Wish Books of Holidays Past

As we draw towards the end of 2017, I reflect on the holidays of my youth. Like many, as a child I was consumed by toy mania and would spend most of the time before the holidays thinking on all the stuff I wanted to find under the tree or inside my stocking. I mostly grew up in the 80’s and back then we had these amazing phone book-sized catalogs from all the major department stores.

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These catalogs would arrive just before Halloween and you could basically find anything you wanted in them. These were the days before the Internet (or at least in a mainstream way) and Amazon.com. Back then, catalog shopping was your only other option past physically going to the store yourself.

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There is an amazing website that showcases many of these catalogs found here: WishbookWeb.com

This site is well worth a look for those who grew up in the 70’s through the early 90’s or for anybody curious about those decades. Going through those pages is an interesting snapshot of each year as you relive all the trends, styles, and brands that used to reign supreme.

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Opening these vast catalogs as a kid was always fun and full of mystery – what new toys would be featured this year? Depending on the size of the store, these catalogs would run from 350 to 700 pages of content. Usually the toy section would be about a hundred pages or so, but there would also be other interesting things to see in the other sections (more so now that I’m an adult).

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The main thing I’d always look for was the Action Figures section. I grew up with brands like Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, the Transformers, etc. The 80’s were an amazing time for such toys. Since Star Wars came out in 1977, it changed how movies and movie merchandise would be handled forever.

Star Wars (Kenner 1977-1985)

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When George Lucas was making the first Star Wars, the larger toy companies passed on the toy license not wanting bet on an unproven property. The movie was a mega hit and the small toy company who did get the rights was Kenner and they popularized the 3.75 inch action figure size that became an industry standard.

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Kenner was unprepared for the unprecedented demand for toys based off the film. Unable to build sufficient stock in time for the Holiday market, they instead sold an “Early Bird Certificate Package” which included a certificate which could be mailed to Kenner and later redeemed for four Star Wars action figures. The box also contains a diorama display stand, some stickers, and a Star Wars fan club membership card. Yeah, the demand for toys was so high, they were able to sell people and empty box with an IOU for figures.

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Regardless, Star Wars toys had then become a core part of the toy business through the late 70’s through the late 80’s. Then brought back again in the mid-90’s and since then, they have never left the toy aisles.

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G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Hasbro 1983-1994)

After the success of the Star Wars toys, Hasbro brought back one of their core brands, G.I. Joe. They made the change from 12 inch figure size to the 3.75 inch figures for this release and scored big. Assisted by television ads for the Comic Books and an Animated Series, G.I. Joe and another new brand called the Transformers were huge for Hasbro.

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Transforming Robots and More

Transforming robots were all the rage in the early 80’s and in this catalog (Montgomery Ward 1984) we see they featured GoBots above the Transformers. An odd choice, even as a kid, nobody seemed to care about the GoBots. We were all about the Transformers!

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And in the 80’s there seemed to be a big push for people to have their own robots:

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Action Figures, Action Figures, Action Figures…

The 80’s were such a great time for Action Figure toy lines. You had so many iconic brands come from this era. Masters of the Universe by Mattel, this was the toy line that introduced us to the world of He-Man and Skeletor.

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1985 introduced us to the ThunderCats, a group of cat-like humanoid aliens who traveled to Third Earth and fought off the evil Mumm-Ra and the Mutants of Plun-Darr.

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We also had toys based off the Real Ghostbusters animated series (based off the live action movies of the same name):

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And an awesome line of DC Super Heroes figures in Kenner’s Super Powers line:

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The late 80’s introduced the world to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:

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Laser Tag at Home

In the mid-80’s, there was also a brief flirtation with Laser Tag games. There were two big brands for this, the better (at least to me) was Lazer Tag by Worlds of Wonder:

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The other brand, was called Photon which was based off a line of franchise Photon entertainment centers which were in select cities through the 80’s.

The Rise of Home Video Games

While the home video game era started with Home PONG in 1975, the video game console era really started with Atari’s Atari Video Computer System which began selling in 1977. This was the first mainstream adopted home console game system where you could purchase game cartridges and grow your own personal video game collection.

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The Atari VCS (later renamed the Atari 2600) outlasted other challenger game consoles like the Intellivision (by Mattel) and the ColecoVision (by Coleco). The ColecoVision did offer an amazing port of Donkey Kong and had a few other games that looked great at the time, but by this time the current generation of consoles was fading out.

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All this changed in 1985 when Nintendo came into the wide-open video game console market with their Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Names like Mario and Zelda became household names and finally we started to get games that were closer to what we saw in the arcades. Nintendo came out strong and dominated games until SEGA showed up and provided healthy competition for many years.

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Dungeons and Dragons!

The idea of pen and paper roleplaying games being in the mainstream seems so alien today, but back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Dungeons and Dragons was that forbidden fruit to some gamers. It amuses the older me to see these products in a catalog like this as these days you pretty much can only find these products in hobby stores or online.

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NFL Huddles

This one took me by surprise, I vaguely remember them. During the 80’s it looks like the NFL created a series of characters based off the mascots for each NFL team. They were made all cute and marketable for kids.

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They had a line of plushes for each team and other products. I’m actually surprised that this hasn’t been revived in some way as it seems like it could be a win if done right for the NFL. It could be their Pokemon type of product for fans of all ages.

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Things that nobody really wanted

Among all the cool products, every year you’d see the same products kind of filled into these catalogs that made you wonder… just who the heck would want any of these? I often wondered if they were stuck with overstock from the previous year and this was their way of trying to get rid of unsold product.

Ventriloquist Dolls…and every one of them looks like they will come alive while you are sleeping and try to kill you. Nope.

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Rock Tumbler/Polisher sets. For some reason, you’d see these in the catalog every year. I’ve never met a single kid who had one or ever wanted one.

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Electric Football games. While they looked cool, the stadiums and little player figures. Basically, you turned it on and the field vibrated and the players kind of moved around. Not very fun, but I’m sure there are some die-hard fans of this type of game.

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Family-matching sleepwear. The source of many cringe-worthy family photos, I’m sure.

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Happy Holidays, folks!

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‘Tis the Season for Holiday Specials

As we start the month of December, most everything around us transforms into the holiday-themed version of itself. As a child of the 80’s, I often associate this time of year with two things – the first being large telephone-book sized holiday catalogs (or “Wish Books”) from department stores. These were a seasonal thing back in the days before we could order anything we wanted online at any time. The second was Holiday-themed TV Specials. These were either standalone shows or sometimes even a special episode for an existing television show.

Back in the days before digital video streaming services, the only way you’d catch these shows was if you watched when it was broadcast live on TV or if you recorded it on your VHS tape recorder. In the early days of the 80’s, VHS players were still gaining popularity, so the live TV option was the only real option. As an adult and a parent, I share many of these specials that I grew up with my kids now. Every now and then, a new one will come up that will get added to our holiday special viewing rotation. I’ll cover a few of my favorites here:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

I’ll start with the most obvious one, but still a personal favorite of mine regardless.  This is probably the most popular holiday special of all time and it also served as a sort of springboard for many animated TV holiday specials moving forward. Based on the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz, this special was produced by Lee Mendelson and directed by Bill Melendez. It originally aired on CBS on December 9, 1965, and I believe has been rebroadcasted on TV every year on since then.

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Speaking of CBS, for those who grew up in 70’s and 80’s, that network has this incredible opening for all their specials. The special typeface and the music just bring back memories everything I see it:

For those who haven’t seen it, this special is about a young boy named Charlie Brown who finds himself depressed despite the onset of the cheerful holiday season. One of his friends suggests that he direct a neighborhood Christmas play, the thought being he would snap out of his depressive funk. Unfortunately, his best directorial efforts are ignored, and he is constantly mocked by his peers. It isn’t until his best friend, another child named Linus, tells Charlie Brown about the true meaning of Christmas that Charlie Brown cheers up, and eventually, the entire Peanuts gang unites to celebrate the Christmas season.

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This special has aged so well. It still holds meaning for many even after 50+ years. A big part of what made this special so great was the amazing jazz soundtrack proved by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The soundtrack is legendary on its own as it is one of the best-selling holiday albums of all time.

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Most people know this special and it’s been lampooned many times over the years. This one from SNL, while not for the kids, amused me:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

While this one hasn’t held up over time as well as the Charlie Brown special, I still hold a warm place in my heart for this one. This special told the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and was done using stop-motion animated puppets. Produced by Rankin/Bass Productions, this originally aired on NBC on December 6, 1964.

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The special was based on the Johnny Marks song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which was itself based on the poem of the same name written in 1939 by Marks’ brother-in-law, Robert L. May. It tells the story of what was supposed to be one of Santa’s lesser-known Reindeer. This origin story focuses on the misfit reindeer and his friends as they look for a place that will accept them.

The special is narrated by Burl Ives, who portrayed a folksy talking snowman. Ives was singer and banjoist and had just the perfect tone for this story. The soundtrack included songs and incidental music all written by Johnny Marks, with Maury Laws supervising. The special and music had staying power, on November 30, 2004, the soundtrack was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over 500,000 copies.

While still a great special, there are a few things that rub me wrong as an adult that I never really noticed as a kid. The first being that for most of the show, Santa’s kind of a dick:

And the second thing that irked me was this ugly display of reindeer sexism:

Still, I consider this one a classic and have to watch at least once a holiday season. And like the Charlie Brown special, it has been parodied many times over the years:

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is a TV special that is based on the children’s story of the same name. Muppet creator Jim Henson produced this one-hour television adaptation for HBO and it premiered on December 17, 1977. The original story was written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by his wife, Lillian Hoban, in 1969.

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The story features Emmet Otter and his Ma, a widow who scrapes by on the small amount of money she gets from doing laundry and that Emmet gets from doing odd jobs around their hometown. As Christmas approaches, they hear of a talent contest in the nearby town of Waterville, and separately decide to enter to buy nice presents for each other—a nice guitar for Emmet, or a piano for Ma. However, in a twist on “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, they must sacrifice each other’s livelihood for the talent contest. Ma hocks Emmet’s tools for dress fabric while Emmet turns Ma’s washtub into a washtub bass for a jug band. Things don’t turn out as expected for either of them, but it all works out in the end.

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This special is pretty hokey, but it has all that wonderful Muppet charm that Jim Henson always brought to his productions. The real standout for me was the evil rock band called “The Riverbottom Nightmare Band”. These guys are hardly on screen, but when they are it is magic:

and this bit here:

A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)

A Muppet Family Christmas is a Christmas television special starring Jim Henson’s Muppets. This special was first aired on December 16, 1987, on ABC. I loved this special as a kid and it later becomes one of the more difficult ones to find on DVD and if you did, it was heavily edited because of music rights not being extended or something. Bootleg versions exist that show the special in its entirety.

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The plot of this one revolves around Kermit and the gang traveling to Fozzie Bear’s mother’s home in the country for Christmas. The problem is that Fozzie never told his mother that they were all coming. He figured that it would be a good surprise. Just before they arrive, Fozzie’s mother is preparing to go to Malibu for the holiday and rent her farmhouse to Doc and Sprocket (From the Fraggle Rock TV show), who wanted to spend a nice quiet Christmas in the country. Just after Doc and Sprocket arrive, Fozzie Bear and the other Muppets enter, disrupting Emily and Doc’s plans for the holidays. This causes them to all spend the holidays together.

There are other fun subplots including a turkey who convinces the Swedish Chef that Big Bird would be a better option for dinner, Fozzie dealing with Statler and Waldorf (the two old guys who used to heckle him from the theater balcony seats) being close friends with his mother, the Sesame Street gang showing up, Kermit and Robin meeting the Fraggles, and Miss Piggy trying to get to the farmhouse through a blizzard. If you are a fan of the muppets, this one is a must watch.

Part of what makes this special so wonderful is that this is one of the very few Muppet productions to feature Muppets associated with all four of the major Muppet franchises as a crossover: The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and the Muppet Babies.

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This special also features a wonderful little guest cameo by Jim Henson, who sadly died only three years later in 1990.

Prep & Landing (2009)

This is one of the modern specials that came in the last decade and instantly became a classic for me. Prep & Landing is a computer-animated television special, based on an idea by Chris Williams at Walt Disney Animation Studios and developed by Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton into a half-hour Christmas special. It first aired December 8, 2009, on ABC.

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The story focuses on the elite pair of special forces Elves who arrive at homes before Santa to prep the area for his arrival. One of these elves has become tired of this job and was in line for a promotion that he didn’t get. This makes him very bitter and he begins to slack off on the job.

I absolutely love this special. I love the world that they’ve created and all the cool gadgets these elves use. It’s such a great concept and the writing, voice acting, and art design are all top notch. Disney followed up this one with a short featuring the same cast as well as a sequel special called “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” which aired 2011. They are all really well done and very entertaining, but the first special is my favorite of the three. This one is well worth sharing with the family over the holidays.

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There are many other holiday specials that I’d recommend, but the ones listed above are my favorites. For those looking for more holiday specials, I would recommend any of the following:

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, A Garfield Christmas, Toy Story That Time Forgot, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Merry Madagascar, Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Kung Fu Panda Holiday, A Chipmunk Christmas, Shrek the Halls, A Claymation Christmas Celebration, A Christmassy Ted, He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, Yogi’s First Christmas, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas, and The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas.

One special that I absolutely do NOT recommend is the Star Wars Holiday Special: 

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Yes, it is real. Yes, I have seen it. You may think you want to watch this. Trust me, you do not ever want to watch this.

What TV show would you bring back?

The question was originally posed by the super cool Blogger in a Blog World: https://bloggerinablogworld.com/2017/09/10/what-tv-show-would-you-bring-back/

“What TV show would you bring back?”

Without a question, the TV show that I would want back is FARSCAPE.

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For those unfamiliar, Farscape is an Australian-American science fiction television series, that originally (in the US) aired on the SciFi channel (Before they got all weird and started spelling it like “SyFy”). The series was produced by The Jim Henson Company and they were also responsible for the various alien make-up and prosthetics, and two series regular characters (the animatronic puppets Rygel and Pilot) were entirely Creature Shop creations.

The premise of the show was about John Crichton (played by Ben Browder), a modern-day American astronaut who accidentally flew into the entrance of a wormhole near Earth during an experimental space flight. This catapulted his spacecraft across the universe and right into an alien space battle. Upon arrival, another space craft accidently collides with his ship and explodes, which kills that ship’s pilot. His ship is then picked up by one of the large ships involved in the battle, a large bio-mechanical ship called Moya, which is a living entity.

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He soon discovers that this living ship was currently being used a prison transport and some of the inmates have taken over the ship and are making a run for it. Initially, he cannot understand any of these aliens but one of the maintenance droids injects him with something called “Translator Microbes” which are micro-biological organisms allow alien races to understand each other’s speech. They “colonize at the base of the brain” and allow one to understand alien speech. The microbes can be injected, and go to work almost instantly. This was a clever way of explaining why everybody can understand each other in the galaxy.

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We soon meet the rest of the main cast, first made up of the Ship’s prisoners:  Ka D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe) – an angry and massive Luxan Warrior, Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey) – a bald, blue-skinned female alien who is actually of a plant based species, called Delvians, Pilot (a puppet operated by John Eccleston, Matthew McCoy, Dave Collins, Sean Masterson, Graeme Haddon and Tim Mieville, voiced by Lani Tupu) – a multi-limbed creature who acts as the ship’s pilot, he is biologically connected to Moya’s nervous system and also serves as her voice to the crew, and Dominar Rygel XVI (a puppet operated by John Eccleston, Matthew McCoy, Dave Collins, Sean Masterson, Graeme Haddon and Tim Mieville, voiced by Jonathan Hardy) – a small creature who was once the ruler of the Hynerian Empire,  who was deposed by his treacherous cousin and handed over to the Peacekeepers.

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Speaking of Peacekeepers (more about them in a minute), the only other character (outside of John) on this ship who wasn’t a prisoner) is Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) – a renegade Peacekeeper officer. At the start of the series, she is stripped of her rank and marked for death for spending too much time near a (culturally) “contaminated” being. The Peacekeepers, who were the initial villains of the show, are a vast galactic military organization, very much like the Empire in the Star Wars movies. It was their prison ship that the main characters broke away from.

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Remember that ship that John crashed into and accidently killed the pilot upon entering this universe? That ship was piloted by the brother of an important Peacekeeper Captain. Bialar Crais (Lani Tupu) who relentlessly hunts Moya and its crew. He is driven by the death of his brother, and he blames John personally for the death of his brother. As the series continued, more characters joined the show. Notably the Nebari thief, Chiana (Gigi Edgley), and one of my favorite villains of all-time, Scorpius (Wayne Pygram).

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So the basic premise of the show is for John Crichton to survive with a ship full of alien prisoners while being hunted by an evil empire. It’s a fish out of water story with lots of traditional sci-fi and fantasy tropes, but what made Farscape so cool was that it took a lot of the simple Star Trek kind of stuff and flipped it into different directions, often darker but with a biting sense of humor. If any of this sounds kind of familiar to you, it’s probably because the premise of the show and the characters and situations are very similar to another popular series set in deep space: The Guardians of the Galaxy.

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This is not by coincidence, the similarities are by design. James Gunn, the writer and director of the Guardians series, is a big fan of Farscape. Ben Browder, the star of Farscape, even had a cameo in the last Guardians film: “Gunn further explained that Farscape is one of his favorite science fiction shows ever and that’s why he asked Browder to stop by, get painted up in gold, and help Ayesha hunt down the Guardians.”

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Although the series was planned for five seasons, it was abruptly cancelled after production had ended on its fourth season, ending the series on a cliffhanger. They even wrote and filmed the final episode expecting it continue, so it was deliberately left on a nasty cliffhanger. This drove fans of the show nuts and eventually the show’s Co-producer Brian Henson later secured the rights to Farscape, paving the way for a three-hour miniseries to wrap up the cliffhanger, titled Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, which Henson directed. This was mostly satisfying, but I often wonder what we would have got if they show continued as planned.

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There are rumors of a sequel movie or an entire reboot. The show is now a beloved cult classic and is usually found streaming on Netflix. It is just sad that the show ended before its time. It was a truly fun show that had an awesome cast who played very well against each other with interesting stories and wonderful art design. That all said, I am very happy with the four seasons we got. It was a breath of fresh air in a world full of reboots and rehashes of the same old stale ideas. In many ways, the show was ahead of its time.

Now, I leave this question with you: What TV show would you being back now and Why?

Feel free to answer in a comment, by piggybacking or in a post of your own. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts and ideas. The best part about blogging isn’t the writing for me but the interaction with the community, so let’s interact! Let me know what you thought of my pick.

Remembering the Burger Wars

“We had a lot of troops on the ground during those days. The ones on the front lines never lasted long. I still find myself choking back tears whenever I catch the scent of charbroiled beef or the taste of ketchup.”

During the late seventies and through most of the eighties, the Burger Wars was a series of comparative advertising campaigns consisting of mutually-targeted advertisements that highlight the intense competition between hamburger fast food chains McDonald’s, Burger King and others in the United States. Most of these battles were fought for the younger audience, with hyper-targeted advertising campaigns that featured ‘magical’ characters and worlds associated with these franchise restaurants. It was all about gaining market share, mostly from the 800-pound gorilla of the fast food industry: McDonald’s.

McDonald’s

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Ronald McDonald is the clown character used as the primary mascot of the McDonald’s fast-food restaurants. He originally appeared in 1963, and was initially played by Willard Scott (Yup, that Willard Scott, the weatherman for the Today Show) who created the character for a couple TV commercials for McDonald’s.  As you can see, the original version was slightly different from the one that we all know today:

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His look went over some revisions over the years until 1971, when an ad agency (Needham, Harper & Steers) was hired to create a new line of ads aimed at children. McDonaldland was then conceived as a fantasy world inhabited by Ronald McDonald and other new supporting characters. McDonaldland itself, as it was depicted in the commercials, was a magical place where plants, foods, and inanimate objects were living, speaking characters.

Outside of Ronald, other notable characters to come out of McDonaldland were Grimace (a purple blobby character who started out as evil but ultimately became good and said “Duh” a lot), the Hamburglar (an old-timey thief who was all about stealing hamburgers), and the French Fry Gobblins (a play on the word ‘goblins’) who were renamed the Fry Guys, and later the Fry Kids with the addition of the Fry Girls. Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, Captain Crook, and the Professor were used until 1985. Birdie the Early Bird would join the lineup soon after, representing the restaurant’s new breakfast line in the early 1980s.

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In addition to being used in advertising, the characters were used as the basis for equipment in the playgrounds attached to some McDonald’s. This scheme must have worked, because McDonald’s operates more playgrounds than any other private entity in the United States still today.

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There was also a line of toys built around the McDonaldland world and characters. What an amazing push of a brand into the hearts and minds of children. Right or wrong, it’s pretty damn impressive.

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This package of stimuli must have conned some kids into growing up thinking that McDonald’s would actually be a fun place to work at. Even Barbie got into the McDonald’s game:

McDonaldland and the supporting characters were dropped from McDonald’s marketing in 2003, but Ronald McDonald is still seen in commercials and in Happy Meal toys. Ronald McDonald is second only to Santa Claus in terms of recognition. (According to one survey, 96% of all schoolchildren in the United States of America recognize Ronald (stunning-stuff.com)). That is some serious brand equity!

Burger King

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If McDonald’s was number one, then Burger King was always a solid number two (no pun intended). They always seemed the most aggressive when it came to marketing as an alternative to the mighty McDonald’s. Their advertising mascot character was simply, the Burger King. The character has undergone several iterations over the course of its company’s history. The first iteration of the King was part of a sign at the first Burger King restaurant in Miami, Florida in 1955. In the early 1970s Burger King started using a cuter animated version of the King in its children’s advertising.

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In 1976, seemingly as an answer to the McDonaldland machine, the original animated King was replaced by the “Marvelous Magical Burger King”. This ginger-bearded King ruled the Burger King Kingdom and performed magic tricks.

As Ronald had his supporting cast of characters, so did the Burger King. His cast included characters such as “Sir Shake-a-Lot” (a knight that loves milkshakes and always shivers because he drinks milkshakes so much), the “Burger Thing” (a talking hamburger portrait), “The Duke of Doubt” (who was billed as the Burger King’s nemesis and doubted the King’s abilities), and the “Wizard of Fries” (a robot powered by the french fries in its glass dome head.)

Yeah, this cast of characters didn’t wow most kids, while they were featured in promos and toys given away in the Burger King equivalent of Happy Meals. The king was featured in at least one toy that hit shelves. Not sure how many of these bad boys actually sold though:

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The children’s ads featuring the King were phased out by the late 1980s in favor of the BK Kids Club Gang and other subsequent programs.

Burger King’s McWhopper proposal: The First Step Towards Peace?

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On August 26, 2015, Burger King released an open letter to McDonald’s proposing a joint promotion for Peace Day called the “McWhopper”, which would be a combination of the two restaurants’ signature burgers. This option was rejected by McDonald’s, a response that drew mostly criticism for its tone and the sense of a missed opportunity.

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Despite the missed opportunity, President Barack Obama declared it a breaking point in the “Fight for 15” movement, reportedly saying that the “McWhopper” was an example of how American fast food corporations can learn to unite for a common cause, and he hoped it could be further utilized as a springboard in raising the minimum wage for uneducated fast food workers.

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The McWhopper was just not meant to be and it was probably healthier for us that it was never made. Still, it was a shame that McDonald’s didn’t want to play ball.

KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell against the Dark Side of the Force

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First off, this is not a joke. This actually happened!

It was 1999 and fans of the Star Wars saga are eagerly awaiting the release of Episode One: The Phantom Menace. Now keep in mind, we hadn’t had a new Star Wars film in 16 years. We were all filled with hope and excitement. It wasn’t until after we saw it, that all of our hopes and dreams were crushed (I’m looking at you, Jar Jar Binks!).

Before the release, there was one of the biggest marketing pushes for a film ever. Star Wars was everywhere.  “Defeat the Dark Side” was a unified advertising campaign for three fast food restaurants owned by Tricon Global – KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell – which went on before and during the release of The Phantom Menace.

It featured mascots from all three franchises at the time:

Colonel Harland Sanders:

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Pizza Hut Girl:

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The Chihuahua:

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They did a series of spots for this release and then it just faded away, much like the Taco Bell Chihuahua. Who was famous for about six years and has some juicy trivia behind it, but I will save that for another time.

There is so much more to the Burger Wars. This piece was more about the promotions aimed at children. I was amazed to discover that McDonaldland’s Grimace was originally a villain. Looking back, the signs where always there. I mean the guy really did have some sketchy friends:

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the world that we live in 2017 feels a lot more stressful than it did around this time 12 months ago. Here in the United States, the news seems to just get worse and worse with each new week. We all have enough to worry about right now, so I won’t recap a lot of the messed up things going on. But I will ask you to go back with me a few weeks, when it was one of those weeks when the current big worry was if North Korea was looking to Nuke some part of the US. Now I realize that this threat is actually not new and continues to be an on-going concern. But it was during this one of these weeks when I found myself in my local grocery store and I glanced at the magazine stand. And there it was, not just one, but two different ‘special edition’ magazines devoted entirely to DOOMSDAY prepping:

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My initial thought was, “This is our world now.” as I shook my head and let out a heavy sigh. That said, I still picked one up, mostly for a laugh. The headline “15,000 Nuclear Warheads WORLDWIDE, How safe are we?” made me cringe. Frankly, if it came something like that, I figure that we are all toast. It amused me to see two different magazines showcasing such fear mongering and portraying an apocalyptic warrior wearing a gas mask with some sort of smoldering ruins in the background. I mean, seriously! Check out these covers and look at the images and fear mongering headlines:

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It all conjures up memories of those awesome dystopian action films in the Mad Max series. For those who aren’t familiar with the series, it follows the adventures of Max Rockatansky, a police officer in a future whose wife and child are murdered by a vicious thugs shortly after societal collapse due to a nuclear war and the survivors have critical resource shortages.

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Max kills those responsible and then becomes a drifting loner in the Wasteland. As Australia devolves further into barbarity, this skilled warrior of the road finds himself helping pockets of civilization, initially for his own self-interest, but his motives always drift into more idealistic ones. The films always featured insane gangs of mutant thugs who would wear armor cobbled together with pieces of scrap metal and other garbage left over from the world before. These gangs would ride in tricked-out vehicles, like pirates roaming the wastelands always looking for their next victims. Gas was always the most prized resource in these movies, for it kept their vehicles running. Water being the other needed resource.

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It makes for some cool fiction, must like the Walking Dead series does. There’s just something very compelling about tales set in a post-apocalyptic world. Fun to watch and interesting to think about, but it is also extremely horrifying to contemplate actually living through such times. We all know about survivalists and doomsday preppers. Those who actively stock up and plan for the end of the world, all with their own various theories about how that end will happen. There has even been at least one reality TV show that I know of that featured such folk. Doomsday Preppers was an American reality television series that aired on the National Geographic Channel.

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The show profiles various survivalists, who are preparing to survive the various circumstances that may cause the end of civilization. The quality of their preparations is graded by the consulting company of survival experts, who provide analysis and recommendations for improvements.

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I had to grab at least one of these magazines, I found myself drawn to all the extreme imagery and found myself laughing as I just flipped through a few pages. If anything, I figured it would be good mocking material for later or maybe serve as a nugget of inspiration for a short story or something. So I threw the magazine in my cart and went on with my shopping.

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Later, I finally got round to looking at the magazine and was floored by how blatant commercial this magazine was. Oh sure, I expected ads. That is always a given. But flipping through the magazine it became very clear that doomsday prepping is a massive industry and some folks are totally cashing in on all of this fear. It’s an industry that’s always been with us. Heck, think about all those who built bomb shelters in their houses during the 50’s and 60’s? But I suspect that there has been something absolutely horrible that recently fueled an increase in this industry, but I just can’t put my finger on what that could be:

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The ads were pretty consistent as they all pitched a product or service that would help you survive through the end of times, this was usually emphasized with an image of some gas mask wearing wasteland warrior near a pile of rubble, must like the covers of these magazines.

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Most of the survival products also came in different varieties, the standard ones having a mostly boring “this is a tool” type of look about them. And then you always had the others, which would be usually in black and have the word “tactical” applied to it. This always gave it the air of it being something more akin to what you’d find in the Call of Duty games:

tacticalgear.JPGOne of the most common items I saw in these magazines and websites was the need for a ‘Bug-Out Bag’. For those not in the know, a Bug-Out Bag or BOB is a portable kit that normally contains the items one would require to survive for seventy-two hours when evacuating from a disaster; however some kits are designed to last longer periods. The focus is on evacuation, rather than long-term survival, distinguishing the bug-out bag from a survival kit, a boating or aviation emergency kit, or a fixed-site disaster supplies kit.

 

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A sound idea provided the world around you isn’t an irradiated fiery wasteland. But outside of a nuclear or chemical attack, there are actually many reasons for having one (Natural disasters and what not).  Some survivalists also recommend keeping a ‘get me home’ kit in the car and/or at work. You can find plenty of suggested lists online that will detail what you should fill your own Bug-Out Bag with:

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And there are plenty of online Doomsday prepper sites selling these bags in various sizes and looks. Most have that tactical look, but I’m sure you can find something more stylish if you look further:

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In addition to selling you stuff, these magazines have some very basic articles that range from tips on picking the right type of gear, stories from survivors of extreme situations, lifestyles of the rich and prepared, etc. These articles would often follow the same design language of the ads and covers, and feature some sort of Mad Max-style wasteland warriors. My favorite was this family of dreadlocked survivors, each with matching goggles and masks.

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Heck, they even have a baby wearing a gas mask and sprouting tiny dreads!

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And this was an article about the importance of having some junk food in your supplies. You gotta keep up that wasteland morale!

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Now I’m not all down on all of this kind of stuff. I do believe in having emergency supplies for various potential scenarios. My family was once snowed in and stuck without any power for 11 days during one nasty winter. We certainly learned from that. But these magazines and websites do kind of leave a bad taste in my mouth.

nuclearpills.JPGI get that these companies are in business to make money and what not, but I could just see a lot of easily impressionable people out there spending way more money than they probably can actually afford to prepare for the end of days that may never come. Oh sure, they can eat or donate that stored food before it all expires. One of the most amusing was this site that sold survival food for ‘self-reliant patriots’:

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“My Patriot Supply was born with a passion for helping Americans achieve independence through preparedness and self-reliance.” – You could make drinking game out of this site, take a shot every time you see the word ‘patriot’.

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But still, it just feels like some of these companies are just benefiting from the fears of others and do as much as they can to increase those fears. I guess one could argue that some of these folks are purchasing a calmer state of mind and that alone might be worth it for some. And if the worst should come, I’ll look like the fool laughing at all of this. I’m willing to take that risk though. Because some of this stuff doesn’t even look like it would be quality enough to survive a few months. I suppose if you research everything properly, you can avoid such junk:

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I certainly don’t want to live in a world like we’ve seen in apocalyptic fiction. Mad Max: Fury Road had an amazing character, Immortan Joe, who was this old and diseased evil warlord who ruled with lies, fear, and violence. He had this extremist cult following and was determined to ensure that his kingdom remains intact long after his death. While very cool as a villain in the movies, what a horrible thought that such a person would come into power and rule over so many.

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Alternative Tabletop Games

In a world full of digital entertainment, with video games leading the way, more and more people are turning towards playing board and card games. The board game industry has seen tremendous growth over the past couple of years and board game shops and hybrid board game shops/cafes have sprouted across the world. For a lot of people, online gaming just hasn’t captured that social feeling that you get when you sit around a table playing a game with our friends and/or family. I think this is the primary force driving this board game renaissance, direct human connections that cannot be made (at least for me) playing online games.

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Along with more players, the board game industry has matured and game publishers have been publishing new kinds of game designs and genres. It’s no longer just Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Scrabble. And the games are not all family-friendly anymore either. Like any other form of entertainment media, if you look hard enough, you can find something to satisfy everyone. As an avid gamer of all forms of media, I am a huge board game aficionado. Granted, I’m a hyper consumer. I buy way too many games for my own good. That said, when I play tabletop games with others, I now groan at the thought of having play through another standard game of Monopoly or UNO. I know there are just so many other games out there! It would be like being a movie buff and every time you sit down with friends to watch a movie together, they always only have the Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind and nothing else. Both are great movies, but you want to expand your options eventually.

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Here are some suggestions of games to break out the next time you have friends or family over. Just to break the mold and expand everybody’s gaming horizons!

For anybody looking to get into more board game options, I suggest checking out the excellent board game review site, Shut Up and Sit Down (https://www.shutupandsitdown.com/ ) and the vast database over at Board Game Geek (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/ ).

 — 

Exploding Kittens by Exploding Kittens LLC (2015)

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It’s really not as bad as the title suggests. Well, there are kittens and they do explode, but it’s not that bad in context of the game. Exploding Kittens is a press your luck style card game designed by Elan Lee, Shane Small, and Matthew Inman from the comics site The Oatmeal.

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Originally proposed as a Kickstarter project seeking $10K in crowdfunding, it exceeded the goal in eight minutes  and on January 27, 2015, at completion on February 19, 2015, it had over $8 million in pledges by 219,382 backers. I was one of the original backers of this game and I’ve shared this game with many people since I got my original copy. Every time I’ve broken this card game out to play with new people, they have always ended up buying their own copy shortly after.

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“Exploding Kittens is a highly-strategic, kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette, where players draw cards until someone draws an Exploding Kitten, at which point they explode, they are dead, and they are out of the game — unless that player has a defuse card, which can defuse the Kitten using things like laser pointers, belly rubs, and catnip sandwiches. All of the other cards in the deck are used to move, mitigate, or avoid the Exploding Kittens.” There’s also this handy video that teaches you how to play:

This is a very silly but somehow extremely charming game. I love the art and humor found throughout the cards. I think you really gotta have a sense of humor to enjoy this game. It’s easy to learn and plays fast. Since the initial release, there have been two expansions (Exploding Kittens: NSFW Deck and Imploding Kittens) released and digital versions made for iOS and Android phones. If you like games like UNO, this can be a fun alternative. And it works well for both those who love and hate cats.

Cash ‘n Guns (Second Edition) by Repos Production/Asmodee (2014)

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Disclaimer: If you are against playing any games that features firearms, even lightly, then you should just move on. I’ve seen some people turn their nose up at this game for that very reason. It’s not a pro-gun game so much as it is part of the theme of crooks after an armed robbery.

This is another one that I like to break out when gaming with novice players, it’s very easy to learn and the props just make the game feel that much cooler. This game can be played with up to 8 players and it comes with 8 foam pistols. The setting of the game is described like this:

“You and your criminal associates just pulled off the score of a lifetime, and now it’s back to the warehouse to divide up the loot. The only problem is: thieves aren’t exactly known for sharing well with others. When the guns come out, how long will you stare down the barrel of your friend’s pistol?”

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Cash ‘n Guns is essentially a bluffing game where each player points a gun at another player each round. Each player gets five “Click” cards and three “Bang” cards. Once the loot has been revealed, you’ll secretly choose a “Click” or “Bang” bullet card and place it face-down. Then, on the count of three, each player selects a target by pointing their gun at another player. Once the guns are out, it’s time to see who has the nerve to stay in the game. After another count to three, you’ll choose if you want to stay or dive for cover. If you take cover, you’re out of the round, but you’re also safe from injury. Those still in the round have a chance of getting some loot, as long as they’re not shot first.

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If you are shot with a “Bang” card, you then receive a wound, and you won’t receive any loot that round. More importantly, if you take three wounds, you’re out of the game. All of the players left standing after shots are fired can now take turns grabbing shares of loot until it’s gone. The fewer left standing, the more loot you each can claim. The player with the most loot after 8 rounds is the winner.

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Those are the basic rules, if this sounds interesting to you, I recommend watching the following review of the game here:

I’ve played this game with family and co-workers at an office party. It’s all in good fun and there’s just something very amusing about sitting around the dinner table and watching Grandma pointing a gun at your kid brother as he points a gun at you asking, “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

Guillotine by Avalon Hill/Hasbro (1998)

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Who doesn’t love history? Guillotine is a fun little card game set during the French Revolution. It’s a grim topic, but the game is presented in a lighthearted way: The tagline being “The revolutionary card game where you win by getting a head. “

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Players represent rival guillotine operators vying for the best collection of noble heads over three rounds. Each round twelve nobles are lined up for the guillotine. The nobles are worth varying points depending on their notoriety. During your turn you play action cards to change the order of the line so you can collect the best nobles. But watch out, players lose points for beheading the heroes of the people. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

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This one has been around for many years but most people that I’ve shared it with never heard about it before I showed it to them. It’s casual fun with some dark humor spliced in.

Funemployed: The Interview Game of Actual Jobs and Absurd Qualifications by Mattel (2014)

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This one is more for adults. Funemployed is an amusing little party game where players interview for a specific job, but using the random (and often awkward) qualifications they get dealt with by the card deck. How all of this works is that one player gets to be the interviewer and the rest of the players are the job applicants. The interviewer plays one random job card down and the other player must ‘interview’ for the job, somehow using the qualifications they drew.

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After all the players interview, the interviewer must decide which player wins the round and gets the job. I’ve played this one with family and co-workers before and it was a blast. It really helps to have players who can get into a role and act out their pitch. The game can be played with a broader audience if you remove the more ‘adult’ cards from the deck. It’s not obscene, but there are some cards that bump the game into a quasi-R-rated territory. This one has recently be re-launched with a different look, but it’s the same game.

CLUE®: The Golden Girls by USAopoly (2017)

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Okay, I will admit that I haven’t played this one yet. My point about it is more about how there are now so many new variations of classic board games now available. So if you ever get the hankering to play something like CLUE (or CLUEDO, as it is known outside of North America), you don’t just settle for the classic version. Why not try one of the new ones? In this case, they took Clue and mixed it with classic American sitcom, the Golden Girls. At first glance, I was like, “Wow, this is gonna get pretty dark… which Golden Girl murdered who and why?”

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Alas, they didn’t go that route for this one. The game’s description reads:

“The Golden Girls Clue® features a custom illustrated game board, where players attempt to solve the crime of WHO ate the last piece cheesecake, WHAT they left at the scene of the crime, and WHICH room they did it in.”

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So this is about finding who ate the last piece of cheesecake! I guess that’s more the Golden Girls’ speed. It is still interesting, because it changes up the dynamic of CLUE a little bit. Shakes it up a little, but doesn’t disrupt the mechanics of the game too terribly. The company behind this one, USAopoly, applies this to many brands. It started with variations of Monopoly and they’ve managed to carve out a whole section of the market by mashing up different brands with classic games.

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Other examples include (CLUE variants): Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Harry Potter, Rick and Morty, Doctor Who, The Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.

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If you are curious to see what other games they make, head over to their website at: http://usaopoly.com

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While all these variants may not be my personal cup of tea, I respect that these games merged with other brands would appeal to others and I think that’s a good thing overall because it only helps to bring more players into tabletop gaming. And this isn’t also to say that I do not have love for the original versions of these games, I could see myself wanting to play classic Monopoly or Clue at some point. I just know that there is so much more out there in the world of board games. I haven’t even talked about games like Pandemic Legacy or Dead of Winter yet. I’ll save those for another post. \

Thanks for reading!

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Amusingly Awkward Toys and Other Strange Merchandise

Toys are a billion dollar industry and sometimes the manufacturers will seemingly rush out a product without much though behind it and the end result can be unintentionally amusing or very awkward. Other times, it is one hundred percent intentional and it is just a gimmick designed to sell toys. I’ve collected toys all my life, so I’ve come across many unusual, and sometimes hilarious, toys over the years. Below are just some examples of these:

Batman Squirt Gun (1966)

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Not much needs to be said about this, one look pretty much says it all. There is just so much going on with this toy. The amusing pose of Batman, the placement of the trigger, and the location of where you need to refill the water from followed by a large plastic plug… well, yeah. There it is.

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The Incredible Hulk: Instant Muscles (1979 ) by Remco Industries, Inc.

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Back in 1978, there was a popular live-action TV show about Marvel Comics’ popular green behemoth. The show was called The Incredible Hulk and starred Bill Bixby as Bruce Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk.  The series was originally broadcast on CBS and ran from 1978 to 1982, with 82 episodes over five seasons. Remco was one of the toy companies to get the license to make official Incredible Hulk toys and other merchandise. My favorite of their offerings were these crazy Instant Muscles:

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The product description reads: “Imagine millions of kids “Hulking Up” and growing mighty muscles instantly just like their favorite TV and comics hero… The Incredible Hulk Instant Muscles is worn under a loose fitting shirt. When inflated with the Instant Muscles “Hulk Pump”, the amazing transformation takes place. GRRRR! KRRRRRRUNCH! Bullies and villains beware!”

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The idea was later re-used for the release of the HULK (2003) film, but this time with more modern inflatable muscles:

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And again for the Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) film. This time they ditched the chest muscles and focused on Hulk biceps.

51olJmF3VmL.jpgIt’s an interesting idea, but even more awkward when demonstrated by an adult man here:

Combine those Hulk biceps with some Hulk fists and you’d have some seriously Hulkness:

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Sadly, the ultimate piece of Hulk related merchandise was never made into reality:

Comic Action Heroes! (1976) and C.B. McHaul (1977) by Mego Corporation

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The Mego Corporation made some amazing toys back in the day. Starting in 1972, released the first comprehensive line of DC Comics and Marvel Comics superhero and villain action figures, coining the term ‘World’s Greatest Super Heroes!’ This was a line of 8-inch figures that wore cloth costumes and had some decent possibility.

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In a later effort to offer a scaled down size of figure, so that the playsets and vehicles would be smaller and cheaper to produce and sell, they came up with the ‘Comic Action Heroes!’ line of figures. These were smaller figures that had the costumes molded onto the figure, thus eliminating the extra cost of creating the suits. The line featured Batman, Robin, The Joker, and The Penguin, as well as other DC Comics characters. Later, in 1979, Mego re-released the line under the new name Pocket Super Heroes. All of this was a great idea, but for some reason, they chose this as the default pose for all the figures:

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As you can see, there was something odd fappining… err I mean, something odd happening with the placement of the right fist curled inward towards the figure’s lap. Once pointed out, you cannot escape it:

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Even the female characters weren’t safe from this pose:

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You couldn’t even sit Batman on the Batmobile without making it look funny:

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It got even odder with their 1977 line of toys that featured truckers and police called C.B. McHaul. This was a time when CB radios were all the rage. According to the super awesome website Mego Museum (http://www.MegoMusuem.com) :

“CB McHaul was introduced by Mego in 1977, the name was patterned after country musician C.W McCall, whose number one hit “Convoy” had become an anthem for the CB Craze. The CB craze was a short lived national phenomenon, most toy makers were taught a bit of a hard lesson when it came to fads. Companies raced to the market with T shirts, model kits, replica CBs but by the time the products had arrived CB radios were so “last year”. As fast as Mego was churning out product, their action figure line met the same fate despite the fact that it’s a very innovative and well-made toy line.”

The line seemed reasonable enough, even when showcased in a TV ad:

Things got uncomfortable when you looked closely at the figures. First you had the truckers:

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And then you had the Smokeys:

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Masters of the Universe (1982) by Mattel

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He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was an amazing hit during the 80’s. The premise of the series  revolves around the conflict between the heroic He-Man and the evil Skeletor on the planet Eternia, with a vast line-up of supporting characters in a hybrid setting of medieval sword and sorcery and sci-fi technology. Later spin-offs also featured He-Man’s sister She-Ra and her struggle against the Evil Horde. This toyline featured dozens of colorful characters, each with their special gimmick which translated to some sort of power or action feature that was unique to each figure.

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Initially, these character themes were pretty tame. You would have a character like Beast Man – the savage right-hand man of Skeletor, he has control over many wild creatures and has brute strength. Or Ram Man, the heroic ‘human battering ram’, his special ability is to knock opponents or obstacles down with his super-hard helmet. As more waves of characters came out, they started to get more diverse. Let’s start with Stinkor:

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Stinkor, who was labeled as the ‘Evil Master of Odors,’ is essentially a humanoid skunk whose superpower is the ability to release a toxic odor from his body that renders foes immobile. Stinkor was first introduced in 1985 and came packaged with a mini-comic titled ‘The Stench of Evil’. The character’s design was mostly phoned in, they just repainted the body of another character (Mer-Man) and re-used the armor of another (Mekaneck). The thing that really stood out about this action figure was that Mattel didn’t just imply he had bad odor powers, they took it a step further and made this action figure really smell horrible.

The unique scent was achieved by mixing the plastic used in the mold with patchouli oil. It was done this way, instead of being sprayed or coated, to prevent the smell from wearing off over time. Many toy collectors mention that, even 30 years after its original purchase, the Stinkor toy still retains its smell.

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Stinkor’s counterpart was the heroic Moss Man, also introduced in 1985, he was described as a ‘Heroic Spy & Master of Camouflage’.

3019_l.jpgThe original Moss Man figure is a repaint of Beast Man covered in green fur (the figure was flocked with a green fuzzy material, giving him a fuzzy texture).

Like Stinkor, this figure was infused with a scent – this time it was something more pleasant, the smell of pine trees. Basically, he smelled like that aerosol ‘tree scent’ stuff that people who buy fake Christmas trees use during the holidays.

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I could see Moss Man freaking out any college students who smoked weed, because the flocked green fuzz made him look a little bit like a bag of marijuana reborn into a hulking brute’s body.

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Both Stinkor and Moss Man were remade a few times years later, both given a slightly more modern look:

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Moss Man was also recently used as a Comic Con promo a couple of times. One year they gave out Moss Man Pine Scented deodorant to Convention goers (something I’ve been suggesting for years):

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And later, they made a special-edition Moss Man Chia Pet:

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While on the subject of Masters of the Universe toys, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim show, Robot Chicken (Season 2, 2006), created their own unique character for the series. Mo-Larr, the Eternian Dentist:

This character later got his own figure made as part of a two-pack with Skeletor in the Masters of the Universe Classics toyline:

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Tauntaun with Open Belly Rescue Feature (1982) by Kenner

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Everyone who’s seen Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, would remember the scene where Luke Skywalker is freezing to death and Han Solo needed to improvise in order to keep him warm, right? No? Well, here’s a refresher:

It was a great scene, but watching this the first time as a kid was pretty shocking. That said, the tauntaun toy I later played with had a hard plastic belly that did not allow for any Luke insertion. Later as an adult, I discovered that Kenner decided to modify their tauntaun toys to allow kids to recreate this action from the movie. No joke!

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I only assume this was done in an effort to sell off any unsold tauntaun toys from the year before, either that or they were just flooded with letters from kids who wanted to slice their tauntaun bellies open. At least it was a clean cut, no guts were exposed. Either way, this was a surprisingly macabre feature to add to a massively successful children’s toyline.

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Given how everything in the Star Wars universe has been remade in toy form multiple times over the past 40 years, the tauntaun with an open belly feature was also remade later in 2003 in a “The Battle of Hoth” figure multipack. This time, they added the tauntaun guts (no joke)!:

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Not to be outdone, ThinkGeek sells  a ‘Slumber in the Belly of the Beast’ Tauntaun sleeping bag! The product description reads:

“This high-quality sleeping bag looks just like a Tauntaun, complete with saddle, printed internal intestines, and a plush lightsaber zipper pull. Now when your kids tell you their favorite Star Wars movie is Attack of the Clones, you can nestle the wee-ones snug in simulated Tauntaun fur while regaling them with the amazing tale of The Empire Strikes Back.

Use the plush lightsaber zipper pull on the Tauntaun sleeping bag to illustrate how Han Solo saved Luke Skywalker from certain death in the freezing climate of Hoth by slitting open the belly of a dead Tauntaun and placing Luke inside the stinking (but warm) carcass. If your kids don’t change their tune on which Star Wars film is the greatest ever, you can do your best Jar Jar impression until they repent.”

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If this sounds like something you would want, order here: http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/bb2e/

The Meat – ROCKY 40th Anniversary (2016) by Jakks Pacific

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Okay, I understand this toyline was made for adults rather than kids. In my defense, I saw this thing on the shelves at a ToysRUs among children’s brands like Pokemon and Sonic the Hedgehog. For those not in the know, Rocky is a 1976 sports drama film both written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. It tells the rags to riches American Dream story of Rocky Balboa, an uneducated but kind-hearted working class Italian-American boxer working as a debt collector for a loan shark in the slums of Philadelphia. Rocky starts out as a small-time club fighter, and later gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship. In the film, Rocky trains for the fight using whatever he can find, including meat carcasses as punching bags.

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Well now, thanks to magic of toys, fans can recreate that scene for their own personal enjoyment:

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The text on the back of the package, describes the Meat’s role in the Rocky mythos:

“It started when Rocky picked up his best friend, Paulie, at his meat locker job. One frustrated punch at a side of beef became a one-two and soon a secret, unique training tool was created. Day after day, Rocky Balboa punched frozen meat to train. This rare (No pun intended) method would help give Rocky an edge. Keeping him on his feet for 15 grueling rounds with World Heavyweight Champ Apollo Creed.”

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These aren’t the only Rocky themed action figures. NECA also makes some wonderfully detailed Rocky figures:

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My favorites are the ones that depict Rocky taking a massive hit and spitting out blood. You gotta just admire the attention to detail that some of these toy companies put into their products.

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Conan the Adventurer (1992) by Hasbro

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It’s always fun to take an R-rated brand and turn it into a softened up shell of a version of the subject matter that it was originally based off of. The Conan the Adventurer toyline is based off the animated series of the same name.  The cartoon was a loose adaption of Conan the Barbarian, the literary character created by Robert E. Howard in the 1930s. As expected, the cartoon watered down all the violence and other adult themes of Conan and repackaged it into a kid-friendly show. That said, even as cartoons go, this one wasn’t really that good:

The action figures weren’t that well done either. They were poorly sculpted and looked cheaply made.

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The only reason why I included this one to the list was for this reason:

Conan’s “Sword Swinging Action” took the awkwardness of Mego’s Comic Action Heroes poses to the next level with animated movement. It makes you wonder if the designers of these toys saw the same thing that everybody else saw or just didn’t care.

The Punisher – Marvel Shape Shifters (1999) by ToyBiz

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Ever since the release of the Transfomers, kids have loved playing with toys that transform from one thing into another. This was applied to many different toylines and this case, it was applied to ToyBiz’s line of Marvel Comics action figures.  They had a Spider-man that transformed into a spider and a Hulk that transformed into a Dinosaur. So it kind of makes sense that the Punisher would transform into a gun. Guns were pretty much what the Punisher was all about. The problem isn’t with the concept, it is with the execution. And in this case, when the Punisher transforms into a pistol, the gun barrel comes out of his crotch:

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Yup, not much needs to be said here. I believe this one was done intentionally with the hope of causing people to smirk.

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Not even the flavor text of the packaging can help this one:

“Former soldier Frank Castle took his family on a picnic in New York’s Central Park, where they were attacked after witnessing a gangland crime. Frank alone survived and became the merciless vigilante known as the Punisher! The Punisher relies on a vast array of weaponry and shape-shifts into a power pistol for ultimate battle power. Join forces with the Punisher as he combats crime!”

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I guess we should be thankful that he didn’t turn into a tank, then the gun barrel would have been much longer.

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Jar Jar Binks: Cherry Flavored Tongue Candy (1999) by Cap Candy Inc.

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The year was 1999 and after 16 years of waiting, we finally got a new Star Wars movie after Return of the Jedi (1983). Episode One: The Phantom Menace had arrived and now Star Wars fans around the world could all agree that the Ewoks were no longer the worst part of the Star Wars saga. We were introduced to the train wreck known Jar Jar Binks. Now I’m not gonna go into what all makes Jar Jar so horrible. Enough has been said about this subject. I am going to highlight a piece of horrific merchandise that was birthed by the Star Wars machine. Somebody, somewhere, thought this was really a good idea:

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That’s right, you too can suck on Jar Jar’s tongue for a few bucks. Now let’s entertain a world where people liked this character for a second. Even if we loved Jar Jar, I don’t think anybody wants to lick his tongue as a tasty treat. We didn’t get Chewbacca or Yoda tongue lollipops before this abomination was created. We loved those characters and nobody ever requested such a thing.

I get the idea of things that are gross as being fun for kids. Cap Candy (a division of Hasbro) apparently had a line of ‘Monster Mouth Candy Tongues’, and this was part of it. I never saw any other examples of this line, but that’s how they sold it.

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Frankly, I think somebody at Cap Candy just had a weird fetish and this was their way to expressing it to the world. Maybe they were hoping to create a new confectionery line of tongue-sucking mania?  Just imagine if they applied this to other brands? Disney Princess tongues, NFL player tongues, Dinosaur tongues, etc. The possibilities are endless.

Marvel Comics: Spider-man Balloons and a Wolverine Inflatable Hammer (????)

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To close this out, I will leave you with some inflatables. Whether they be just balloons or some sort of inflatable toy, if you are going to license out your characters to another company that makes such products, maybe do a quality control check regarding where the air nozzle is placed?

Sounds like an easy thing to look out for, doesn’t it? Because if you don’t, you get products like this:

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