World's Strangest Toys
Sure, it may seem counterintuitive, but as anyone who grew up playing with a Slinky, a Squirmle, or Silly Putty can attest, it’s often the strangest toys, the ones that freak us out or make us squeal, that become our childhood favorites. They also allow kids to explore a culture through its toys, bringing the sense of discovery that comes with traveling right into your living room.
Indeed, there are toy manufacturers and home-crafters across the globe that cater to kids’ taste for the bizarre. A few of the odder toys out there seem geared to kids from certain cultures. An American child, for instance, might not feel particularly inspired to play with a platter of crocheted sushi rolls, while a Japanese or Muslim child might be baffled or even horrified by that talking slab of bacon.
More often than not, though, strange toys have universal appeal. What child, for instance, wouldn’t enjoy turning an ordinary bathtub into a cauldron of neon-bright, popcorn-scented goo? Or morphing a boring old toothbrush into a whirring bristled robot beastie? (Parents, start planning your oral-hygiene playdates now.)
The truth is, it’s not just kids who get a kick out of weird playthings; some toys have just as many fans among adults. The Hexbugs series of robotic insects, for instance — which includes a freakily authentic spider that scuttles and swivels its head — are collected by parents as well as children. Other toys are so grossly humorous that almost anyone with a base sense of humor can appreciate them.
“I’ve played it with over a thousand kids and adults,” says David Norman, whose U.K.-based company Goliath Games makes a hugely popular poop-and-scoop game called Doggy Doo (more than a million have been sold this year alone). “The inherent funniness of hearing a dog pass gas and poop is a riot for all ages.”
Erwin the Little Patient: Germany
Budding surgeons-to-be will appreciate Erwin, a plush doll with Ziggy Stardust hair and a secret under his hospital gown. Lift Erwin’s hem, unzip his apparently genderless torso, and voilà—out pops a series of interconnected, sort-of-anatomically-correct innards. A set of bright blue lungs, a tangle of green intestines (both small and large), a pair of kidneys, a spleen and liver, and a red valentine-shaped heart are all attached to one another with color-coded Velcro strips.
Mega Plumber Action Figure: U.S.
Sure, the Green Lantern fights against evil with his Colossal Cannon, and Spider-Man has his sticky web nunchucks. In a real emergency, though, what most of us need is a man with a plunger. Ergo, the Mega Plumber action figure, created by American Standard (a company that also makes toilets) to help kids “see plumbers as true superheroes.” The six-inch figure comes equipped with his own monkey wrench, miniature toilet, and—so important for superheroes—rubber gloves.
Doggie Doo: Germany
One of Europe’s most popular toys (with more than a million sold in 2011 alone), Doggie Doo caters to two childhood fixations: a love of animals and a fascination with poop. The game, which purports to teach about responsible pet care, features a plastic dachshund with a leash that ends in a pneumatic pump handle. Kids feed molded-putty treats into the dog’s mouth, then pump the handle to watch them expelled beneath its wagging tail—to a barrage of farting sounds. The first player to scoop three poops wins.
Giant Microbes: U.K.
Germophobic parents may look askance at these plush creations, which portray disease-bearing microbes as cuddly, google-eyed friends. But while it may be unsettling to see your child snuggle up to a squiggly pink toy Syphilis, play house with fuzzy, tasseled E. Coli, or have a tea party with Flesh Eating Bacteria (helpfully embroidered with a knife and fork), the microbes are undoubtedly helpful for educational purposes. And they’ve been heralded for their design by no less than New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Titanic Inflatable Slide: China
Why read your kids a book or show them a movie about the world’s most famous shipwreck when you can reenact the epic tragedy in your own backyard? Made in China but available for party rentals all over the world (with the exception of Switzerland, where it was called unethical by the national Titanic Club), the Titanic Inflatable Slide is a 33-foot-high, bouncy replica of the doomed steamship—tilted at a precarious angle to allow kids to plunge screaming from the decks. For extra realism, some models include an inflatable iceberg.
The Bristlebot: U.S.
Made from a battery-operated motor attached to the head of a hacked-off toothbrush, this buzzing, vibrating mini bot has nothing to do with cleaning kids’ teeth. Rather, it’s meant to be set on the floor, where it careens around like a caffeinated caterpillar, ricocheting off walls and furniture. The bot’s simple design elements (and high parental annoyance factor) are almost certainly why it’s so popular with kids; while there are premade bots available for purchase, there are also plenty of Internet videos showing how to make Bristlebots at home.
My First BaconTalking Doll: U.S.
This huggable hunk of pork is a sure way to introduce kids to the joys of cholesterol-laden breakfast meat. Made of “velveteen flesh and super soft fleece fat,” My First Bacon—when loaded with batteries and squeezed—emits just a single, hypnotically spoken phrase from its moving robotic lips: “I’m Bacon.” Is it really just a harmless toy for children? Or an underhanded plot to breed a new generation of carnivores? Vegetarians, beware.
TheDream Cat Venus Robot: Japan
Leave it to Sega Toys (the company that released an animatronic “girlfriend” robot a few years ago) to sweep aside the inconveniences of having a real animal companion. The Dream Cat Venus may be great for kids with allergies, but others may find “kitty”—who meows, purrs, blinks its big plastic eyes, and even raises one polyester-tufted paw at random intervals when it’s petted—decidedly creepy. It’s just the latest in the company’s Yume Neko line of battery-operated pets.
These mini robotic creepy-crawlies move just like their real insect counterparts do. The series includes a three-inch, six-legged Spider, which scuttles in an alarmingly realistic arachnid fashion while swiveling its head from side to side, and a Larva, whose segmented body wiggles ickily and swerves to change direction as it approaches obstacles. Best for freaking out Mom: the light- and sound-sensitive Crab, which “hides” in dark corners until a flicked switch or loud noise brings it bolting out into the open.
Gelli Baff: U.K.
Most parents think of the bathtub as a place to get clean, but the makers of Gelli Baff had a different vision: the tub as Technicolor kiddie tar pit. Sprinkling a package of this colored powder into the bath quickly turns plain water into thick, gloppy goo; kids can wallow and slather themselves in a variety of colors (like Lava Blast Red and Magic Swamp Green) and even fragrances (like Cola and Popcorn). While the muck, which originally started out as a foot-spa product, is ostensibly good for the skin, a special dissolving powder is included for children who need a bath after their bath.
AmigurumiCrocheted Creatures: Japan
The Japanese affinity for all things cute meets DIY craftiness in amigurumi, small hand-crocheted creatures with Hello Kitty–style appeal. It’s easy to imagine children playing with many figures, especially those knitted in the shapes of round-eyed pandas, froggies, lop-eared bunnies, and goofy wee aliens. It might require more creativity, though, for kids to come up with games incorporating some of the odder amigurumi patterns out there: say, a set of knitted eyeballs, a “family” of pill capsules, or a platter of crocheted sushi rolls.