You can always spot a parent around the holiday season. Their hair is a frazzled mesh of cow licks and stray strands as if it’s been pulled by a crowd of frantic people. Their eyes dart around in all directions desperately seeking something that could suddenly appear at a moment’s notice. They break down and cry during commercials that advertise “the hottest toy of the holiday season.”
Perhaps their dispirited appearance comes from having to fight each other hand-to-hand-style at stores to get the big, shiny toy that every child wants under the tree on Dec. 25. It doesn’t even matter if the toy itself is weird looking or serves no useful, discernible purpose. If their kids don’t get it, they’ll spend the next 364 days hearing how it. These are the strange playthings that had parents of several generations rushing to stores and then scratching their heads in confusion.
1. The Betsy Wetsy Doll (1935)
Just about every baby doll has an inherent creepy factor. They may not be alive or capable of forming their own thoughts but those lifeless eyes and that eternal smile feels like it’s some kind of prison for the trapped soul of an evil demon. This doll from Ideal somehow had a working digestive system that allowed her to digest and excrete liquids and other bodily fluids. We’re surprised she didn’t cry blood.
2. Moon Shoes (1972)
Trampolines might not be in the same category as lawn darts, but they have been known to produce more than their fair share of serious accidents. That may be great for funny videos, but they’re still a big strain on our health care system and family budgets. That didn’t stop one toy company from finding a way to attach trampolines to kids’ feet.
These portable insurance premium adjusters fit over kids’ shoes and allowed them to feel like they were jumping on a trampoline wherever they went. The original versions were made out of metal and caused some spectacular accidents and injuries. Fortunately, toy companies got the hint and responded by taking their designs off the shelves…and reselling them in the ’80s and ’90s in encased plastic instead.
3. Pulsar (1976)
Action figures have always had some kind of special feature to make them stand out, whether it’s kung-fu style hand chopping action or realistic sounds taken straight from the battlefield. Mattel’s attempt to cash in on ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ craze could’ve added “authentic organ pulsing and bile flow” to the toy commercial vernacular. This sci-fi styled “Ultimate Man of Adventure” allowed kids to open its chest cavity and see blood and other bodily fluids flowing through his abdomen with the push of a button. We’re not sure how exactly this would work to his advantage in the heat of battle unless his “mission disks” tasked him with giving his enemies the dry heaves or cheating on a human anatomy final.
4. Earthquake Tower Rescue Playset (1976)
The popularity of Irwin Allen’s epic disaster films such as ‘The Towering Inferno’ and ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ turned massive natural and man-made disasters into classic, wholesome entertainment. This attempt by Remco to cash in on the disaster movie craze might seem unthinkable in this sensitive day and age. Not only did the massive playset turn a skyscraper into a shaky mess, but it also launched little people out of its windows and off its roof while a record recreated the authentic sound of twisted metal and screaming citizens falling towards the Earth. The only way it could be more depressing is if it came with a Sarah McLachlan soundtrack.
5. Suckerman (1978)
Some toys don’t need exposition to be successful. If you can find the right gimmick, kids will eat them up like so much sugary cereal on a Saturday morning. The packaging of this strange “manimal” hybrid from Mattel didn’t explain where Suckerman came from or how he became a strange cross between a bat and an octopus, but the kids didn’t care. They could chuck Suckerman at any flat surface and he would stick to it thanks to his magic suction cup body. Unfortunately, you couldn’t throw it at glass surfaces since Suckerman was heavy enough to go right through them. Ironically that was one of the few surfaces that actually made the toy work.
6. Pogo Ball (1985)
Almost every neighborhood had kids bouncing down sidewalks on this bizarre hybrid of the skateboard and the Space Hopper with color schemes that made it look like a 1980s version of the planet Saturn. However, just like its pogo stick counterpart, it was not an easy toy to master.
The commercials made it look as easy to ride as a wagon being pushed down a steep hill but kids needed some pretty big feet in order to keep a grip on the ball as they reached for the sky. The irony is that if you fell enough times, your feet would swell up to Pogo Ball size on their own.
7. Madballs (1985)
As long as little boys are allowed to go outside and play, toy companies will always have new types of balls to give them a reason to run, throw and giggle when their mother asks them to “stop playing with their balls in the house.” This line of strange-looking spheres from the lesser known AmToy company became quite a big hit in its time by letting little boys access their inner creep.
Just like the famed Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, they featured disgusting designs of characters like brain-exposed zombies, a drooling cyclops and even just giant pulsing eyeballs on a sphere no bigger than a tennis ball. Come to think of it, playing with the tennis ball our dog regularly chewed on was less icky than these horrid things.
8. GoBots Rock Lords (1986)
One of the lowest points in American society was the proliferation of the pet rock. A company actually found a way to sell people something that they could literally pick out of their yard for free. The famed second cousin to the Transformers toys wasn’t as worthless as the pet rock but it may have looked that way to the parents who bought them.
These seemingly worthless stones actually transformed into intergalactic peace protecting robots, presumably so the more popular GoBots would have someone to look down on as they were getting their financial butts kicked by the Transformers. Still, the Rock Lords were popular enough to score their own movie — ‘Battle of the Rock Lords’ — which featured voice work by Margo Kidder, Roddy McDowell and Telly Savalas.
9. Furby (1998)
Toys that make noise can produce more headaches for parents than an inoperable brain tumor. For some reason, however, these chatty balls of cloth flew off the shelves in the late ’90s and 2000s and even went for five times the asking price in online auctions and private sales.
Tiger Electronics’ furry toy could supposedly learn how to talk over time the more that kids played with it. It could also recognize its own name, respond to touch and even other Furbies. Parents even got in on the fun by trying to see how it would respond to being thrown against a brick wall as hard as possible.
10. Barbie & Tanner (2006)
Barbie has more vapid friends than a Hilton sister. It makes sense that Mattel would give Barbie her own dog that girls can walk, groom and pet in between days at the beauty parlor and nights spent up wondering why Ken is out so late with GI Joe.
However, this toy pup’s most unique feature makes us wonder if Mattel wasn’t trying to bring more boys to the Barbie franchise. That’s because Tanner, well, poops. The toy came with little magnetic, brown treats that go in one side of him and come out the other for Barbie to pick up with her own fashionable poop scooper. Sanitation Law Enforcement Officer Ken was sold separately.