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Archive for the ‘Toys – Miscellaneous’ Category

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The Farmer Says

Posted by Big Boo on January 13th, 2012

The Farmer SaysWhen I was about 7 or 8 I had a friend who happened to have a younger sister of toddler age. One day whilst playing over at his house, his sister came in clutching her “The Farmer Says” toy. I had never seen one before but something about it just piqued my interest enough that I couldn’t resist having a go with it, despite being well out of the intended age range of it.

It consisted of a circular piece of plastic that had pictures of different animals running around it. In the centre of the toy there was a plastic arrow with a picture of a farmer on it. You turned the arrow to point at a particular animal, let’s say the cow, then pulled a string on the side which caused the arrow to spin around like mad and for the toy to utter the words “The cow says… Moo!”.

Somehow this toy mesmerised me. Perhaps it was the hypnotic spin of the arrow, or more likely just the crackly pronunciation of the recorded voice, but I sat there twisting the arrow and pulling the string until I had heard everything the farmer had to say, much to the annoyance of my mate who probably wanted to go off and play with toy cars or something with me.

A little on the history of this toy then to finish off. The first version was released in 1965 by Mattel and the sounds were stored on a little plastic disc, a bit like an old vinyl record. It has undergone surprisingly few revisions over time, with the first major change being replacing the pull string with a lever in the late Eighties. This change occured after a little girl was blinded by the string snapping and flicking into her eye.

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Synthesizers

Posted by Big Boo on November 30th, 2011

Synthesizer Yamaha DX7Whilst the origins of the Synthesizer Keyboard lie in the early to mid twentieth century, it wasn’t really until the Sixties and Seventies that they really started to become used by musicians, mainly due to the reasons of reliability and cost.

In 1964 that started to change, with the release of the Moog (named after its creator Robert Moog) which was the first commercially available instrument of its kind. The first band to release an album featuring Moog created music was The Monkees, but they were soon followed by other notables including The Rolling Stones, The Doors and The Beatles.

The Moog created its sound by allowing the user of it to layer together simple waveforms of different kinds, such as sine waves. In doing so the sound created by the instrument could be changed to achieve a wide number of different effects.

In 1979 the Synthesizer market was shaken up again with the release of the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) as it took a different approach. The advent of micro computers allowed the Fairlight to work by using sampled sounds of real instruments, meaning that in theory at least it could sound like any instrument you wanted it to.

However the Fairlight and similar synthesizers still cost a huge amount of money when they first appeared, so remained the preserve of professional musicians, with probably Jean Michel Jarre being the artist who is most often linked with the Fairlight.

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Starbird

Posted by Big Boo on November 16th, 2011

StarbirdWhen I was growing up there were two big electronic toys that I really wanted to own. The first was the awesome programmable Big Trak, and the second was the slightly less educational, but just as fun, Starbird.

Starbird was a space ship toy which looked the business. It was sleek and groovy looking, just like one of the ships from Star Wars, and it could be pulled apart and converted into a smaller mini space ship as well. Best of all those was the fact that it made sound effects!

After switching Starbird on it would start to make a futuristic sounding engine noise. Tip the nose of the ship upwards though and the noise changed to sound like it was accelerating to climb higher, whilst tipping the nose down made it sound like it was decelerating. OK, this was all a bit nonsensical for a space ship, but it sounded cool.

Even better though was the little button on the top that fired the Starbird laser cannons. As well as playing a laser blast sound, some little lights under the lasers came on as well.

As if that wasn’t cool enough, the Starbird even went through a little revamp and was re-released as the Starbird Avenger. This had all the same functions as the original, but could also send and receive infra-red. It came with a reflective target which you could then practice shooting at, in a similar manner to the way Laser Tag worked.

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Rub Down Transfers

Posted by Big Boo on June 13th, 2011

Rub Down TransfersDo you remember Letraset? Those sheets of letters that came on a sheet of plastic that when rubbed over with a soft pencil could be transferred onto a sheet of paper? I’m sure you can still get them from places like Staples of other office supply shops.

Well, the Rub Down Transfers I’m thinking of were very similar to these, and indeed the first instances of them were made by the company that made Letraset. Instead of little letters on the plastic sheet you had full colour pictures which could be rubbed off onto paper or cardboard to make an interesting scene.

Also known as Action Transfers or by the brand name Kalkitos, you normally bought them as a pack containing a sheet of the transfers and a thin cardboard background image onto which you could rub the transfers to make an instant piece of artwork.

Sometimes you also got a special plastic wand that you could use instead of a pencil to rub the transfer down, but I always preferred using a pencil since you could more easily tell when you had rubbed over the entire image, so you didn’t lift the plastic too soon and leave half the image behind.

There were a huge number of sets to choose from, some licensed from films and TV programmes (I remember having a set for E.T.) whilst others were of more generic themes such as wild or farm animals, cars, superheroes and much more.

I certainly enjoyed playing with these as a child, and they have recently been relaunched in Singapore. Head over to the Kalkitos website if you want to learn more though, as they apparently will ship worldwide.

Stocking Fillers - Suppliers to Father Christmas
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French Knitting

Posted by Big Boo on May 9th, 2011

French KnittingI’ve never managed to get the hang of knitting. I remember my Mum trying to teach me as a kid and the result was always the same. I’d be able to do it for an hour or so before I got bored, then when I went back to it ages later I had forgotten how to do it again. French Knitting therefore was perfect for me.

I’m not sure quite what made it French, but it certainly was knitting of a sort. You were never going to be able to knit a jumper with French Knitting, but you could make an endless supply of bracelets, coasters and um, worms? The technique also goes by the names of Spool Knitting and Corking.

French Knitting involves using a (usually wooden) cylinder with four nails hammered into one end. It is often referred to as a French Knitting Doll, since the cylinder is quite often shaped and painted to look like a doll. You thread wool through the cylinder and then proceed to loop it in a special way (which I admit I’ve forgotten) around the nails. As you proceed you knit the wool together to form a long thin chain of circular knitting.

I first tried my hand at French Knitting after seeing instructions on how to make a French Knitting Doll in a Ladybird book full of arts and crafts. You could make one out of an old wooden cotton reel and four short nails. Of course, this option is not really practical now given that cotton reels are generally made of flimsy, mostly hollow plastic, but you can buy ready made ones from places such as Stocking Fillers.

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Garbage Pail Kids

Posted by Big Boo on January 31st, 2011

Garbage Pail KidsThe Cabbage Patch Kid was one of the most successful toys of the Eighties, but the strange appearance of the dolls led to them becoming the butt of many jokes. One of the biggest of these was the creation of a entire range of characters known as the Garbage Pail Kids.

The Garbage Pail Kids were a series of trading cards (that were also peel off stickers) which were initially styled to look very much like a Cabbage Patch Kid, but were normally given a much more disgusting look such as being covered in weeping sores or having no arms or legs, or were having some kind of terrible (though comical) punishment inflicted upon them.

Each of the designs were then given names which played well off the depicted character. For example, a zombie like character might be called Deady Eddie (not sure if this was a real name or not, I just made it up to give you the idea). In actual fact, most of the designs in the series were actually used twice with the only differences being the use of another name.

Given kids often like anything weird and disgusting like this the cards were an instant hit, and unsurprisingly many adults disliked them intensely. Schools started to ban children from taking them to classes because they were too distracting (which I suppose is a fair point), and eventually the makers of Cabbage Patch Kids also forced Topps, the makers of Garbage Pail Kids, to stop making the characters look so similar to the dolls.

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Bontempi Air Organs

Posted by Big Boo on May 28th, 2010

Bontempi Air OrganI first encountered a Bontempi Air Organ when I went to visit some relatives at Christmas. It would have been the late seventies or very early eighties, I forget exactly how old I was. My cousin had been given one as a present and we spent part of the afternoon fiddling about with it.

It was a big orange plastic affair, with a decent sized main keyboard and a bank of big chunky buttons on the left hand side. Pressing the keys on the keyboard made a strange humming sound at the desired pitch, whilst pressing the chunky buttons produced a chord, although at the time I thought a chord was a piece of thick string so what relevance these buttons had was completely lost on me.

The keys on the keyboard were all labelled, though with numbers rather than letters as you might have expected. The organ came with a song book that used these numbers to tell you how to play a tune. Whilst perhaps a simpler way of learning to play, ultimately the numbers were probably a bad idea as you’d only need to relearn the proper musical notation when you progressed on to a “proper” instrument.

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Yo-Yos

Posted by Big Boo on April 23rd, 2010

yo-yoNow, I’m by no means claiming that the Yo-yo was solely a toy of the 1980s. Indeed, in it’s current form as a toy it dates back until at least the 1920s, and records date it back to being a hunters weapon in the Phillipines during the 16th century, and there are even examples of Yo-yo like objects being used in ancient Greece, dating back to 500BC!

However, there was a sudden fad for the Yo-yo when I was at secondary school, which is why I’m writing about them. A friend of mine brought his into school one day and started doing a few very simple tricks with it. Up to that point I had of course played with a Yo-yo before, but all I ever did with it was make it go up and down the string, which got a bit boring after a while.

My friend kept throwing his Yo-yo out in front of him and looping the loop with it, and at that point I was hooked. At the first opportunity I went Yo-yo hunting, and I ended up with a cheap metal Yo-yo that was blue with a picture of a panda on it, but it was all I could find, so it would have to do. I started practising and before long was copying my friend’s tricks of throwing the Yo-yo out horizontally, or performing loops.

I triumphantly demonstrated my new skills to my mate, who then went on to show me his new trick. He called it “the spinner” but I later learned the accepted term for it is a sleeper. With a sharp flick of his wrist he sent the Yo-yo to the bottom of the string, where it stayed, spinning round and round like mad, instead of rolling back up the string. He then slapped the back of his Yo-yo holding hand, and it climbed back up the string into his hand.

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