Monday, December 14, 2009

You bring strange creatures to life...You send them back!


Ten days away from the big day, and here at the Jar we're waxing wistfully nostalgic about Christmases Past. I knew that I wanted to do at least one posting this year about favorite toys as gifts, and realized that I have a pretty limited list of offerings from which to choose. It didn't take me very long before my standard Christmas wish list for Santa consisted of little more than books, records and board games (if you were a game show, and you had a Home Version, you were in the Senski household) - all of which meant that my presents were very easy to wrap, and stacked up quite nicely under the tree. However, there were a few notable exceptions, some of which may be of greater interest than others to the regular readers of this blog. And so, I give you one of the nicest things that Saint Nick ever left me in his benevolent wisdom...

Imagine if David Cronenberg had designed the Easy Bake Oven, and you would have something along the lines of Mattel's Strange Change machine (also known as The Time Machine, or even the Strange Change Time Machine, but we always just referred to it as "Strange Change"). It was introduced into the market in 1967, and that may have been the year I got one for Christmas, but I have this nagging sense it was actually a year later. With the purchase of the device, you also received a set of square plasticene "capsules," each one "containing" some kind of creature or creepy-crawler. Now, I use the quotes because the little beasties aren't actually inside of anything - they are the capsules themselves. Perhaps it's best to just roll the tape, and let the commercial do what it is that commercials do best...



Now, I put it to you - is not the sight of that octopus unfurling from that square shape just not one of the coolest things you have ever seen, even in 2009? Can you imagine the effect that this had on my little five-year-old brain? Here was my chance to be Victor von Frankenstein, Andre Delambre, and every other mad scientist I had
seen or read about. Delusions of godhood? The intoxication of sheer, unadulterated power? Groovy! For all the time that I played with my Strange Change machine, it never, never grew old. Sure, the little monsters never quite compressed back into the pure square shapes in which you received them; there was always a stray claw, wing or tentacle that was protruding, as if the thing was trying to escape its four-sided confines, like a plastic, prehistoric Elisha Cuthbert. You could also buy additional capsules in sets of "Creaturelings" and "Astropods," and I had a mutable menagerie that would have made Laura Wingfield chartreuse with envy - that is, were she into plastic rather than glass.

Now, you could never produce a toy like this today, and for one reason only - this bastard got HOT. Yes, essentially we're looking at a hot plate covered by a see-through plastic dome, and a unit that did not possess an on/off switch. You plugged this baby in, and it got warm, then hot, then very hot. It never actually glowed, but that was cold comfort to my often-toasted digits (the toy came with a set of tongs for creature extraction, which I used...most of the time). And that base? Metal. The vice? Metal. It all got freakin' hot, and I often wonder how many homes with shag carpeting suffered singeing from units that went unplugged. And speaking of that vice...let's face it, gentle readers, Torquemada would have had a field day with a Strange Change machine.

And my friends and I loved it. There was another downside, however. You had to be careful not to leave the creature over the heating element for too long, as they tended to scorch, and once that happened, they didn't metamorph very well. Come to think of it, there was a very limited window of opportunity if you were heating the monsters up for re-compression. Leave them in for too short a time, and you couldn't squish them together properly; too long, and the little buggers burned. Why I never wound up a master chef who specialized in perfectly-timed souffles is beyond me.

I recall there was a point when the unit just failed to heat up, and that meant trash time for Strange Change. But until that happened, this was a treasured toy from my childhood, and even now, I've got a hankering to stick a pink plastic spider under that dome...and just see what happens...

2 comments:

Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

That's amazing! The closest thing I've had is a fossil you can chip out of a rock. I'm so jealous!

Anonymous said...

do you want to part with some of your creatures for another 2 boys?
thanks
vrpalmer@mchsi.com