BONGOS AND DINOSAURS: Fig. I: Kenner’s 1964
Mold Master made multicolored “miniature teenagers
at a birthday party” with tiny bongo drums, record
players, and soda glasses. Figs. J–L: The Strange
Change Time Machine was aptly named — it seemed
to take forever for the toy’s oven chamber to warm
up and even longer for each of the creatures to
unmold and then cool down.
the molded plastic creatures were irradiated with
a high-energy electron beam that cross-linked the
polymer’s molecules, permanently locking them
into shape. These extra connections within the
shape could be deformed temporarily into a square
brick but when reheated they sprang back into their
original creature shape.
The look of the toy was pure 1960s futurismo
with a snazzy metallic red housing, shiny zinc fittings, and a transparent transformation chamber
with a swiveling door. The assortment of creatures
included tiny dinosaurs, kooky spacemen, and mini
monsters. The instruction sheet flipped over to
make a jungle island backdrop. Even the package’s
shipping tray was vacuum-formed into a volcanic
rock pit. The entire toy was like a sci-fi monster
movie set shrunk down into miniature toy form.
The ominous warning stamped on the toy —
Caution: Contact with rivets or plastic parts may
cause burns — was also from another time, one
before the Child Safety Protection Act.
One hugely popular 1960s maker toy did have an infamous safety problem. Like the Thingmaker
before it, Incredible Edibles used a heated oven
(with a hinged cover in the form of a bewigged,
buck-toothed bug) to let kids mold squiggly spiders
and squirmy worms. The fresh twist was that the
finished product was actually edible. The ingredients listed glycerol and tapioca starch, sweetened
with sodium cyclamate and saccharin.
The moldable comestible was dubbed Gobble-Degoop and marketed as “sugarless.” Parents were
repelled more by the taste than by the fun “
gross-out” theme, but kids gobbled it up. The unforeseen
problem was that diabetic kids were sickened by
the mixture’s starch, which turned to sugar when
digested. After $50 million in sales, the FDA allowed
Mattel to put warning stickers on all the toys already
in stores instead of recalling them.
An earlier candy-making toy promised real sugar
in its most kid-appealing form: cotton candy! Commercial machines were expensive and complicated,
with spinning electrical coils and strong motors. A
kid’s only chance for the rare treat was a trip to the
circus or state fair. But in 1962 Hasbro’s affordable,
battery-powered Hokey Pokey Cotton Candy
Machine spun real cotton candy at home anytime.