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Now in our eleventh calendar year!
PCR #560 (Vol. 11, No. 51). This edition is for the week of December 13--19, 2010.

"TRON: Legacy"  by Mike Smith
Time Warp Toy Box 2010  by ED Tucker
The Simpsons Christmas Special 1989  by Chris Woods
Death Note  by Jason Fetters
Passing On .... Merry Christmas .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf  by Mike Smith
CF Presents Retrorama

Time Warp Toy Box 2010

Decisions, decisions. With space for only one holiday edition of Time Warp Toy Box this year, selecting the toys to showcase becomes quite a challenge since there are so many worthy candidates. Fortunately I have had some requests from friends for their childhood favorites so that helps narrow the list a little. Without further adieu though let’s pop the lid on this treasure chest of memories and pull out some toys!

Ground control to Major Matt, you are cleared for landing. The Major Matt Mason line from Mattel only lasted for a few years from the mid 60’s to the early 70’s. The toys were well made and based on actual NASA designs but after the hoopla surrounding the moon landing faded, this toy line went with it. There were a number of figures in this series including the good Major and his friends Sgt. Storm, Jeff Long, and Doug Davis. Each had his own uniquely colored space suit but all shared the same bendable wire and rubber body with a plastic helmet and visor. Mattel also made a couple of aliens whose alliances were always in question, the bulbous headed Calisto and the purple grasshopper Scorpio. While Matt had a lot of cool accessories, the XRG-1 Re-entry Glider pictured here is my all time favorite. This was a plastic plane that would actually glide a considerable distance when thrown as long as one of the Mattel astronauts was seated inside the cockpit for ballast. The ship bore a passing resemblance to the one at the beginning of the film Planet of the Apes so I am sure I wasn’t the only kid who repeatedly threw this into the pool to watch it sink while Matt tried desperately to escape!

For anyone who doubts that the film Jaws lead to a merchandising bonanza in the mid-70’s, look no further than Ideal’s Jaws game. This request came from A#1 Jaws fan Donovan Johnson who loved this game so much as a kid he bought a mint boxed version as an adult (I hear you Donovan, I did too!). The game was very simple to play but a surprising amount of fun. Sharks being the garbage cans of the sea, as described in the film by Matt Hooper, this large plastic great white’s mouth came filled with a vast assortment of sunken salvage. Players took turns removing pieces with a long plastic hook until enough weight had been displaced to cause the shark’s rubber band wired lower dentures to snap shut. This only took moments to set up and break down so it stayed entertaining much longer than more involved games. When kids finally did get tired of it though, the plastic shark headed straight for the pool so he could swallow Matt Mason or any hapless Mego figure that crossed his path.

OK, I have to ask, how could anything that looked as cool as Schaper’s Tobor be such a piece of crap? Before you do any heavy contemplating on this one, let me just say up front that yes, Tobor is robot spelled backwards! Mr. Tobor-robot darkened toy shelves briefly in the fall of 1978. The commercials that hocked him, one of which was prominently placed that year during the equally crappy Star Wars Holiday Special, made him look awesome. The ad showed him zipping around at the command of his youthful master who wielded his wireless controller. As depicted, this sinister looking robot could move in all directions and even pick up his little black plastic crate accessory. Keep in mind that wireless remote controlled toys were few and far between back in those days, not to mention usually very expensive, so Tobor looked like a young sci-fi fan’s dream come true. As I recall, the toy retailed for about $15 (as verified by this $14.88 advertisement) because I paid for it with my allowance and had to borrow against future earnings to get the full amount. When I got old Tobor home and set him up, I discovered that the wireless remote control, called a “Telesonic Commander” which I am certain is Latin for “extremely lame”, was one of those clicker devices that was somehow supposed to cause the toy to change direction based on the number of times it was squeezed. In case you never got to experience the letdown personally, these things NEVER worked right and were discontinued after only a few short years. Tobor was no exception and, worse yet, his supposed moving arm that could pick up his crate was just spring loaded so, assuming you could get the motion controls to work, unless you timed it just right, you could forget about lifting anything. I was quickly on my way to arranging a Viking funeral for Tobor when I realized I had paid for this myself. Tobor turned out to be my very first experience with returning something to the store for a refund because it was not as advertised.

One evening over dinner, my friend Kim brought up the girder and panel style building sets I used to see advertised in the Christmas catalogs but never had myself. It seems that as a child, she wanted to be an architect and her father was only too happy to oblige. While other little girls were baking cakes in the Easy-Bake Oven, Kim was busy creating her own buildings! The girder and panel types of building sets were introduced by Kenner Toys in the late 50’s to capitalize on popular skyscraper architecture. There were many different kits made over the years and other companies were quick to come up with knock offs. The basic concept was that the plastic bars used for the girders would interlock together, columns would snap into one another with pegs and beams slid into notches on the tops of the columns. Once a square frame was assembled, various styles of panels representing walls and windows could be snapped to the outside. While these building sets may have lacked the versatility of later ones like Lego, they made up for it in size. The World Famous Building sets featured in this ad from Sears are freaking huge! I realize the kid building that tower is on his knees and probably only three years old but that structure is still big enough to give the Godzilla figure from the Shogun Warriors line a work out!

Our final toy this year is a request from my friend Thomas who had a love / hate relationship with Wizzzer (yes that’s three z’s) tops as a child. These tops could build up a lot of RPMs when the rubber tips were revved up on a hard surface and once released they ran for an impressively long time. Each top came with accessories that allowed it to do tricks like running down a string or spinning on its side. The metal portion of the tip was magnetic so they could even run upside down on a coat hanger. Mattel made a lot of variations in this line and even came up with a few cool accessories like the Battle Arena where you could link tops together and let them run to the finish. Two tops enter, one top leaves and we’re playing for pink slips! Thomas had a lot of fun with his Wizzzer top when he was growing up in Pennsylvania but his brother got one for Christmas too. When Michael snuck up behind Thomas one day and thrust his spinning top by the side of his head, it caught on some stray hair and pulled out a clump! Ouch! Of course being a typical brother, Michael tried to convince their parents that Thomas had pulled his own hair and Wizzzers were never quite the same to him after that!

To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "Retrorama" is ©2010 by ED Tucker. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.