Sunday, January 13, 2013

Science, you have let me down far, far, too many times. How many more chances do you think you deserve? (Dollar Store Toy Review)

It's a TWOFER on Dollar Store Toy Review, as I look at

The Toy(S):

Ninja Nunchaku

and  Balloon Helicopter.

And the first thing you'll notice is that many Dollar Store toys suffer from a lack of creativity in the naming department.  Some would think that is a bad thing.

People raised on Madison Avenue cramming stuff down our psychological throats until we metaphorically choke on the hypothetical richness of our imaginary desires would think that is a bad thing.

Not me.  I understand, as do the makers of these two toys, that some toys sell themselves.  What more salesmanship do you need than to label something Balloon Helicopter, two words that when spun together turn ordinary everyday life's thread into playtime's gold.

Just in case, though, I notice that they, the Balloon Helicopter people, threw in a little something: Watch it FLY!, they add, which might be deemed advertising but it might be deemed a sort of warning for those who need it; the longer version, I imagine, would be "Don't try to fly this yourself.  Just Watch it FLY!"

This is 2013, after all, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that we have advanced to the point where we can expect to find a fully-functional, human-cargo ready Balloon Helicopter on sale for a buck.  That is the future I want to be living in now.

As for the Ninja Nunchaku, they need no selling point beyond the mysterious Orient and the mystical power of the Ninja, which I imagine is on there to separate these particular nunchaku from other varieties of nunchaku, like "Housewife Nunchaku" for every day chores or "Presidential Nunchaku" which they give you when you are sworn in by the Chief Justice (they're hidden in that Bible) and which you must use to defend the launch codes and the First Lady's honor.  Ruffians!  Feel the wrath of Obama-San!

I bought these two toys as gifts for Mr F and Mr Bunches when I stopped at the Dollar Store to get my latest round of earphones for my iPod.  Mr F and I are in an ongoing battle of wits about my earphones, which he likes to "play with"*  (*break) and which I try to "keep from him"** (**forget entirely to do, place them on the counter, then curse the cruel Fates when Mr F finds them, and go to the Dollar Store for more) and as a result I go to the Dollar Store a lot, and also I have learned that you can get surprisingly-high quality  earphones for a buck.

Officially, the nunchaku are for Mr F and the Balloon Helicopter (Watch it FLY!) is for Mr Bunches.

I opened the nunchaku first, and awarded them to Mr F, who was swinging:

And although they look like they were an immediate hit, he was already pretty happy because, as I noted, he was swinging. But he did like them, and so did Mr Bunches, who immediately tried to take them away from Mr F as I tried to explain that no, Mr Bunches got the Balloon Helicopter, the nunchaku are for Mr F.

(My thinking behind giving the nunchaku to Mr F was that he likes to tap things, and if he is going to head in that direction with his life and his skills, I could possibly get him to begin his Ninja training because, hey, 6-year-old Ninja.  COPYRIGHT ME 2013 But I will license the concept to Disney or any other competitive bidder.)

Then we set about building the Balloon Helicopter.

The Construction:  We'll get back to that Balloon Helicopter in a second.  The nunchaku are a quality item, especially for the Dollar Store.  Foam rubber around some sort of solid-seeming interior, with a too-short but actual-metal chain, they could potentially do some damage, which I am surprised I have not heard about from Sweetie yet.  She ordinarily frowns on me giving the boys weapons, just like she frowned on me the time I invented that game where Mr Bunches and I take turns shooting each other with dart guns from five feet away.  "Something something something something blah blah blah" were I believe her exact words.

The Balloon Helicopter's construction was more... what's the word I'm looking for, here?  Crappy.

The balloons had a sort of flimsy feel to them, like they were made of imitation cheap Saran Wrap (to be clear: I am suggesting that the balloons are not made of Saran Wrap, nor even cheap Saran Wrap, but an imitation of cheap Saran Wrap.)  The plastic parts are somehow cheaper, lighter, and more easily breakable than you would imagine plastic parts on a Dollar Store toy to be.  If anything, this toy was about a $0.50 Store quality.  At best.

There are directions for assembling the Balloon Helicopter.  They are these:

They are not helpful, really, other than to emphasize that once you figure out which way that little mouthpiece goes -- it's not intuitive -- you can "Watch it FLY!"  There are, at least, little grooves on the heliblades to let you know you're putting them on the right way.  Coriolis effects and all, if you put them on backwards you're probably screwed.*** (***I know about the "coriolis effect" because David Brin tweeted about how it affects field goal kickers in football games.  Smart.  That's me.)

It took about five minutes to get this thing together, and then I had to take it back apart to blow up the Balloon portion of the Balloon Helicopter so we could Watch it FLY!

How It's Used: Back to the Nunchaku for a second.  Mr Bunches liked them and convinced Mr F to let him use them by the persuasive argument we lawyers call "I'm taking these things."  Then he demonstrated to me how they work:

THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I EXPECTED.  Am I a horrible parent? No.  Or probably not.  You will probably say "You should have shown Mr Bunches how to use the nunchaku without doing exactly that," which would be a valid point except that later, when I tried to show Mr Bunches how to use the nunchaku without doing exactly that, I hit myself in the eye.

Ninja Family we are not.

The Balloon Helicopter was a bit more problematic, in that if you looked at that packaging it seems to imply that the blades will spin around once the Balloon is unleashed, only the blades do not spin.  We gave it a whirl**** (****GET IT? WHIRL!  OH NEVER MIND YOU'RE IMPOSSIBLE.)

Then another

That sort of thing went on for a while

Which brings us to

How It Works:  The nunchaku? Quite well: if there are ever intruders of any sort in our house, Mr Bunches and I will be able to, with a minimum of effort, use the nunchaku to hurt ourselves so severely that the thugs will take pity on us and drive us to the hospital.  CRISIS AVERTED!

As for the Balloon Helicopter, well:

After a few attempts at flight, one of the heliblades had cracked off its stem, making it even less flightworthy than it had been previously, which is saying something, because the Balloon Helicopter was possibly the least flightworthy thing in our living room.  We'd have had an easier time watching our couch FLY! than the Balloon Helicopter.

(You may have seen that the blades did at times whirl.  The balloon, as it loses air, blows through a tiny hole in the blade apparatus.  Why this happens is not clear, as the air does not appear to propel the helicopter at all, and as a result, what happens is that the blades sometimes spin as the air rushes past them.  That is the same thing that allows those little maple leaf seeds (or whatever tree has those helicopter seeds) to "fly.")

(Also, if you are concerned about the very-visible spill of cheese puffs on the couch, I can say this: (A) Mr F only likes certain cheese puffs and has a tendency to dump out his bowl to pick out the best ones, a practice we are trying to break him of by periodically grounding him off puffs for up to an hour, and I'd have done that there but I was busy trying to get the Balloon Helicopter to work, doing Science's job for it, which means that Science should have come and cleaned my house and (B) Sweetie was taking a nap, so I didn't have to keep the house clean.)

All was not lost, though:  Mr F, who by then had lost possession of the nunchaku even though he is the only person in the house who has demonstrated any ability to not maim himself with them, took an interest in the Balloon portion of the Balloon Helicopter:

Making me repeatedly blow it up and either let him hold it while it sputtered down, or letting me let it go so he could watch it fly around:

The Review by Mr F and Mr Bunches:

Mr Bunches now walks warily around the nunchaku as if they might independently leap up and bite him.  So do I.

Mr F later on in the day brought back the red balloon for me to blow up some more, and was only momentarily set back in his love for this by the blue balloon popping loudly and in my face at one point.  (Did I mention the Balloon Helicopter comes with two balloons? I guess not.  Neither worked any better than the other, so if there are any scientists out there *5 (*5 There are. Way in the back) you can put aside that plan to get a massive research grant to write a paper entitled "The Effects Of Changing Color On The Flight Capacity Of Tiny Balloon Helicopters". It's done. There's no effect.

Final Grade: 

Ninja Nunchaku: A+.  Every single parent in the universes knows that if you give a kid a nunchaku, he's going to clock himself in the head with it.  It would have been a disappointment if that hadn't happened.

Balloon Helicopter: I'm going to go with a F.  Maybe my expectations are a little high for a scientific contraption I bought on a whim from a Dollar Store, but that thing wouldn't have flown if I'd gotten it a first-class ticket on TWA.  And I, for one, as a parent, never wanted to see the pain in my children's eyes when they are forced to admit, early on in their tender lives, that actual  Balloon Helicopter flight will likely not be realized in their lives. This one's on you, "Science."  This one's on you.  They cried themselves to sleep last night.*6 (*6 Not really. But don't tell "Science" that. I'm hoping to guilt trip them into something good. Like Balloon JETPACKS.)

Imagine this, Disney: Toddler Ninjas With Balloon Jetpacks. It sells itself, right? It sells itself.


Andrew Leon said...

I think they've used up balloon ideas for a while with that whole balloon powered flying house thing. That is, until the want to make the "based on a true story" movie about the guy with the lawn chair.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

A dollar store toy didn't work properly? I'm shocked, shocked I tell you! Go demand your money back from the store.

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Rusty Webb said...

I'm not so sure it's "science" that let you down as it is engineers. They should have stuck to driving trains.