It Came From the Dollar Store! #2 - Once More Unto the Breach Dear Friends!

Another article, another five dollars (and change!)

After a holiday hiatus (which included JediCole and Mrs. JediCole's annual Dollar Store Christmas Party) It Came From the Dollar Store! is back on schedule.  So get ready to enjoy the spoils of a total waste of five dollars a month for the benefit of a few laughs at the expense of the modern "Five and Dime".  And if you missed the first edition of this JCU feature you can find it here

Fishing for Flavor
The biggest challenge in manufacture with the burgeoning American dollar store market in mind is finding a way to hit that target price point time and time again.  It is especially difficult to achieve such a goal when playing in the decidedly uneven field of competition that is the novelty candy market.  And into that contentious hotbed Hilco Corporation boldy strides.

Brave, brave Hilco.
As mankind grows more and more dependant on technology it is little wonder that an entire industry has arisen to take the manual drudgery out of the otherwise sweetly sastisfying enjoyment of a lolipop.  But even the most minutely charged battery sends the production costs skyrocketing out of all hope of a one dollar retail price.  To find a solution to the conundrum of providing the modern child with an automated means of consuming a sucker while also maintaining their status as sweethearts of the dollar store industry Hilco turned to experts in developing technology that is not electronic in nature, the Shakers.  

You were likely thinking it was the Amish, but as it was the Shakers who's homespun religious devotion brought us the clothespin, casters, the circular saw, and the automatic rice picker that caused Mr. Spock's disfiguring ear injuries (City on the Edge of Forever), they are a natural resource for finding low-tech solutions for high tech problems.

Reel Cherry Flavor
What the community elders provided Hilco was a device that was as efficient as it was simple.  And thus was Sweet Spinz born.  Lacking the necessity of battery power, this analogue candy spinner satisfies a youthful sweet tooth and teaches children about the burdensome yoke of drudgery under which our forefathers labored in their all too brief lives.  By adapting the lathe-carved wood and corncob prototype to an easily mass produced polyethylene version, the hand cranked lollipop handle could be delivered at the ideal consumer price.  In this meeting of past and present, children everywhere can twirl an artificially flavored confection over their tongue with a mere 27.8% increase in effort as compared to simply rotating the stick between thumb and forefinger.

You have been warned!  Now go on, enjoy your candy!
But as is so often the case with the best concepts the human mind can bring from the drawing board to the marketplace, there are risks involved.  The most insidious of these is the inevitable contamination of foodstuffs and their packaging that is a product of residing on the shelves of a dollar store.  To combat this persistent risk, the manufacturer of this toy has dutifully included a warning to consumers that a thorough decontamination of the candy and its vehicle are in their best interest should they value the modern potential of longevity that 18th-century Shakers could never have imagined.

The Winsome Dead
The holiday market is a seasonal revenue stream that is a constant boon to dollar stores.  The ability to provide decorations and the other trappings of any given holiday has long been the sustaining factor of this uniquely positioned industry.  So it is of little wonder that prior to any American holiday the shelves and kiosks nearest the entrance of such shops are always stocked with a treasure trove of inexpensive delights for any low-budget interior decorator. 

If the decoration of this novelty snow globe (though, indeed, is there any other kind?) has not made it clear, this particular piece was found at a dollar store just in time for Halloween.  And as party hosts and hostesses converge on the aisles each October, they find trinkets such as this are ideal accent pieces to place here and there about the house.  Nothing speaks of a former pagan festival turned candy and costume industry cash cow like the good old fashioned ghost.  (Or sheet phantom for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons players out there.*)  

Consider it the last costume you'll ever wear, son.
But one is left asking the question when does the snow globe concept go too far?  Is it the Florida Snowman that consists solely of tiny bits of coal, a hat, and a carrot floating within a dome featuring an inviting beach scene in the background?  Or is it the above, a Halloween decoration that replaces the flakes of white plastic snow with a suspension of fine black particles, thus leaving the living to ponder the nature of the material that clouds the water within the ghost-holding sphere.

Lacking any packaging or other material from which to glean the manufacturer's intentions it is left to the individual to determine exactly what matter hovers about these seemingly friendly specters.  Has a pepper mill exploded?  Are they haunting a coal mine?  Who can say with certainty?  The official JediCole Universe explanation is that these blithe spirits are simply the shades of victims of a fire caused by a poorly wired cackling witch Halloween decoration, the ash from said blaze still swirling about their incorporeal forms on a chilly autumn breeze.  

But at least in death they wear a smile.  Resigned to their fate they seem to take some solace in no longer having to worry about attending their neighbors dreadful alcohol free holiday party.  Truly this ghostly duo personifies "dying happy"! 

Spontaneous Generation, Cheaply**
The dollar store is not generally the ideal source to seek materials that will convey such learned disciplines as biology and language to children.  However, there are indeed exceptions to every rule.  And in the case of the following two inexpensive products, the contention emblazoned on the blister card is indeed borne out.  Though these products were incorrectly remanded to the toy aisle, they are truly educational in nature.  

To illustrate this we must first compare and contrast these two seemingly identical toys.  Each utilizes the same core format, a small plastic vessel to act as a water receptacle, the same mysterious reactive chemical compound packed into the lid, and the same primary purpose - a single use tool that illustrates the miracle of animal reproduction past and present.  They differ only in the choice of species used for this illustration of one common aspect of vertebrate biology.

An amphibious love triangle.
There is considerable disagreement in paleontology circles as to the necessity of a tremendous body of water in the egg-laying process of one of the Cretaceous Period's more colorful species, however.  And while "Dinosaur Lay Eggs" may not provide a completely accurate depiction of parasaurolophus maternity, it does provide an equally important object lesson for youthful students.  Its companion product gives an example of proper grammar in its title as "Frog Lays Eggs".  While "Dino Lay Eggs" may lend the other version of this toy some sense of street appeal, the English lesson it provides is unquestionably valuable.  Imagine the teacher addressing the class with, "Who can tell me what is wrong with this product?"

The age of dinosaurs was littered with boulders.
While the list of possible correct answers is seemingly limitless in this case, poor word use is the least of the worries presented by the accurately labeled frog toy.  An unsettling tale is conveyed on the packaging that is simply inappropriate for children!  The plastic frog on the verge of laying her clutch of eggs is flanked on the card by a pair of bull frogs waiting in the wings like soon-to-be-ambushed guests on the Jerry Springer Show!  The leftmost frog appears to be in a state of shock at the news of the she-frog's pregnancy while the belligerent indifference of the male on the right speaks volumes of his potential fatherhood.

Which one is the "Taddy Daddy?"
While there are certainly lessons to be learned from this product, those that go beyond simple animal husbandry are better left for parents who are conscientious enough to have "the talk" with their children.  The dysfunctional personal lives of members of the Order Anura have no place in the classroom.  This toy illustrates the slippery slope toward The Little Golden Book of Fifty Shades of Gray.  It is high time that someone took a stand!   

Read package directions carefully, their copy editors sure didn't.
On a final note it should be pointed out that the grammatical lessons continue on the back of the card.  In the instructions the first line advises you to "Add water from top holes of the frog till full water in the container."  This is a statement that undoubtedly causes considerable chagrin on the part of English teachers everywhere and has the same sort of poor use of language that seems to plague Chinese restaurant menus and leaves one imagining this is a perpetual printer's joke.  The additional description of the growth of the eggs on the fourth line, "about few hours they will grow to full size", simply compounds this.  And finally, the suggestion that you empty the water from the container after the eggs have grown so that they can be seen clearly invokes the question as to whether or not the copywriter for this set of directions was aware of the natural translucency of the fluid in question!

Jurassic Digits
In the interest of lending some sense of  a cohesive theme to this edition of It Came From the Dollar Store!, I give you Finga-Saurs...

Wearing a Finga-Saur on just the middle finger proves dinosaurs  evolved from birds.
In addition to perpetuating (if slightly) a dinosaur theme, this particular toy also suggests that when it comes to marketing the titans of prehistory in the dollar store market it is important to make the packaging as "gangsta" as possible.  These finger puppets provide kids with a cross section of prehistoric life from the Jurassic (triceratops and tyrannosaurs) and Cretaceous Periods (dilophosaurus and allosaurus, though it could actually be coelophysis since there is not identification given) that are fairly faithful to reconstructions of these animals in life.  However, the use of Dodger blue as a color choice for dilophosaurus may give some paleontologists pause.  

Finga-Saurs is not recommended as a glove replacement.
Equally pause-worthy is the instruction illustration provided on the reverse of the packaging.  If the concept of the finger puppet is so alien to you that you require a pictogram to illustrate the use of this toy, perhaps your dollar is best spent on some other novelty.  This is especially true since the images provided would undoubtedly cause confusion to those lacking the capacity to reason out how to don such puppets.  Close inspection of the drawings reveals that the application phase illustrates the placement of the decapitated prehistoric animal heads in one configuration (index finger – dilophosaurus; middle finger – triceratops; ring finger – allosaurus; and pinkie – tyrannosaurus) while the completion phase fails to match this configuration in any way.  Even the lineup of puppets in profile to the left of that image has the two larger theropods reversed from their placement on the hand shown. 
If dull-witted consumers can manage to get past the labyrinthine logic that is the interchangeability of finger puppets then they can enjoy this particular toy at full.  As dollar store plaything go this one is certainly an attractive bargain with dinosaur puppets netting out at just over a quarter a head!  In addition to the economy of scale represented here, there is also an appealing versatility.  From educational puppet shows about life before man to a handy fix for the lack of foresight presented when one has only fingerless gloves at hand (in low temperature extremes the thumbs may still succumb to frostbite, however).  And don’t forget the level to which a your enjoyment will be elevated when declaring a “thumb war” with one of these monsters gracing your opposable digit!  

And now we must again bid a fond adieu to the world of cheap commerce.  In about a week there will be a very special edition of this feature that has a connection to The JediCole Universe’s signature podcast, Hey Kids, Comics!  Get ready true belivers for a look at comic book related dollar store finds coming soon!  
*Sheet Phantom - "Fiend Folio" (1st Edition); 1981; TSR Hobbies, Inc.; page 78
Next week: The neo-otyugh.

**Spontaneous generation - the creation of life from components in the environment - is an ancient view of biology that was consolidated by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) as an explanation of the origins of many forms of life on earth.  While this belief was the standard for centuries, it would be widely dispelled by the research of 19th Century French microbiologist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895).