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Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Toys That Turned Cool Cucumbers into Hot Peppers

For whatever reason, I seem to have mixed feelings about the month of November. It's not my most favourite month in the year, but I certainly don't despise it. Truth is, I'm just kind of indifferent to the month of November.

There's a lot of good things about the month of November. I enjoy the cooler temperatures a lot (yes, I am one of those weird people who actually prefer the mercury to be hovering around freezing rather than up in the nineties or hundreds). My mom was born in November, so that's always a good thing. For most of us in North America at least, November marks the appearance of the good kind of daylight savings time in which we GAIN an extra hour of rest rather than lose one. And, November is also a month in which we all pay our respects to those men and women who sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom.

(And, I will have a special Armistice/Remembrance/Veterans Day feature planned for this upcoming November 11.)

But, you know, there are some bad points about the month of November. November usually brings in the early planning stages of the holiday shopping season (which if you work retail as I currently do can be more scary than Halloween). November brings forth the horrors of the crazy spectacle of the event known as “Black Friday”, and back in the days in which I attended high school, November was always a bad month as we had midterms right around that time of year. And anyone who has ever remembered taking a high school midterm knows how stressful they can be.

So, yeah...November is one of those months that I have very mixed feelings about.

And, as it so happens, today's blog topic also happens to be something that I have had very mixed feelings about ever since I began working in retail.

In just a little under two weeks from now, Sony is set to release their brand new PlayStation 4 console. And working in electronics for the first time this holiday season, I have to admit that I'm very relieved that I happen to be off that date. If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked by customers when the PS4 is going to be released, well...I certainly would never have to worry about money again. And I imagine that there will be a similar reaction to the XBOX One system when it is released later this month as well.

On one hand, I am a little bit nervous about working in a brand new department with a brand new video game console being released. If we happen to run out of consoles, and don't have enough to meet the demand, well, it could be a very interesting experience. At the same time, I should be okay with dealing with that potentially stressful situation as I have co-workers who are used to it.

But on the other hand, I sort of understand the excitement that those customers would have over something brand new. I still have fond memories of going through the Sears Wish Book with a black marker, checking off all the things that I wanted to get that Christmas, and with luck, Santa would bring me at least one of the things I wanted...even if it did end up being the hottest toy of the year.

And, that's exactly what this blog is about. The hottest holiday toy fads, and the steps that some people will take to ensure that they get their hands on one.

Now, when it comes to the consoles, games, and accessories for the PlayStation 4, customers have been pre-ordering them online since October, and I imagine that as November runs into December, we'll be selling quite a few pre-order game cards, ensuring that customers will get what they want before Christmas. But back in the days before the Internet and pre-orders, you might be amazed at what people did to get the hottest new toys.

To begin, let's take a look at a toy that has the distinction of being on the Top 10 list of Hottest Holiday Toy of the Year twice...fifteen years apart!

FURBY (1998, 2012-2013)

When the Furby doll was reintroduced in the 2010s, a lot of kids believed it to be a brand new toy. But what some didn't know was that the Furby was 1998's hottest selling toy. Trust me, my niece who was two years old in 1998 was absolutely obsessed with the Furby. She even had a Furby computer game that she played all the time!

So, what made these fuzzy, brightly-coloured...creatures so popular? Well, the fact that they came in an assortment of colours such as red, pink, green, orange, and blue (though initially, they came in only white, black, or grey) made them appealing to children of both genders. But their selling point was the fact that they could actually talk back to you in both English and Furbish (the mother tongue of all Furbies). In fact, when a child received a brand new Furby, the Furby was programmed to speak nothing but Furbish, but as time progressed, and the more that the child played with their Furby friend, the more English they learned, making the child feel as though they were teaching their Furby how to talk.

I even managed to find a Furbish to English dictionary online (I know...I didn't know that one existed either). Would you like to learn how to speak Furbish? Have a look at the following translations below!

Wee-tah-kah-loo-loo = “Tell me a joke!”
u-nye-noh-lah = “Show me a dance!”
wee-kah-tah-wah-tee = “Sing me a song!”
u-nye-boh-doo = “How are you?”
u-nye-loh-lay-doo = “Do you want to play?”
u-nye-ay-tay-doo = “Are you hungry?”

The original fad of Furby lasted for approximately three holiday seasons, petering out in early 2001. But a revamp and remodel years later has safely secured its place in toy stores all over the world once again. Trust me. The toy department is close to the department I work in, and I often get asked about Furbies by random customers.

Well, them, and Monster High dolls.


Ah. Here's another toy that my now seventeen-year-old niece played with when she was a toddler. Truth be told, the doll came out the same year my niece was born.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, I liked Elmo enough, but I wasn't overly a huge fan of his. Had I been toddler aged, I would have likely asked my parents for the Tickle-Me-Cookie Monster doll instead.

That said, I can see why the Tickle-Me-Elmo doll was a huge success. All you had to do was squeeze Elmo and he would laugh at you and tell you that you were tickling him. Do it three times in a row, and he would laugh harder and his whole body would start vibrating. Here, I'll post a video of the television commercial below. It can probably explain what it does better than I can.

The doll was so successful that on the tenth anniversary of the doll's launch, in September 2006, the TMX Elmo was released, which was more or less a souped-up version of the original.

Now, here's the thing about Tickle-Me-Elmo. Tickle-Me-Elmo came out just before the explosion of online shopping sites like eBay, Amazon, and Etsy. Back in those days, if you wanted a doll, you waited outside in a line in hopes of getting your hands on one. And, depending on how long you waited in line, when the store doors finally opened up, the resulting stampede might be worse than that of the Running of the Bulls! There was one incident inside of a New Brunswick Walmart where a store clerk was trampled by a stampeding crowd, eager to get their hands on the Tickle-Me-Elmo doll. He ended up surviving the incident, albeit with torn jeans, a pulled hamstring, a broken rib, and a concussion! Craziness, I know.

Even more crazy was the fact that people were stocking up on the dolls and actually selling them for the same price that a scalper might charge for concert tickets! In some newspaper classified ads (keep in mind that the Tickle-Me-Elmo doll predates Craigslist and Kijiji), some people were charging as much as two thousand dollars for one Tickle-Me-Elmo doll!

Nowadays, you can pick up an original 1996 model of the Tickle-Me-Elmo on eBay for approximately thirty bucks. How times change.


I will state this right off the bat. I never owned a Teddy Ruxpin doll. I never really wanted a Teddy Ruxpin doll in the first place. To me, it was just a glorified tape player that just happened to be shaped like a teddy bear. If anything, one of the funniest memories I have of a Teddy Ruxpin doll is when one of my classmates brought in a Teddy Ruxpin doll for show and tell, and we had fun putting rock and roll tapes inside of the tape deck. You know, just to see if Teddy Ruxpin could sing “Born in the U.S.A.” as well as Bruce Springsteen.

But although I didn't care for the toy itself...I will admit to watching the television cartoon series. Of course, the television series was launched a few months after the toy became the hottest selling toy of 1986. With all of the television ads that were playing at the peak of its popularity, and the number of times I remember seeing kids requesting a Teddy Ruxpin doll in their letters to Santa (that my hometown newspaper used to print every December), it's a wonder that they didn't completely sell out altogether. I'm sure in some stores, they had a hard time keeping up with the demand, but I always remembered seeing Teddy Ruxpin and his friends on store shelves throughout the late 1980s. Maybe it was just an American thing.


Now, here's where we get down to the real dangers of seeking out the hottest new toy of the season. Anyone who was anyone had to have a Cabbage Patch Kid.

In fact...I have a bit of a confession. I actually owned a Cabbage Patch Kid when I was a wee little tyke. I think my mom entered my name in a contest and I ended up winning. The grand prize was a Cabbage Patch Kid. I don't know if I actually wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid, but I did play with it for some years afterward. Not sure exactly what happened to him though. I think he's packed away somewhere.

But let's back up a little bit. When I won the Cabbage Patch Kid as a prize, I think I was three or four. That would date back to 1984/1985...the time in which Cabbage Patch Kid fever was in full swing.

The plush dolls, created by Xavier Roberts, were unlike any other doll that was released at the time. They were soft, huggable, came with their own little outfit, a certificate of adoption which had the Cabbage Patch Kid's name and birthdate...and well, they had a face that only a mother (or father) could love. Oh, let's be honest here. Some people thought that Cabbage Patch Kids were the ugliest things ever made. But I liked mine. And, back when Cabbage Patch Kids were introduced, every other kid seemed to like them too.

They liked them so much that in 1983 (the height of the doll's popularity), parents would do just about ANYTHING to get their hands on one. Mobs formed outside of toy retailers, with people literally biting, kicking, and pushing people down on the ground, just to get their hands on the dolls. There were even reports of some overambitious parents actually running towards delivery trucks carrying the dolls, and the poor delivery drivers became collateral damage! The response was just unreal! In fact, let's flashback to 1983, just to fully illustrate what I mean.

Shades of Black Friday anyone?

These days, Cabbage Patch Kids are not nearly as popular as they were some thirty years ago...but they are still manufactured, and are still a great gift to give your child or grandchild. And, you can buy one and not have to worry about having your nose broken or your hair pulled!

So, that's my list of toy fads that drove people crazy this holiday season. And now I turn the floor over to you.

Do you have any fad toy stories? Were you one of the ones waiting in line for a Cabbage Patch Kid, Furby, Tickle-Me-Elmo, or any other toy? Share your stories here, if you like!

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