We wouldn't blame Santa if he wore a hazmat suit this Christmas. It has been a defective year for toys, with millions recalled because of lead paint, loose magnets and other problems. But here's another kind of recall, a remembrance of facts about toys:
1. Play-Doh was invented as a wallpaper cleaner.
2. When Milton Bradley bought the concept for a game called Pretzel, it changed the name to Twister. The game soared in popularity in 1966 after Johnny Carson played it with actress Eva Gabor on his television show.
3. The Chicago area has been a healthy playground for toymakers. The Radio Flyer red metal wagon was born in Chicago, and the headquarters remains here, though the metal wagons are now made in China. Tinkertoys were designed in Evanston by Charles Pajeau. Donald Duncan, a businessman from Oak Park, popularized the yo-yo, bringing joy to millions, but perhaps not making up for his nefarious promotion of another product, the dreadedparking meter.
4. The 1964 television special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" featured the Island of Misfit Toys, where unwantedplaythings were exiled. The original program omitted the misfits in its happy ending -- an oversight that brought viewer complaints. For the rebroadcast the next year, footage was added to show Santa delivering the misfits on Christmas Eve.
5. Gumby toys were ubiquitous in the 1960s as the television show gained popularity. The claymation character's name came from Michigan farm slang: Creator Art Clokey's father referred to a muddy clay road as a "gumbo."
6. You know her as Barbie. But her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. By various estimates, 10 percent to 25 percent of adults who collect Barbies are men -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
7. When Hooters waitress Jodee Berry won a 2001 beer-sales contest at her Florida restaurant, she thought the prize was a Toyota. Instead, the restaurant gave her a "toy Yoda" -- a "Star Wars" doll -- in what her manager called an April Fool's joke. Berry laughed all the way to her lawyer's office. The case was settled, with Berry getting enough money to buy a car, the lawyer said.
8. llinois-based RC2 Corp., maker of Thomas the Tank Engine, recalled more than 1 million of its wooden trains this year because of lead paint from China. Then RC2 sent free boxcars to aggrieved customers as a goodwill gesture. Trouble was, some of those boxcars had lead paint too.
9. You know it's a bad, bizarre year for toys when a children's product is mentioned in the same sentence as "date-rape drug." In November, 4 million craft kits called Aqua Dots were recalled because their beads were coated with a chemical that metabolizes into the drug GHB when swallowed. A Chinese company had substituted a cheaper -- and toxic -- chemical for the proper one. The Australian version of Aqua Dots, called Bindeez, had the same problem,and from now on will be coated in Bitrex, an extremely bitter "taste aversive" agent that discourages kids from putting it in their mouths.
10. In 2005, the Mujahedeen Brigades posted a grainy picture on a Web site, claiming it showed a U.S. soldier named John Adam who had been captured in Iraq and soon would be beheaded. But the U.S. military said nosuch soldier was missing. The hoax was exposed when a California toymaker reported that the soldier looked an awful lot like Cody, its foot-tall doll.
Sources: "Warman's 101 Greatest Baby Boomer Toys" by Mark Rich, Fortune magazine, Tribune staff and news services
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