research, we heard that kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms. This line allows all kids to express themselves freely which is why it resonates so strongly with them. We’re hopeful Creatable World will encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play.”

Creatable World dolls (Amazon)

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Nerf unveils "DRM for darts"

Hasbro's got a new foam dart gun, the $50 Nerf Ultra One blaster, and to make sure that owners of this toy arrange their affairs to the benefit of Hasbro's shareholders, the company has engineered a digital rights management system that detects and refuses to fire third-party darts, which sell by the hundreds for just a few bucks (the official darts are $10 for 20), which means that party organizers running Nerf wars will have to scale back their ambitions or shell out like crazy. Read the rest

Fantastic fingerboard trick video from 1999

These days, my 13-year-old son and his friends are all about playing with their Tech Deck fingerboards during lunch at school. This 1999 video "Fingers of Fury!" is from 1999 yet two decades later, kids (and adults) are still fanatic about fingerboarding. From Consumer Time Capsule:

Famous fingerboarders Darin Langhorst, Damien Bernadet and Tony Pauthex showcase their skills on a variety of obstacles, such as a mini railing, a wooden box and, well, more railings and boxes.

After a two minute and thirty second compilation including all three athletes' arsenal, we're treated to a feature dubbed, "learning how to do what you want your fingers to do," featuring Darin Langhorst. In this section, Darin explains the succession of tricks that you should learn, each supported with slow motion illustrations. After covering the basics, Langhorst describes the importance of ollies: a lifting of the board, using the "g-forces" exerted by your fingers.

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Mattel designed a Barbie doll honoring Eleni Antoniadou's accomplishments, but what are they?

Eleni Antoniadou's reported accomplishments were so impressive that Mattel designed a Barbie doll based on her as part of its International Women’s Day celebration.

But those "accomplishments" might all be nonexistent. Here's a partial list from the BBC as to suspicions raised:

Claim: She worked on the world's first artificial trachea that was successfully transplanted to a patient.

Counterclaim: She was a postgraduate student at UCL and was remotely involved with the surgery. The transplant ended with one of the biggest scandals in modern medicine, covered here by the BBC. The patient died after his body did not accept the transplant. Long after his death, Ms Antoniadou gave interviews in Greece saying how she had saved the patient's life and how the patient was living a normal life.

Claim: She has been working for a number of years as a researcher at Nasa.

Counterclaim: She attended a 10-week summer school there and took a lot of pictures around the US space agency's facilities wearing clothes with the Nasa logo. Nasa has denied she works directly for the agency, but has not excluded the possibility that she may be working as a sub-contractor.

The Telegraph is also investigating:

The NASA-ESA Outstanding Researcher Award does not appear to exist and Ms Antoniadou's name is not included in Nasa's record of its award winners.

(Via Ben Collins.) Read the rest

A lovely film of spinning tops by Charles and Ray Eames

In 1969, visionary designers Charles and Ray Eames directed this cinematic ballet of more than 100 spinning tops from around the world. The score is by famed Hollywood composer Elmer Bernstein (The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, Airplane!, etc.). From the Eames Office:

Tops had its genesis in an earlier film produced for the Stars of Jazz television program in 1957. The Eameses decided to make a longer, color version in 1966, which they worked on in spare moments between other projects.

The film is a celebration of the ancient art and craft of top-making and spinning. One hundred and twenty-three tops spin to the accompaniment of a score by Elmer Bernstein. Using close-up, live-action photography, the film shows tops, old and new, from various countries, including China, Japan, India, the United States, France, and England.

Charles’s fascination with spinning tops went back to his childhood; in this film he found a perfect vehicle for demonstrating their beauty in motion and for making visual points about the universality of tops, the physics of motion (MIT physics professor, Philip Morrison, often showed the film to students and colleagues), and the intimate relationship between toys and science.

(via Aeon) Read the rest

The Slinky was invented by accident

Today is National Slinky Day. As Rachael Lallensack writes in Smithsonian, a spring, a spring, this marvelous thing was invented by accident:

In 1943, mechanical engineer Richard James was designing a device that the Navy could use to secure equipment and shipments on ships while they rocked at sea. As the story goes, he dropped the coiled wires he was tinkering with on the ground and watched them tumble end-over-end across the floor.

After dropping the coil, he could have gotten up, frustrated, and chased after it without a second thought. But he—as inventors often do—had a second thought: perhaps this would make a good toy.

As Jonathon Schifman reported for Popular Mechanics, Richard James went home and told his wife, Betty James, about his idea. In 1944, she scoured the dictionary for a fitting name, landing on “slinky,” which means “sleek and sinuous in movement or outline.” Together, with a $500 loan, they co-founded James Industries in 1945, the year the Slinky hit store shelves...

Seventy-two years ago, Richard James received a patent for the Slinky, describing “a helical spring toy which will walk on an amusement platform such as an inclined plane or set of steps from a starting point to successive lower landing points without application of external force beyond the starting force and the action of gravity.” He had worked out the ideal dimensions for the spring, 80-feet of wire into a two-inch spiral. (You can find an exact mathematical equation for the slinky in his patent materials.)

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