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).   

It Came From the Dollar Store! Premiere Edition


With Halloween just passed, it seemed appropriate to bring something truly scary to the JediCole Universe.   Welcome then to the long awaited (or at the very least, long promised) first installment of a new monthly feature It Came From the Dollar Store

For the last eight years Mrs. JediCole and I have hosted an annual Dollar Store Christmas party and as a result have discovered a wealth of oddball products that someone felt compelled to produce.  Perhaps it was solely because they could still hit that $1.00 retail price point or the producers and manufacturers just have no clue how bizarre their products would seem to the average person.  Regardless of the directives behind these curious objects and foodstuffs, they are certainly worth exploring and always good for a few laughs.

And so it is that once a month I will blow $5.00 (plus tax) on a sampling of curiosities culled from actual dollar stores in my general area.  I simply won’t allow myself a larger budget on things I do not plan to keep.  However, in some cases the products showcased will be actual gifts that others purchased for Dollar Store Christmas.  Perhaps you have seen these products as well, perhaps not.  None the less they are carefully selected to raise eyebrows, invoke laugher, and simply beg the question “why?” 

First Responding in Style
Army men in olive drab have long been the top stationary pose boys toy produced on the cheap.  However, bags of little plastic soldiers have always shared peg space with cowboys and Indians, dinosaurs, and even police or firemen.  For those on a tight budget the marketers of dollar store toy aisle seem ever able to field sets of such figurines to fuel young imaginations. 


You have to love the grammar on these things!
In this case we have a set of firefighters who stand at the ready to battle back the flames and come to the rescue of any hapless children or pets who have become trapped by falling timbers amidst an inferno that was once a happy home.  If that plays overly dark, then fear not.  Once safely in the clear air it seems these brave firemen have a pair of sweet rides in which they can take those they have rescued for a refreshing high-speed jaunt around the neighborhood.  After all, nothing so soothes the blow of watching everything you own go up in smoke like a ride in a kick-ass sports car likely equipped to legally run red lights! 

Okay buddy, where's the fire?
No longer content with the blocky monstrosities of old to convey them to the scene of a blaze, these firemen race to the rescue in stylish roadsters that make up for a lack of utility with super-charged engines that are the envy of other vehicles in their class.  Five alarm fire on the other end of town?  When you can go zero to sixty in less than two seconds it is of little concern.  The long wait for the fire trucks and ambulances to arrive is a bit awkward, but at least the first first-responders can show off where your tax dollars have gone by popping the hood to show off that sweet, sweet engine that purrs like a kitten! 

Who says a dollar doesn't buy much these days?
Also included are a pair of traffic cones and a barrier gate to prevent any fire watching gawkers from parking too close to these kings of the road while the ladder company is busy dousing the flames nearby.

Taste the Tiger
Off brand, oddball, and just plain goofy candies are one of the staples of dollar stores.  So it was no surprise that the only place Mallow Pals could seem to find a market was in such an environment.  Sharing the shelves and pegs with hoarhound hard candies and the inexplicably still available on the open market Necco Wafers I discovered this particular confectionary trainwreck. 

When contemplating how to market a drab and hideously textured species of marshmallow fluff as a confection it seems inevitalbe that some kind of licensed brand would be the best approach.  After all, chalky sticks of so-called candy packaged with brightly colored images of Spider-Man or Wolverine at least give some initial appeal before the disappointment provided by the contents.  Perhaps finding Marvel Comics characters out of their price range, the makers of Mallow Pals went with the less expensive but equally high profile Animal Planet franchise.  After all, the two things kids love most are candy and animals.  Just ask Speed Racer's brother, he hung out with one and consumed copious quantities of the other.

And lions taste like watermelon!
So with a recognizable brand in place you need only secure some images of popular if endangered mammals, slap their photo on mylar foil, and custom cut a Capri Sun-like recepticle in the shape of said creature with a water bottle spout at the top and you have the ideal vehicle for sales of your fruit flavored sludge.  That is assuming two things.  One, that mom and dad will fork over a Washington for a tiny little 35 gram pouch of marshmallow that tastes like sour apple (if sour apple tasted more like something that almost tastes a bit like the essence of marshmallow whipped up with a quarter of a melted Jolly Rancher and a hint of some indistinquishable funk), and two that anyone can get past the idea of slurping a green-white paste out of the head of a Bengal tiger!  Needless to say I hurdled both of these obstacles in the interest of this feature, but from the taste and texture I would wager that most of the production run of Mallow Pals now reside in various landfills around the nation along with a tiny percentage of the containers from which at least a portion of the sqeezable marshmallow was extracted.  

Note: Sour Green Apple was not the sole flavor of Mallow Pals available at the time of purchase, it seemed the flavor least suited to complement the childhood memory-invoking flavor of marshmallows.  Even the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man is offended by this would be snack treat!

The Down Side of Shelf Presence
Some names become so completely synonymous with their products that they enter the vernacular and often even the dictionary.  Classic examples of this are Kleenex, Coke, Xerox, and Band-Aid.  Then there are the products that were not fielded by major corporations that spent months and thousands to millions, employ marketing teams, and arrange consumer focus groups all to come up with a catchy name that could possibly become a part of Americana.  When your product is developed for the burgeoning dollar store market it is more likely that you just ask everyone from the production line to the mail room to submit a name suggestion and go with the first one you pull out of a hat.

16% zinc oxide ointment presented in grand style!

This had to be the case with Baby’s Butt Aid, a diaper rash cream with the most awkward and off-putting moniker in the history of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.  If there was an annual prize handed out for consumer product names, this one would easily have won in the “Most Blatant Name” category.  What it lacks in brand name sophistication, like Desetin, it more than makes up for in the painfully obvious depiction of the purpose of the tube of cream housed within the package.  And if the name alone were not enough to convey its purpose, the brazen gluteus maximus motif of the letter B in Butt-Aid just adds that extra punch!

Pictograms for the illeterate parent.
This particular item was one of the gifts from the eighth annual Dollar Store Christmas and, if memory serves, garnered the guest who purchased it the coveted Dawg Award for “Tackiest Gift”.  While its humorous name made it an ideal choice for this feature article, the undeniable similarity between the baby face on the logo and Think Geek’s monkey face logo added an additional layer of appeal.

think butt.com.
A Ninja For the Blind 
For the unindoctrinated, stealth is the watchword of practitoners of the ancient and secretive art of Ninjitsu.  When hearing the word Ninja, most immediately imagine a silent warrior clad entirely in black, plying his deadly trade under cover of conceling shadows.  But in the case of this Action Figure brand set of...action figures, the term takes on an entirely different meaning.  To this toy's manufacturer Ninja was more invocative of Rio de Janero during Carnival than warlike fuedal Japan.

No!  You can't see us!  We're Ninjas!
 Un-stealthily clad in flaming red and screaming yellow, this pair of ineffectual assassins could never hope to find a shadow deep and dark enough to offer the slightest concielment.  Dressed as they are their every movement is broadcast to any living creature that has a pair of eyes, working or not!  The festive colors arrive on the scene a split second before the ninja themselves and their decision to carry the color scheme through to their katana simply adds to this crime against subterfuge.  The martial art of Ninjitsu is difficult enough to pursue without costuming that attracts flocks of hummingbirds and suggests a Hong Kong action flick directed by Joel Shumacher!  In garb this brightly hued this duo shares the distinction of the Luxor and the Great Wall of China as man made objects that can be seen from orbit!

I Want What She's Having!
Consider the humble wire head massager.  It is such a simple thing with its exploded whisk-like appearance and inexpensive production costs.  It is little wonder that such a devise is an ubiquitous stock item for dollar stores nationwide.  It is an impulse buy free of buyer's remorse given its miniscule price tag.  If it provides no appreciable stress reduction or scalp health improvement you can always chock it up to being akin to a non-winning lottery scratch-off and move forward with your life.
New SyFy Original Movie: "Robopus"!
So when it comes to increasing the appeal of such an object, every concievable marketing tactic must be considererd.  Considered and then abandoned for the only sure-fire method in existance.  The one promotional tool that has been employed by every product from candy bars to sports cars - sex appeal!  But how does one inject sex appeal into something that looks like it belongs in a kitchen utensil drawer?  Much as nature found a way in Jurassic Park, sex appeal found a way in the packaging of this particular specimen known simply as "Head Massager".


My head is up here, mister!
 In order to bring sex appeal to the presentation the manufacturers chose to give consumers something akin to half of a Cialis commercial (the sexier half).  Or perhaps this image of a sultry bather was meant to bring to mind "Calgon! Take me away!"  Regardless there is something alluring about a woman lounging in a bathtub with a look of post orgasmic satisfaction draped across her countenance.  If this particular device can deliver that level of ecstacy then, in the words of a Robocop television personality, "I'll buy that for a dollar!"  The presence of the mind-altering-spore-producing plants from This Side of Paradise motif in the background defies any logical explanation.


When you contemplate that someone developed, produced, packaged, and shipped for the consumption of the general public some of the items that grace the shelves and pegs at your local dollar store you are left wondering what compelled anyone to go to that much trouble to hit such a low-ball price point!  While I would never deign to make an attempt to understand such business logic, I will drop about $5.00 a month on taking home a few choice items to share with visitors to my website.  Check in late in November to see what other horrors half a sawbuck can obtain!